Sunday, August 23, 2015

5 Steps to Making Your Minor Characters Exciting

Memorable minor characters
Keep your characters from blending into the background.

I’ve known plenty of authors who spend hours creating character sheets for their main characters, worry about what their shoe size is, favorite color, and the name of their childhood pet. They rewrite them to seem more alive, but forget that their minor characters, even those who appear for several pages, have personalities, too.

Remember, your story may have minor characters, but no one believes they are a minor character in their own life. Everyone has a personality.

In other words, even a wallflower doesn’t have to be as bland as wallpaper paste.
So how do you make sure they leap off the page? Here are five ways to give your minor characters some pizazz.

1. Create a dominant personality trait. You only need one. Is this person obnoxious? Patient? Overly nice? Angry? Don’t use this trait in every sentence, or use shades of it, but use it often enough so that it stands out. If you’re character is a clich├ęd angry cabbie, not every line has to be full of rage. Use a variety of expressions from sarcasm to swearing to hand gestures to get this trait across. Even humor could work, or a sense of satisfaction that he got his opinion out. Tie it all in to the dominant trait, but don’t make it overbearing.
2. If the dominant trait is positive, create a negative trait, too. The opposite of this is also true. If you have an extremely patient waitress, perhaps she gets frustrated as a character makes special requests or tries to order off the menu or gets drunk, etc. Of course, being a nice waitress, she keeps her temper in check, but the frustration at the other character’s action is evident.
3. Create a style of talking all their own. This doesn’t mean revert to some strained vernacular. It’s easy to stick in a foreign accent, even if that means a Texas drawl in a New York bar or a Brooklyn accent on an Iowa farm, but that always raises the question, “Why is this character there?” No, keep your characters believable. A style of talking can be a favorite word or phrase they like, a sense of humor, inappropriate words, the use of too many questions, overly eloquent phrasing, or short, clipped sentences that are little more than grunts that make it seem like Hemingway is typing away in your character’s brain.
4. Give them something memorable to wear. This doesn’t mean make them outlandish, but it does mean something that stands out, like a particular hat, or a pair of glasses. You’d be surprised how far a uniform can go. It’s easy to remember somebody in playful scrubs, a postal worker shirt, or police uniform. Even in a story full of uniformed people, like a crime or military drama, differences exist, from rank to tattoos to the way clothing fits. Exploit your minor character’s fashion sense.
5. Have them act and react. One of the biggest mistakes I see is characters that don’t react to what’s going on around them. They’re statues. They take a lunch order, but don’t interact with customers. They witness an accident, but don’t want to get involved. It’s not believable, and makes it seem like you just threw someone in there to move the scene along. Maybe you did, but it can’t feel like that to your readers, or you’ll start to lose them.

None of this means you should overdo it. Don’t let minor characters steal a scene or overshadow your main characters. Keep them in their places, but make them memorable. They may be people you made up, but your minor characters are people, too, and they should act like it.

(For a great example of how to make minor characters exciting, read Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Even characters who appear for little more than a paragraph stand out. If you have examples of any other books with great minor characters, please list them below. Thanks!)

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

New Member Profile--Bri Lebrecht

The Glens Falls Writers Group caught my attention a couple months ago when I was looking for a local critique group. I had just finished my second Camp NaNoWriMo in April, in which I was reorganizing and revising a young adult (YA) WIP I've spent the better part of four years playing with. I completed the first draft of Revealed, a dual-narrative about a secret society of people with special abilities, roughly two years ago. Between homeschooling my two young children, running my hobby craft businesses (Baroness Caps and Fiction Stitches), caring for our flock of chickens and new goats, leading the Glens Falls chapter of Holistic Moms Network, and reading to keep up as the resident reader for Across the Board blog, my writing often takes the back burner, even when my characters are echoing in my head. Hence the four years part. ;) 

Before finding the group, I had tried my luck with online critiquing, which I found lacked the personal connection and experience I was looking for. I didn't want sugar coating or a pat on the back for effort. I wanted to know how to make my story better, how to grow as a writer, and what I could learn from someone else's experience. Finding this group of diverse writers has been something of a blessing for all that.

I remember the first meeting I attended. Simply put, I was in awe. The way the group interacted with one another, how honest their feedback was, and the questions the writers asked while being critiqued... I knew I had found a new home that would help me with what I wanted to achieve. After the meeting, I mentioned to Kay and Zackary how much I loved this blunt honesty and Zackary said that they were honest so we would know they meant it when they said it was good. And that's exactly what I was looking for when I began my search for a critique group. 

For every new meeting I attend, my excitement and passion for writing is renewed, and my determination to grow as a writer is replenished.  With their valuable feedback, I'm hoping the next draft of Revealed will be finished within the next few months. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

New Member Profile--Kat MacKenzie

I recently joined the group, and it's a really good mix of different writing styles and opinions.  Although while I lived in NYC I took a lot of writing workshops, I hadn't written lately. Something just keeps holding me back, which was weird, because it used to be as necessary for me as breathing. For me, joining this workshop was an attempt to tap back into that well that used to keep me writing all the time. I was the chick who wrote late into the night, who went to poetry readings, and who still reads so much that my boyfriend's nickname for me is Bookworm.

My first poem for the workshop was "Drawing Down the Moon," about a trip I made to Peru to visit a friend. It was the first time in four years that I was able to write about that friend. She broke my heart. I honestly think that she is the living embodiment of evil. But I didn't always feel that way. 

I wanted to write about what I loved about her. I wanted to write about how she hated her own name because the word meant bitter. I wanted to write about the moments where we believed we'd be friends forever and the journey that took us to where we are today. So I decided to write a chapbook--40 pages of prose poems--about that journey. I'm on page three now. The idea is to write the 40 poems through time, edit it, then workshop it to get feedback. 

I want it to show the way we love, and the risks we take by loving. 

I plan on submitting it to different contests for chapbooks that they list in Poets & Writers Magazine.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Writing to Persuade

The following blog entry has info that would be helpful to the GFWG, both as writers and as those critiquing others' writing. Below are my excerpts but definitely check out the original post.

Writing to Persuade: Convince People With Your Pen
by Matthew Johnson

The main objective of persuasion is to convince – you may be trying to convince someone to do something, to think something, or both…. Persuasive Writing …. gets into the head of the author, and he or she explains their opinion about something. Not only is an opinion stated, they are also attempting to either change the reader’s mind about the subject, or to reinforce an already held opinion.

Getting Others On Your Side
Writers whose job it is to persuade must do more than just say “I’m right,” or “Buy this,” they have to appeal to the readers in different ways. Changing someone’s mind about something requires more than just being the loudest or the most abrasive – there needs to be some thought put into it...
Appeal to Logic Logic makes use of facts and figures to appeal to someone’s sense of reason. The use of logic in persuasion is meant to keep out any emotion and anger when appealing to a reader, not just on the writer’s side, but they also want to prevent the reader from getting too worked up, as well. Not only does it prevent negativity from creeping into the discussion, it also lends an air of credibility when a writer can back up their claims with hard facts. Logic is useful when used in dealing with more controversial matters…
Appeal to Emotions More broad and easier to understand than an appeal to logic, the use of emotion in persuasion is very effective. Great care must be taken when using this approach, however, as credibility may easily be lost if the emotional appeal is poorly executed. If an emotional appeal lacks substance, the reader may feel manipulated and alienated, but when done well, especially when combined with logical appeals, it can be quite effective.
Appeal to Ethics Using ethos in persuasive writing requires a credible writer (and sources) for it to be effective. Not only must what they say be true and able to be proven, but the reader must see the writer in the best possible light for the message to take hold. An example of an appeal to ethics would be to convince a family member to stop smoking because of the effects of secondhand smoke on the rest of the family and the pets.

Writing Techniques
…. Good reasoning, ethics, or a well thought out emotional appeal aren’t enough – they must be presented in a manner that ensures that the message takes hold in the reader, and the following techniques are just some of the tricks persuasive writers rely on.
Repetition Not only must a point be made several times in order to be persuasive, but it must be made in different ways. The repetition makes it stick in their head, and the different approaches keep the subject matter from getting stale to the reader.
Agitate and Solve This technique is meant to create empathy in the reader. The writer first works up the reader, mentioning a problem that will get a reaction, then tells the reader that they understand and are able to solve it.
Storytelling Ideally, all other persuasion techniques culminate in this one. If you can deftly blend other techniques while simultaneously telling a compelling story, you’ll be the most persuasive person on the block.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Work in Progress Update--Syrl Kazlo

My current project is a “cozy” mystery novel. The working title is Kibbles and Death, A Samantha Davies Mystery. Sam is a 50ish, divorced freelance writer, who, with her dachshund, Porkchop, stumbles on the body of the not-so-lovable animal shelter owner, Calvin Cobbs. When Frank Gilbert, boyfriend of her nosy neighbor Gladys O’Malley, is accused of the murder, Sam gets involved in proving who done it. 

In this genre, all the sex and violence occur off screen or should I saw are only alluded to. Its audience is mainly women and they often contain, what I call, a lot of fluff. Sam has a love of designer purses and '50s era music.

This work is a complete departure from the children’s novels I usually write. It has been a challenge as children’s literature follows a completely different set of writing rules. But as  I  read more and more “cozy" mysteries I found myself drawn into the fun and humor so often found in them. Fleshing out my writing and adding a sense of “place” has been a challenge.

The critiques from this group are invaluable to my writing. They are my “nuggets of gold.” They help me strengthen my writing and push me to write a better piece. They keep me on my literary toes for any inconsistencies  I may have written and improve the flow of my story.  The GFWG members really care about what we write and want us to pen the best work we can. 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Work in Progress Update--Adam Hoffman

I am currently working on compiling haiku with aspirations of publishing a book. As of writing this I have approximately 200 rough drafts, some of which are true haiku and some simply very short poems. Along with editing I am sorting the haiku into themes like family, people, animal and nature types (trees, flowers, night, etc.).

I have always loved brief poems and the white space around them. I believe it is that space which allows the reader to take an active part in the poetry and that sort of collaboration fascinates me. The other aspect of haiku that speaks to me is finding the intersection between nature and human nature. I see that as one of the roots of our humanity.

My audience is myself. That may be narcissistic and counterproductive to selling books, but I write for me. I'm not trying to be popular or successful. Writing is my brain and soul's exercise. If others enjoy it ... beautiful. I'm happy to share.

Writing haiku comes very naturally to me. Calling it easy would be a stretch, but I don't experience the dreadful mind cramps I get while editing other forms. There are set rules (something my mind craves) and it's obvious when a haiku doesn't work. I especially love the process by which I create haiku. I simply walk around with my notebook and write about anything poignant.  

The Glens Falls Writer's Group plays a crucial part in this process. It provides and excellent measuring stick. Meeting twice a month allows me to tack my work quantitatively. As far as critiques, I am looking mostly for how much and what did the work evoke in the reader. It's also interesting to see which were received well and which fell flat, though that's often a very personal and subjective thing.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Trapped in the Iron Maiden--Megan Taylor

GFWG member Megan Taylor had this to say in her graduate program's blog:

"For the last year, my body's felt like it's been trapped inside its own iron maiden..."

Check out the rest here.

P.S.--Megan told us at the last meeting that she has an essay coming up in the Cactus Heart online literary magazine so we look forward to seeing that when it's out!