Monday, May 9, 2011

A Slice of Writer's Life

"Three Things NOT To Say To An Editor"

You may already know this. Editors are not like other people. I mean this in a good way...some days. Even if you've worked with several already, there's a quirky one out there you need to prepare yourself for. First and foremost, editors are people too, albeit different people, but regardless of who or where they work, they are overworked, overscheduled, and overwhelmed. Cut 'em some slack.

It isn't an easy job convincing some writers to change their writing. Most writers take the "just open a vein" cliche way too seriously and consider their writing nothing less than the next great novel (or short story or article or etc.) The cold truth at the break of dawn is that if you have received a contract from a publisher or an agreement from a freelance editor on your writing, it simply means your piece shows promise. It is rarely, if ever, totally ready to go to print when it's accepted. Rarely.

Editing and revision should be a collaborative process. That means people have to agree to get along during the process. It isn't the editor's job to clean up the mechanics, plot problems, or sagging middle of your story. Plain and simple, it's the editor's job to point out the errant issues, provide some ideas for ways to improve, and it's your job to repair it. The editor (notice I didn't say, "your editor") is responsible for the big picture of your novel or article and how it factors into the overall premise of the magazine, newspaper, or the offerings of the publishing company. Your novel/article has been chosen to become part of a community of books or stories, and as the writer, it's imperative to work WITH the editor (and publisher) not against them. They truly have your best interests at heart as well as the publisher they work for.

Every opportunity to work with an editor is an opportunity to learn and grow as a writer. Listen carefully to the editor of your piece and you will forever be changed for the better. Even an editor you disagree with has the big picture in mind when she makes her suggestions for changes. The changes are designed to ultimately make your work better, and isn't that what you want? Better writing every time? An open mind is all it requires. And civility. Be courteous to the editor. That means not saying any of the following to your editor in an email, over the phone, in your blog, on the loop, or outloud at a writer's conference:

1. "I'm going on vacation. You can finish the revisions can't you? It's just a couple of commas."

2. "I've always written it this way, and I've published three books writing this way. I'm not changing now."

3. "I'm expecting you to have the edits back to me in a week."

Put yourself in the editor's place. We are normally responsible for more than one manuscript at a time. We prioritize them according to when they were received AND when the deadline is if that is applicable.

Have you had a good or bad experience with an editor? Want to tell without using names? Try to share your story by showing what you learned even if the experience wasn't the best.

Meanwhile, have you looked at the digital version of my book Writer Wellness, A Writer's Path to Health and Creativity from Who Dares Wins Publishing? Check it out today!

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Be well, write well,

Joy Held

Copyright Joy Held 2011

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Bring Your Character to Life

We're approaching the end of the Spring season, and you know what that means: new life all around us! This life is inspirational! And with a little help, might just inspire us to give life to our own creations: our characters.

Giving life to a character is one of the most rewarding parts of being a writer. It's also one of the most difficult. Too many times in fiction we witness the "cardboard" or one-dimensional character. It takes more than the snap of a finger to create real characters, those we can visualize and root for and love. Instead, they develop over time, over many hours spent together.

As a writer, you need to think of the development of characters as being a process, a life cycle, instead of a moment of genius creation. One of Inspiration for Writers most requested workshop is "The Life Cycle of a Character," which breaks getting to know a character into several phases.

CONCEPTION is the initial spark, the idea that originally causes us to want to create this character. Sometimes the plot generates a spark—we know a story we want to tell and we need a character to tell it by. Sometimes we see a setting—a country porch with a dilapidated swing—that makes us wonder what kind of person lives there. Sometimes we run across a photograph that sparks our imagination and we create personality to go with the physical features. Or sometimes we see a possession like an antique spinning wheel and wonder the type of person who would own such a thing. Whatever the cause, writers conceive a character from an idea.

During the conception phase, we need to start assigning characteristics (knowing that once our character takes on a life of his own, he may change any of our assumptions about him). But, to get started, we still go through the paces. You may find it helpful to use a Character Trait Chart to assign physical description and background information.

BIRTH is when we pick up the limp character that we assigned physical attributes and psychological traits to, hold him in our arms, and breathe the breath of life into him from our very own souls. It's also the turning point -- his actual birth—and we cease having absolute control over him.

The first breath of life is when our character has a goal or "character statement." What, more than anything else in the world, does this character want? Consider the following character statements:

To become wealthy so the love of my life will return my love.
To have fun.
To keep my family together.
To break into the Rock 'n Roll charts and become a rock star.
As you can see, a character's goal can be as deep or as vapid as the individual. Note that for some characters, this statement may be a life goal, but for others, it may change as the character matures. Regardless, this is what motivates our character, and we must understand this motivation if we are to continue to add depth to his personality.

Part of a character's birth is the "layering" of personality traits. I have found that a good book of the Zodiac that includes both star signs and moon signs is a "cheap" way to add dimension to a character. Also, I search psychology books for complementary traits. Using resources can help with your writing. For example, you may find that alcoholics often possess irrational fears and suspicions or that a criminal skyjacker often has a religious mother who confided in him, that bed wetters are often aggressive and have difficulty adapting to new situations. These are the types of traits that add dimension to our characters.

ADOLESCENCE is when our character begins interacting with his environment. How does the setting of the story affect him? What is going to happen to him and how will he react to what happens to him? What conflict or fatal flaw will prevent him from achieving his goal? How will he overcome this conflict or flaw? How will he grow?

MATURITY is the final fleshing-out of a character. We now add body language (be sure to study a good body language text to understand how posture, facial expressions and mannerisms affect the way we are received by others) and dialogue to our character. We need to give him a distinctive voice, not just externally, but the way he will think in internal dialogue. Perhaps most importantly, we need to understand his emotional makeup. To fully understand our character, we need to mentally try him out in several emotional scenes so that we can know how he will react.

DEATH. Great characters never die. Never.

So—giving life to a character is much like being a parent. We do the best we can for our characters, give them years of our lives, our love and understanding, but the day comes when they rebel and say, "Enough. Let me be me," and we must allow them to live their own lives. And that is when we as writers have truly given life.

For additional tips, worksheets, and discussions, order your own copy of the Inspiration for Writers Tips and Techniques Workbook, which can be found on our website: