Seven Cans Short of a Six-Pack?

A writer’s life can be quite strange in some ways. That’s not to say we’re strange people (well maybe a few are, but on the whole…), but strange things happen to us. Let me explain.

I can only tell you how it is from my perspective, but some of my author friends have voiced the same things so I know I’m not alone here.

When I’m working on Heart Search: Found (book 2 in the trilogy), I’m totally focused on it to the extent I sometimes forget to eat lunch (like yesterday). I’m totally engrossed in the story I’m creating, the interaction between the characters, building the next twist, where I’m taking it next, but at the same time the story seems to write itself. I start writing a chapter knowing what I’ve got planned for it and suddenly I find I’ve thrown a curve ball into the mix and something I’ve not planned for takes shape on the pages. It happened when I was writing Heart Search:Lost (book 1) as well.

In some ways it’s like the books actually write themselves and I’m just the channel to put the words on the screen. I believe my Muse has something to do with it. Many writers believe they have a Muse who helps and guides them on their writing journey – I know I have, and can describe her, tell you her name and a little of her history! But anyway, I digress.

It’s when I’m away from Heart Search that things get strange. On the rare occasions these days when I leave the house, I watch people more closely than before, scrutinising their expressions, mannerisms and listening to the inflections in their voices when they speak (that’s probably one for another post), basically anything I can use to help bring my characters to life. Those of you who have been following my blog for some time know my feelings on this matter, but for those of you who have just found me, check out the archives and you’ll see how much emphasis I place on making characters real so readers can relate to them.

The other things I suffer from are random characters running around in my head begging me to tell their stories. They have nothing to do with my current project and yet they make themselves known to me. They give me just enough to pique my interest and if I’m able, I jot down some notes for future reference. I just never know when one or more of these characters will make it into one of my stories.

In addition, I get new story ideas floating around and they can appear at the most random places and times. The weirdest things can set this off; an overheard conversation, a painting in a shop window, a building, a person, or just walking (or in my case hobbling) or driving somewhere and letting my mind wander.

If I write all the story ideas running around my head which I’ve made note of, I’m going to be writing about 30 books and that’s just what I’ve got at the moment!

I love how inspiration for a story can appear ‘out of nowhere’ – it’s strange when it happens, but it’s what we writers live for, to get that spark to start the next book or a new twist for one we’re working on. It’s our form of sustenance and without it, we can’t create the stories to entertain you.

So the next time you’re walking down the street and you see someone grab a small notebook and start frantically scribbling or they have a slightly glazed look in their eyes, don’t write them off as someone who’s seven cans short of a six-pack, they’re probably authors getting inspiration for what could well be the next best seller!

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Monochrome or Colour?

 Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live in a monochrome world?

Photograph by Sheila Smart

It’s hard to imagine isn’t it?! Everywhere we look, we’re surrounded by colours; from nature, vehicles, advertisements, shops, soft furnishings and even our own clothes, and we take all this for granted because it’s always there. We don’t have to search it out because it’s everywhere we look.

 

 

But, indulge me for a moment . . . shut your eyes and try to picture everything around you purely in monochrome. It would be beyond boring to live in a world like that, with no colour to bring everything to life. It would be depressing to the nth degree!

That is what your writing is like if you don’t bring ‘colour’ into it.

There are so many ways you can do this:

Your characters

Physical descriptions. You don’t have to go overboard, but your readers want to have an image in their mind of what your main characters look like. Is your protagonist a slim, hazel eyed brunette or a chubby blue-eyed blonde? This is better than nothing – at least you’ve given something for the reader to work with, but by taking it just a little further, you can write a picture of how they appear. Imagine them in your mind’s eye then write what you see. You can always cut superfluous information (which would happen during the editing process anyway), but you’ve brought your character to life just by adding some colour. And don’t forget your characters don’t have to be flawless; they’re more real if they have a small defect or two (like a scar from a childhood accident, or a lazy eye, or one lip being out of proportion with the other).

Emotions. You need to show that your characters are ‘real’ by the way they react to certain situations – SHOW being with operative word here. “He was angry . . .” this phrase TELLS us something, but it has no colour. Now consider, “His skin flushed purple as his eyes narrowed, blazing with an icy fury and he clenched his fists so tight you could imagine the bones breaking through the skin . . .” Now you are showing the reader; you are giving them colour and an image they can relate to.

Gestures. I’m an observer of people and I tend to particularly watch expressions and mannerisms. Some people use their hands a lot when they talk, some pull on an ear lobe when they’re lying, some run their fingers through their hair when they’re thinking. Some people bend forward when they’re vehemently trying to get a point across or arguing. Imagine telling a friend a secret when there are others around and you don’t want them to hear – what do you do? You lean towards them and whisper in their ear – right? The point is people don’t just tend to stand like mannequins, with no movement at all apart from their lips when they speak. Use these sorts of things to add colour.

For extra examples and help, look back at my three-part series called Describing People;

Part 1 http://wp.me/p1UhOl-1K Part 2 http://wp.me/p1UhOl-1Y

Part 3 http://wp.me/p1UhOl-2N

Immediate surroundings

Again you don’t want to overdo it, but give your readers a flavour of where your characters are. Are they in a 17th century mansion? Are they in a 1960’s semi-detached house? Are they in a café or posh restaurant? Are they in a park, wood or forest? Pick out one or two features and describe them a little so your readers can picture the scene.

World Building

When you write fantasy or sci-fi, you especially need to bring your world to your reader as it’ll be somewhere they can’t relate to. Is the sky always purple during the day? Is the grass blue? Do the trees have strange coloured leaves? Do the flowers talk?

 I’m going to use a small example here from Tower of Bones by Connie J Jasperson and her world of Neveyah. Her main characters are on a quest and they are approaching a place called Mal Evol which has been taken over by a dark God. She describes the Mountains of the Moon where some of the face is as shiny and smooth as glass. The land approaching Mal Evol has been turned from fertile to poisoned soil which will only sustain thorn bushes and trees higher than the head of the tallest character on the quest. She describes strange Rat People who seem part human yet are vicious and attack for no reason, Thundercows which cannot be eaten by humans and will only eat the thorn bushes. And so the list goes on. Through her brilliant depiction and use of ‘colour’, she had brought her world of Neveyah to life. But the best thing is she hasn’t overdone it. She gives the reader just enough description in each place for them to form a picture, without detracting from the action.

A thorn forest

 All these elements brought together in your writing will add the colour a reader looks for. So from now on, is your writing going to be Monochrome or Colour?

My thanks to Connie for allowing me to use information from her novel to emphasise my point.

Describing People Part Three: Gestures, Expressions, and Mannerisms

This is the last in this little series and, in some ways, is probably the hardest to work with. We’ve already looked at describing faces, but here are some things to think about to take your descriptions to the next level.

First, let’s think about expressions. Facial expressions can be written about in general terms using words like grimace, frown, smile, grin, but when we use these words we’re not really showing the emotion. Some of the time you can use these types of words and they work well, but there are times when we need to take this to a higher plane.

So let’s look at a few common ones, how we can take description to the next level and these tips will help you with other expressions.

Frown: What happens to the forehead when someone frowns? Does it crinkle? What happens to the eyebrows and the skin between them? What happens to the eyes? What happens to the mouth?

Very attractive, Mr Gibson!

So instead of writing ‘he/she frowned’ consider ‘his/her forehead furrowed and the eyebrows hooded over eyes that blazed with consternation. His/her lips tightened, turning down at the ends’. Looking at it as a reader, what sounds more interesting?

Smile: What happens to the eyes? What happens to the mouth? Is any other part of the face affected?

So instead of writing ‘he/she smiled’ consider ‘his/her eyes sparkled, crinkling around the edges, mouth upturned revealing dimples in the cheeks’

Puzzled: Again, think about the different parts of the face. What happens to them when someone looks puzzled?

So instead of writing ‘puzzled’ consider ‘his/her eyes rolled upwards as if seeking answers from above and his/her teeth clasped around their bottom lip’

If you have trouble picturing what happens to different elements of the face during a particular expression, try this: stand in front of a mirror and think about something that will make your face contort into the expression. Now look at your face one part at a time. Start at the top and work your way down, noting down how each feature behaves. As with my previous posts on Describing People, type the information into a spreadsheet or other file for future reference.

If you want to use words to convey emotion (as in frown, smile etc) here’s a link to Daily Writing Tips for a list of 100 facial expressions and what they depict. http://www.dailywritingtips.com/100-words-for-facial-expressions/

 

Although some people might argue gestures and mannerisms are the same thing, I beg to differ. To me, gestures are the way people use their bodies to emphasise what they are saying. Mannerisms are things they tend to do unconsciously and can often give away their true feelings. This is why I have split them into two sections.

Let’s move on to gestures. If you can get in the habit of watching people when they are talking, you can pick up a vast array of gestures to add to your ever-growing list. Here are one or four examples:

Shrugging the shoulders – this is a classic one, but can work very well. People do this, often without realising they are.

Gesticulating with hands – lots of people use their hands when they talk as a way to emphasise what they are saying. Just imagine a fisherman talking about something they caught and using their hands to show/exaggerate how big it was (or the one that got away, lol). Another time people use their hands a lot is when they are excited.

The One That Got Away?

People cup their chin in one or both hands for a variety of reasons. They might be pensive, fed up, sad or even daydreaming, so this gesture can be used in a variety of settings.

Rubbing the back of the neck – people don’t only do this to ease aches and pains, they sometimes do it when they’re stressed, worried or if something frightening or awesome makes the fine hairs on the neck stand up.

Mannerisms are things we all do unconsciously. Sometimes they are things we’ve seen our parents do when we were children and mimicked them, sometimes they are movements we’ve developed on our own. I know I’ve ‘inherited’ a mannerism of my dad’s, but it was only fairly recently I realised it was something I did too; it’s a certain way I place fingers on my face when I’m concentrating or reading.

Some people rub their nose or pull on their ear lobe when they tell lies. They don’t realise they do it and that it gives them away.

Some people rub their thumb against their first two fingers on the same hand. Perhaps they do this when they are anxious or upset.

I know someone whose tongue peeps between their lips when they concentrate. Some people drum their fingers when impatient and some people chew on their pens when they are thinking.

 

A final thought for you to consider: Body language is used to good effect every single day of our lives, whether we realise it or not – like tilting your head to the side when listening to someone speak, for example. All these descriptions and more can be added to our writing to give our characters more depth, more believable, more real. Never forget, you need your readers to connect with your characters and they can’t if you don’t give them something tangible they can relate to!

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series and found it useful. If nothing else, if it’s provoked a few neurons to fly around and fire a synapsis or two in the brain then this has achieved what I set out to do.

As always, I’d love to know your thoughts on this and the rest of the series!

Previous posts in the series:

Describing People Part One: Faces

Describing People Part Two: From the Neck Down