Sunday 19 August 2012

Getting Inside My Character's Head

In writing fiction for children, getting inside the head of my characters is one of the most important things I can do.

I am definitely a character writer over the plot-driven writer. Don't get me wrong, plot is very important. But to me if my characters are real, solid, and living through me, the plot will come naturally through those characters just because of the type of characters they are.

I write children's books, so I have to immerse myself into the child character just as the child character has to be immersed in me. To do this, I have to remember what it was like to think, act, and talk like a child. Then, go beyond the thinking until I can feel it, taste it, see it, and be in the moment again before I can express it.

The way my child-self  thinks is a lot more fun than the way my adult-self thinks. My child-self says things with a lot more pizzazz. It's also important that I express those feelings or situations that I want to convey in the story in my own words. This is what livens up the prose and makes it stand out and become memorable for the reader.

 Here are some examples of emotions I've used in my own stories:

Excited:  "I had a bunch of jumping, swirling bugs in my stomach that couldn't wait to get out."

Feeling content: "I felt all warm and fluffy, like cake."

Sad: "My heart fell sideways and stayed laying down."

The way a child views a situation is also different from the way an adult would view it.

Here are some examples I've used also:

"I know grandma can fly. She has those flabby, flapping arms that are her after-dark wings."

"The ferns tickled the smaller flowers, making them wiggle and giggle."

"The wind was yelling and being just plain mean."

A writing exercise I like to do to get into my child mode of thinking is to look at things, people, situations and emotions, then write down all the different ways to express it with originality. Then try to express it simpler and with more innocence, just as a child would. The longer I think about it and the more I write down, the better the expressions become. The more childlike I become.

So when my friends call me immature (which they all do, believe me), I take it as a good thing, a compliment, and an affirmation that I can do my job as a writer of children stories.

Sunday 12 August 2012

Character Building

One of the first things I do when creating characters is to give them names, (once I know what they are; a nine year old princess, a dragon, etc) then an image of them starts to form gradually in my mind. After the image of  each character forms, their personalities start to come alive. Once their personalities become clear, their adventures are ready to be written.

This is my process. The whole process takes months and as new details come to me, I jot them down on paper. Each character has their own section in my character log book.

When I feel that the characters are whole and real, I start imagining what their adventures will be. I start to make a mini movie in my head as I visualize the 'where and what' of the plotting. The plotting is still work, but plotting seems to come so natural once the characters are fully formed.

When you're writing children stories, you don't have a lot of space to 'tell' about the character's descriptions, nor do you want to. So a lot of the characteristics will come out as other characters meet them or through what that character is doing and saying.

The really cool thing about getting your characters to be real and whole (even if a lot of that information isn't told to the reader), is that it does come out in the story. It comes out in the "Show Don't Tell" that all writers have heard a thousand times. I think it becomes a sub-conscious process to the writer because the writer knows those characters just as much as knowing a long-time friend. And if your characters are real to you, the writer, it is amazing how the illustrator will have the same vision as you had for those characters.

When book one, Sir Princess Petra, was in the illustration stage, I nervously waited and wondered what the artist's vision of the main character, Petra Longstride, would be. I worried for all the characters. After all, I felt my reputation and all my hard work as the writer was at stake.

The thing about the whole creative process is this: if you, the writers, have made believable and whole characters, the illustrator gets it just as easily as if you had sent her photograghs.

When I received the illustrations for book one, they were perfect. All the characters were exactly as I had envisioned them. I had learned about this process in writing school, but until I had been through this process, I wasn't sure that it actually worked. It does work. And when it did work, I knew I had done my job as the writer to create fully rounded, believable characters.

 This is exactly what Petra Longstride looked like to me, in my imagination, before the illustrations had even begun. The illustrator of the book is, Samantha Kickingbird and she was assigned by the publisher to my book.


To take your characters seriously is one of the best things you can do for your writing.

copyright, Diane Mae Robinson, 2012

More on characters in the post "Where Do Characters Come From" here:

Monday 6 August 2012

National Nurture Your Soul Week.

Well, not really. I just made that up. But it's a really good idea.

As we rush around our busy lives; kids, husbands, jobs, yard work, and a whole other big list, we often put our inner music on the back burner.

I know this was very true for myself for many years.

In my younger married days, and when my daughter was young, it just seemed like there was no time for writing. I didn't start college until I was 35 years old.  I didn't graduate all of my writing courses until I was 41 years old. This was all done by correspondence courses, as I always had a full time job.

At age 41, I started to write seriously for publication, research the markets, send query letters, send manuscripts when requested by a publisher, and wait . . . . . . (don't hold your breath while waiting for an answer). So, I wrote many children's stories during this time, but there was always one story that was near and dear to my heart, Sir Princess Petra. This is my first published book, and it took 9 years and 27 rejections before a publisher accepted it. I'm glad I didn't hold my breath. (Book 2 in this series will be released in early 2013).

I also didn't know I was an artist until I tried it at age 39. I love art. I now teach art. Any sometimes, I even sell a painting.

Okay, I'm not saying I'm old. I'm just saying I'm a late bloomer.

That inner music was always inside of me, I just had to wait until the time was right to find out what it was playing.  So, no matter what your age is, it's important to find and follow your own inner music.

To be able to write well, we have to nurture our own souls. I have a list of things that work for me and I do at least one of these things every day: daydreaming in the forest; laughing with a good friend; listening to classical music and painting a picture; playing with my dogs and horses; gardening; meditating; or one of my favorites, making really creative mud pies which should technically sell for $2.59 each, but don't.

Whatever it is that releases your soul from everyday chaos, find the time to listen to your inner music, and in turn zone in to your creative source.

Me, creating book 3.