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Posts Tagged ‘characterization’

Please welcome Michael Offutt, author of SLIPSTREAM, to my blog. He’s a gentleman and a scholar and I’m honored to host him today.

Since I’m guest posting on a blog run by a Psychiatrist, I thought I’d talk about mental illness.  What I say isn’t medical. It’s personal. It’s the relationship between my mother and me.

Recently I made the decision to put my mother in a care facility (this was really hard).  At the time I’m writing this post, my small family believes that it should be an assisted living complex and not necessarily a nursing home. But I don’t know if that will work. My mom has pretty severe schizophrenia. She constantly speaks to people who aren’t there, she refuses to take meds, and becomes enraged to the point of racing around the house all night looking for things and calling people horrible names.  My dad can’t sleep (he says she’s killing him slowly through exhaustion).  She also accuses people of stealing jewelry and possessions. When she’s calmer, she laughs with these invisible people and serves them tea.  She’ll have all these cups out filled with tea and is the only one drinking.

In my last visit, she was walking around the house with a butcher knife.  I asked her calmly, “What are you doing with that?” She was very upset, shaking. She said she was going next door to the neighbor to kill a panther that had swallowed the dog. They needed a knife to cut the dog out of the panther’s belly.  She got the idea of the panther implanted in her head because we had just watched a Geico commercial that had a black panther in it.  Somehow…the image stuck and became a permanent memory. But there’s no way I was going to allow her to walk next door and pound on it with a butcher knife in her hand.  The neighbors are terrified of her.

In my book SLIPSTREAM I have a villain who is the product of an all-powerful mind that has gone insane.  He isn’t evil per se. Rather, he’s terrified of his own death. So much so, that he’s dreamt up all of the ways in which someone or something could harm him and (in protecting himself from that harm) has brought the world to the brink of destruction.

His insanity cannot be reasoned with, it cannot be assuaged, and there is no logic to it.

It’s exactly the same kind of thing I encounter when talking with my mother. When she is terrified there is no reasoning with her.  She has no logic to any of her actions.  In my view, she has completely lost her mind.  The difference between her and the villain in my book is that my villain has god-like power. I have read that no villain is truly evil. Well for me that’s definitely true and hope that you find it intriguing enough to warrant a closer look at some point.

Do any of you have personal experiences you would like to share that relate to mental illness?

I have a contest for the release of my book.  I will pick one random person who comments on this post to win a $5 Amazon Gift Card and a SLIPSTREAM jeweled spider (the same person wins both prizes). The jeweled spider really sparkles in the sunlight. I hope whoever wins it really likes it. Also, please make sure that your email is linked to your signature in some way. And yes, the crystal spiders play an important role in my book.

Rules:

1)     Mark my book “To Read” on Goodreads.

2)     Comment on this post.

3)     Tweet this post if you have twitter. You don’t have to sign-up for twitter. It’s the “honor” system.

That’s it. I will choose a winner on Saturday, May 19th.  And thank you, Laura, for having me on your fine blog.

http://www.amazon.com/Slipstream-ebook/dp/B007R5DN8W/ref=sr_1_cc_1?s=aps&ie=UTF8&qid=1333585536&sr=1-1-catcorr

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/books/1109954378?ean=9781554049493

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13003318-slipstream

Thanks again, Michael. I really appreciate what you shared about your mom. *hugs*

I wish you the best of successes with SLIPSTREAM!

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In inpatient work, the constant stream of patients being admitted and discharged creates a hectic pace that’s both exhilarating and overwhelming.

Before meeting a new patient, we review the chart (to get some idea of what’s been going on) and we also get report from the nurse to see how the patient has been on the unit.

It’s really remarkable how different people look “on paper” as compared to what they’re like “in real life.”

We’ve had extremely violent patients present as charismatic and engaging. We’ve had tiny, quiet, seemingly meek patients admitted for out of control behavior. We’ve had suicidal patients arrive with giant smiles on their faces. And we’ve had psychotic patients insist they are not mentally ill and that we’re the ones causing all the trouble (that tends to be a popular one).

It’s part of a writer’s job to create clear, distinct characters so readers can understand the characters’ motivations and become invested in the characters’ lives.

How do we describe characters? Through their thoughts, actions, morals, values, beliefs, friends, homes, jobs, and hobbies. And don’t we want our characters to be a perfect mixture of symbolism and consistency?

Sure.

But if a character is too “smooth” they may just turn “vanilla.” (And by vanilla, I mean boring.)

So, like people “in real life,” we need to make sure our characters aren’t always what’s expected. They need to have quirks. They need to have conflicts. They need to have multi-faceted personalities to make them more “alive.”

Ok, I guess I’m done rambling for today. What do you guys think makes for a good (read interesting) character?

Be sure to check out Lydia’s Medical Monday and Sarah’s The Strangest Situation.

Remember, these posts are for writing purposes ONLY, and are NOT to be construed as medical advice or treatment.

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Overhauling a 80,000 word manuscript is a daunting process. You can’t catch everything at once. That’s why revising is a process that involves layering.

Your first draft no doubt contains many writing strengths. It also has a lot of rough edges. Don’t despair! Be proud of what you’ve accomplished!

And get ready to rip and tear.

Be brave with the delete key, keeping these tips in mind. ;)

Layers to consider:

The first pass through your rough draft should focus solely on what to keep and what to chuck. So, you’ve got a cute scene where your main character has a cutsy moment with her cat. If that’s the only scene with the cat, bye bye kitty. Your main character takes a shower, basking in lavender soap. FAB. But if she’s not joined by the hottie who she’s jonesing for or she’s not washing blood out of her hair to get rid of evidence connecting her to a crime, then you don’t need it.

Basically, EVERY SCENE NEEDS TO ADVANCE THE PLOT. If it doesn’t, chuck it! (I promise, it’ll be okay.)

Once you’ve determined what can stay and you’ve deleted the rest, then you can focus on the following layers:

  • Characterization–Have you described your characters so people can picture them? Have you made them interesting and quirky? Are they a cliche? (I hope not!) ;)
  • Consume Milk Chocolate
  • Character Arcs–How does your main characters viewpoint or perspective change as the story progresses?
  • Consume chocolate mousse
  • Description–Can the reader envision your setting or how your characters look? Make sure this is balanced! Too much of description can bog the pace…too little can leave the reader confused.
  • Consume chocolate cake
  • Emotion/Conflict–SHOW, don’t TELL! We want to feel what the characters are feeling, not be told, right? And if you want to keep a reader hooked, make sure the characters are at odds somehow.
  • Consume Death by Chocolate ice cream
  • Dialogue–Tighten, tighten, tighten! We don’t need the “Hi, how are ya?’s” cluttering up a page. Get to the point and be succinct.
  • Consume hot cocoa–whit or milk chocolate!
  • Action Scenes–Use strong words/verbs and make it clear.
  • Consume a dark chocolate truffle…or ten.
  • Tension–You need this on EVERY page!!!! (If there’s no tension, it may be a clue to nix something, right?)
  • Consume chocolate covered caramels until your fillings fall out.
  • Plots and sub-plots–This is something that outliners tackle ahead of time, but could still need a lot of revising depending on how the characters dictate their own story. The plot is the skeleton of your story, but it doesn’t have to be boring. Use sub-plots (maybe with secondary characters) to keep the interest alive.
  • Consume a mocha frappuccino.
  • Grammar and sentence structure–This is KEY of course. Vary your sentence length. Use the grammar to perfect your voice. Use as few words as possible. If you’ve got a lot of verbiage, you could be slowing down your pace!
  • Consume your body weight in M&M’s!

You don’t have to follow these layers in order, but I would recommend saving the grammar and sentence structure until later because why spend time perfecting a sentence if it’s gonna end up getting nixed because you don’t need that scene?

Lydia answers Sarah’s sisterhood question about expectations today. Check it out!

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Writers must always be mindful of why and how characters handle certain situations. Otherwise, characters’ actions come off as forced, contrite, inaccurate, or artificial. In other words, a wonky response is the kiss of writerly death.

So, a writer must follow the rules of logic. If X, then Y. If Johnny loses his father’s favorite watch down the drain pipe, then Johnny has to go after it. Makes sense, right? We, the reader, can go along with it. We can follow Johnny into the sewer…erm, well maybe not, but we can certainly cheer him on or at least wish him luck!

But what happens when, “If X, then Y,” gets boring? For example, Sally is angry at Alice, so Sally tells Alice she’s angry. It’s straight forward. Expected, Predictable. Bor-ing!

Writers, then, have the job of adding, “The Twist.” (AKA Tension.) HOW???

Let’s use the Sally example. She’s mad at Alice. Maybe she’s mad because Alice stained the shirt she borrowed. Maybe Alice forgot to meet her at the movies. Maybe Alice asked the boy Sally likes to the spring fling! (Oh no, she didn’t! Oh, yes she did!)

But that’s not enough!!!!

To really maximize the tension, what if Sally has a hard time sticking up for herself? What if her mom taught her not to express anger or disappointment in others (and nobody, I mean nobody, can diss Miss Manners!)? How about Sally turns into a fire-spewing dragon whenever she loses control of her fury? (Had to throw in something for us paranormal/fantasy types.)

How might this play out? Well, it could be as simple as:

Sally is mad at Alice for asking the cute boy to the dance, so she thinks about how often her best-friend-in-the-entire-world-always-gets-what-she-wants-and-never-thinks-about-Sally’s-feelings. This thought triggers a physical reaction (her fists clench, her jaw tightens, her ears burn, her head pounds, her stomach twists). But something stops her from speaking. Her throat tightens. Her voice squeaks. She says, “Oh, you’re a great couple! I can’t wait to see your dress!”

End result: Sally’s seething and Alice has no idea.

Suppressed. Anger. THAT’S tension!

Anybody bored? I didn’t think so. ;)

A fine example of this set-up (where a character has a particular thought/physical reaction, but says something entirely different) occurs throughout Maggie Stiefvater’s Linger.

What other examples have y’all come across? Have you used this technique in your writing?

**********

Be sure to check out Sarah’s debut post with the Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog where she shares her writerly goals for 2011!

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