Man in the Arena

Man in the Arena

Just a little inspiration for a Tuesday….

 

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Don’t worry about the ones who question your reason for doing what you do. Go at it with all you’ve got.

1muhammad ali

Painting of Muhammad Ali by JaBrion Graham

The world needs to hear what you have to say.

 

SPEAK

 

Your Novel’s Characters are Real People

Your Novel’s Characters are Real People

I love having conversations with people who have lived exciting lives; they’ve leapt from waterfalls with an 80-foot drop, fought Texas Longhorns and lived in the Sahara. Ok, I don’t personally know any of those kinds of people. But I do know those who, are in unconventional living situations, overcame fierce personal battles and are living their dreams. It is always interesting to talk with them.

funny bullfighting

 

But honestly what I love more are those conversations with ordinary people, on ordinary subjects. You know, they are unpretentious, unassuming souls living their lives in simple fashion. It is from these people that I’ve learned the subtleties, the idiosyncrasies that make people who they are. For the most part it has been these folks who have taken precedence in my work. Their mannerisms are not calculated or contrived; they are simply being themselves. If you can capture the essence of this group in your writing you can create clear, vivid pictures of any character you develop. In these people lay the core of who we all are—even those waterfall jumping, bull-fighting folk.

Compare it to an artist who draws a straight illustration (like the kind a developing artist would create) and contrast it to one who shadows and shades to catch the nuances of attitude and demeanor. It is this capturing of character that is crucial our work. It means that we allow people to… be and to express themselves as we watch, listen and take note. It allows us to move away from the cookie-cutter characters based on some T.V. show or some cliché. If you want to know what a dumb blonde is really like, watch one. Listen to what they say. You may find yourself observing a dumb brunette or someone who isn’t dumb at all, but just perceived as such. O.K., you’re writing about Laura’s rapper boyfriend Ty. Well, insist on meeting one (or someone like him). You might discover that when he opens his mouth and speaks that he is not the empty-headed, one-dimensional thug you originally thought him to be but is indeed quite intelligent, maybe even a Yale graduate? Capture the rapid blinking of the eyes when someone is nervous, the way she continuously clicks her nails together or picks at a pimple on her face.

 

Jay's self image 2

Capture the totality of the characters. Write about their scent–too much perfume, the scent of perspiration mingled with fading cologne. Write about how she never gives a full toothy smile as she is hiding some disfigured or bad teeth. Talk about her thinning hair and how she keeps it in a bun but hints of her scalp peek through the thin strands like the moon light through thread-bare curtains.

Am I the only one who looks at people and find myself writing a full-fledge description of their appearance and mannerisms (It’s fun and a little annoying when you can turn it off.)?  Remember unless you are writing about aliens or vampires your characters are real people. And even vampires are real people—sort of.

jays self image1

Do a personalized sketch of your protagonist. What makes him tick? Why is he always angry? Is it because his mother was verbally abusive? Is this why his anger is mostly geared towards women? Tell us about his mother. What was she like? Was she slow moving? Were her words spat sarcastically? Was she condescending? Describe the specifics that make her stand out—or not, for that matter. Show us the relationship between mother and son. Describe how his palms would become sweaty when she entered the room and how he could never raise his eyes to her. Build your character block by block. It doesn’t have to be described in one long expository paragraph (please don’t) Take your time. Interweave it into the story. Have fun with it. And most of all make us believe it!

Is a novel outline only for wimps?

Outline or not to outline has been a preverbal dilemma for ages. Well, perhaps not for ages, but for a very long time. Even experienced writers have their preferences; some swear by it. It is said that John Irving, takes at least a year to outline his novels before he even starts to write the story. Kimberla Lawson-Roby outlines but only after she is well into the writing. Stephen King wings it—the story’s vision in his head.  He believes outlining makes the story feel artificial. Although it is indeed a personal preference, I will attempt to explain the pros and cons of both.

Outlining obviously allows you to organize your thoughts. You can plainly see where you are going. If the plot is veering off a cliff, you’d at least like to know early on. Half way through the novel you don’t have to wonder if John died of Parkinson’s or cancer; if you thoroughly organize you will know. Organizing allows you to see the progression of the story. Depending on how detailed the outline is you can see if your progression is at an even pace. Is it moving too fast? Is it completely stagnant for three or four chapters? Often in our head we get caught up in the writing. We like the sound of our thoughts, the elegant, lofty word choices. In our mind it all sounds so nice. But with an outline you can see if every one of those 20 scenes in one chapter is actually moving the story along. Remember, when writing, every word should be purposeful, deliberate and not just a way to flex our literary muscles. Save that for your personal journal.Wile-P-Coyote

With my second novel, Thursday’s Child, which I am currently editing, I purchased banner paper, hung it on a wall and outlined the entire book that way. It allowed me to see different scenes and jump from chapter to chapter in a glance. Many times I looked at one scene and literally switch it with another to make the story move a little more smoothly. It was easier to see what did and didn’t work and the places where conflict was building or where scenes were falling flat.

The outline itself is work, which, I believe is one of the reasons that many authors shy away from creating one. It takes planning and thought, brainstorming and correction. But to have a tangible plan takes at least that aspect out of the work beforehand and lets you concentrate on writing the story, delving into the creative part of the process which is what most of us enjoy the most anyway.  An outline is like having a map for your trip so that you can see the route you are taking and make adjustments before you write it out. It can definitely save on the rewriting.

When I wrote my first novel I did not outline—initially. I allowed the winds of inspiration to take me where they willed. After the first draft, I pulled out index cards and commence to doing a chapter by chapter outline, because the story was getting away from me. This is especially helpful if you have several sub-plots.

Winging it. There’s an entire patch of purist who would not dream of tampering with inspiration by confining their masterpiece to an outline. The vision for the work is in their head. And I get it. There is a certain rush you get from simply going at it, allowing the characters and story to take on a life of their own.  Not know if Weston should die or be kept alive, allowing the story to dictate his outcome. Writers who attempt this should do so because they feel that their writing would seem less authentic if confined to an outline and not because they’re too lazy to take the time to create a plan.

Writing without an outline takes extreme focus and drive because when you get to those moments where you run out of story and are saying, now what you have to push past it until you know what.focus2

Whatever your preference you don’t have to be totally committed to doing it one way. An outline doesn’t have to be scene by scene or even chapter by chapter. It can be a simple, lose guide that gives you broad direction and room to create. And you can always outline all or just some of it. Remember; you can switch up, even if you are half way through your writing. I won’t tell if you won’t.

 

Should Authors Work for Free?

A while ago I planned a book launch affair. It was to be a Wine and Words event and along with a sampling of various wines each attendee would get a copy of my novel, In Three Days, all for one price. Now I know we as authors don’t typically charge for book signings, but this was different. It was to be held at a lovely café and did I mention free wine? The tickets weren’t exactly zapped up at record speed and eventually the event was cancelled.

Recently I got an offer to speak at a luncheon for an exclusive country club in my area. They wanted me to come and talk about my book and experience as a local author. On the invite the PR person asked about my fee. I was absolutely thrilled. Here I was hosting fancy wine events (or almost) and now I was being asked to speak at this opulent club and I’d been an author for all of several months. And they were going to pay meeeee!!

I immediately began doing research on typical fees for authors both new and established. I found rates which I thought were ridiculously inflated and then constantly reminded myself that hey, I’m worth it. I did some more research and found that some authors didn’t charge anything (ha…ha…I’m doing the Snoopy laugh) I finally settle on a “going rate.” After all, he did ask me.

Funny thing, immediately after I submitted my fee I felt this twinge that I should have waited. I never heard back from the guy again.

I can construct a million different reasons to explain these setbacks.  I could go on and on as to why folks weren’t waiting in line for my tickets. And I can find a million more to justify the silence on the other end of the email to the PR guy.  But later, I received some wise counsel (amazing how you always get that after you need it) and remembered some information I’d received from some other established writers with which you may or may not agree. It is as follows:

Most signings of any kind are free. And even if it is an event, such as a book launch where you simply want your friends to come and celebrate, guess what? The wine and cheese are on you. Purchasing your book should be optional. They come to celebrate with you, not pay for you.

Speaking engagements are often free. What?! Yep. I know. Now no one would expect J.K. Rowling or John Grisham to speak too often for free. But most of us do not possess the status and brand of Rowling and Grisham. When people mention our name people will most likely ask “who?” But those guys? Not so much. In the beginning we may do a lot of stuff for free. But really, it is never free. I am a strong believer in the law of reciprocity, or the law of sowing and reaping. Simply put, what goes around comes around. Also, the exposure we gain is priceless. And proving ourselves to what will eventually be our audience is essential. People only tend to invest in the new when the risk is low. Those things that negate risk include: recommendations by others, little or no cost or effort and the likelihood that they will enjoy what is being offered based on preferences.

Free opportunities often breed paid opportunities. Every time you are in front of an audience you are gaining exposure–that, you cannot beat. And as one author/speaker pointed out, as you speak or present your audience may include the answer to your next gig and possibly a paying gig as it did for the author who lent this advice.

The bottom line is that free may be free. But sometimes it is not. And if that statement was confusing just remember that you have to invest before others invest in you.

What are your thoughts? I would love to hear from you.

Is There a Difference Between Inspirational and Christian Fiction?

Ahh, so many terms; so much confusion. It almost makes you want to throw up your hands and announce finally that they are all the same. But hold up. Wait, less you offend some peers unnecessarily. Some writers are adamant about their work not being labeled inspirational fiction because within their pages they wave their faith flag high and proud and you’d better not mistaken it. Others prefer the term inspirational because they believe it appeals to a broader audience and to those who may not necessarily pick up a book labeled Christian. They think these readers may at least give their work a read if they leave the Jesus and God stuff as inferences. I am not here to argue the right or wrong of any of it. It is art. It is your creative work. Do what you feel. But at least understand the differences. As a Christian, I personally don’t believe that you can write a story from the heart that does not in some way reflect your faith.  It becomes an undeniably strand weaved through everything you write. Whether it is overt is one of the keys which separate inspirational fiction from Christian fiction.

Inspirational fiction is meant to move, unveil a spiritual element to the plot and draw upon the protagonist’s belief in something greater than their situation to help him or her resolve the conflict. It can be a number of things; belief in one’s self, a higher power or the advice or counsel of a spiritual sage of sorts.  Stories of inspirational nature often pull the protagonist into introspect; the resources to get through whatever the dilemma are often internal, but always spiritual. Inspirational fiction may never mention the words God, Jesus, or Holy Spirit, understanding that each individual will decide upon that entity from which to gain the strength or the wisdom they need to solve their problem. Perhaps the writer’s personal amazing_silhouette_photograph_14belief is in an almighty God, but he only implies it in the work leaning more on the story at hand and how the conflict is resolved.

Not so with Christian-based fiction. Christian based fiction is more specific in introspection and its source of higher power. God is the higher power. The conflict at hand can only be resolved by the extent to which the protagonist either turns to that which the spirit of God has already enabled them with or turn to God for strength and direction. This often comes through as an internal unction or another person with whom that individual places trust.

When I was marketing my novel, In Three Days I was told by one editor in particular that it wasn’t Christian enough for a CBA publisher and a little too Christian-like to fare well with a general fiction publishing house. The dilemma was the guidelines to which Christian fiction must adhere in order to be considered. Now, mind you Christians often suffer through the same life struggles as others. But to air them so publicly and unabashedly just wasn’t in line with what the genre calls for. I eventually marketed it as mainstream and then it sold. I was fine with it, as my message was not lost.

Christian fiction typically includes:

  • A conservative Christian theology
  • A Christian world-view — God is ultimately in control of the universe. Our purpose can only be fulfilled to the extent of our personal, intimate relationship with Him.
  • Christian Characters – They can be flawed but must be working toward redemption. The protagonist is not typically a lost soul, but simply one who has veered from the intended path

Additionally, the fundamentals of Christianity vary from group to group. But the one premise that all have in common is that God is the way to a peaceable and whole life. Whatever label you put on your work make sure it is a true reflection of your beliefs.  Your heart will show in whatever you do.

 

 

 

 

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