Dramaquill's All Things Writing

December 8, 2014

I didn’t finish Nanowrimo – am I a failure?

First of all, congratulations to all those writers who conquered and won the Nanowrimo 50,000 word challenge.  I salute you!

I chose a WIP (“Summer at Birch Beach”) this year.  I had about two thirds of it written in a very rough draft.  I thought I would use Nano to not only finish the rough draft but also begin working on an amazing revision.  After the month was up, I would have a new manuscript to shop around.  Needless to say, after about a week, and 8859 words, my Nano writing got detailed.

Since I didn’t finish Nano, am I a failure?  If you didn’t finish, are you?

Let’s look at what I did accomplish during November:

  • Secured a contract with a new publisher for my suspense novel, “When Love Won’t Die”
  • Finished the second act of a full length melodrama play for my acting class
  • Wrote lyrics, music and accompaniment for two original songs for the melodrama
  • Started final revisions on my sequel, “Amorous Obsession”
  • Wrote a synopsis for the back of the print version of my book
  • Wrote a query letter for my sequel

I may not have managed the 50,000 word goal on “Summer at Birch Beach” but I wrote every day.  The melodrama script had to be finished by December 1st so the students could begin learning their lines, blocking scenes and singing new songs.  I had to do a small revision for my new publisher so that I could get my book up before Christmas.  And now that my suspense novel is available again, that inspired me to work on the sequel.

So…I did NOT win Nanowrimo.

But I did win the writing battle.

If you didn’t complete the 50,000 word journey of Nanowrimo this year, you aren’t a failure.  Just signing up and giving it a try deserves a high five.  You did write.  You do have a word count.  Now…keep going!  It will pay off.

To purchase “When Love Won’t Die” in ebook Kindle format OR in print, go to:

http://www.amazon.com/When-Love-Wont-Jacqueline-McMahon/dp/1987854012/ref=asap_B0056TVHO8_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1418047723&sr=1-1

August 14, 2011

What comes first – the plot or the characters?

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I wonder if most people’s first reaction when reading the title of this post was, “Duh, the plot of course!”  And hey, maybe they’re right.  But for me, I seem to have much greater success developing new projects if I have a set of characters in mind first.

When writing plays for Slightly off Broadway’s drama department, just knowing whether the actors will be playing hillbillies or wizards sparks all sort of creative flow.  I can’t imagine trying to come up with the story first when the list of possible characters is somewhat endless. 

My inspiration for writing my first suspense novel was actually loosely based on something I had witnessed in the life of someone I knew.  My villain took on the characteristics of a handful of individuals I’d seen in action in disfunctional relationships throughout the years, be it my own or those of my friends and/or family.  My heroine became the culmination of three strong women, all of whom faced horrible circumstances and found a way to survive.  I think the hero is actually someone I wish existed.  I can’t imagine figuring out the plot of my story if I didn’t first get to know these characters.

Currently, I’m working on another suspense novel, and again, the characters prompted me to not only develop the plot but also helped me with the location.  The story morphed relatively easily out of just a few details about the lives of each of the characters.

Now it might sound like I’m saying that it isn’t the plot, but in fact it’s the characters that come first.  In my case, that does seem to be true – at least so far.  But I think this question, much like the “what came first – the chicken or the egg” question has lots of room for debate.

I’d love to have other writers weigh in on their experiences in regard to plot and characters.  Feel free to post to get the discussion going.

April 18, 2011

How writing plays helps me write better dialogue

 
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I’ve been writing plays for kids and teens to perform for about fifteen years now.  Usually, in a typical school year, I write between six and eight new one act playscripts. 

The most enjoyable aspect of being a playwright for a drama department is that not only do I get to write plays and then within a couple of months, see them come to life on the stage, but I also get to work with a wide variety of individuals between the ages of four and eighteen.

Being around such a diverse age group offers up a variety of personalities and also allows me to observe children at so many different stages of development.  Watching the children use their imaginations to create the many types of characters found within my plays inspires me to continue to find new ways to allow them to develop and grow their own creativity.

If one considers that plays are basically made up of dialogue coupled with physical actions performed by different characters, it’s no wonder I can hear the voices of my novel characters speaking as if they were indeed real people.  I attribute this ability to write dialogue that sounds like real people to my playwriting.  Without characters delivering believable dialogue, a play is doomed.  But that goes without saying for novels and short stories, too.

How do I approach writing dialogue?

I also listen to real individuals and try to find something unique about the way they speak.  I’m sure you have friends and colleagues that are known for certain expressions or ways of saying something that immediately differentiates them from others that you know.

I try to hear my characters speaking as real people when I’m writing their dialogue.  What is that particular character’s distinct way of speaking?

Some of the things I’ve found are:

  • expressions/slang
  • sentence length
  • level of intelligence and word usage
  • speed of delivery
  • body language/animated movements
  • an accent
  • specific words that they use frequently
  • vocal tone

Sometimes, I even start developing a new character by writing a sort of monologue first, in that character’s voice.  For example, when I created my villain in my first suspense novel, I wrote an opening speech (BTW, this was an exercise only and never actually made it into the book) letting him vent about his situation.  Just listening to him in my head helped me see a physical being whose details only began to take shape after I’d written this monologue in his voice.

Do you have to write plays to write good dialogue?

NO – of course not!

But it my case, it certainly helped me become a more observant listener and it definitely strengthened my ability to write dialogue.

If you don’t have access to a lot of different people, go and sit in a coffee shop with a newspaper and just listen to the conversations of the people around you or head to the mall’s food court to have a listen. 

Remember – real people rarely worry about speaking in gramatically correct sentences.

June 25, 2010

Character Interviews Part II – Mel

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Here’s the next interview from my upcoming suspense novel.  This time, we delve into the mind of our villain, Mel:

Mel (villain of the novel “When Love Won’t Die”)

1.    Do your consider yourself a villain?

A villain?  You mean a bad guy?  No way!

2.    Do you believe in happy endings?

I try to but it hasn’t been easy.  Maybe this time?

3.    What are your deepest fears?

I’m not afraid of anything!  I want certain things that I can’t have right now, but I’m not afraid.  I WILL get what I want!

4.    Do you consider yourself an honest person?

I don’t lie!  I can’t help it if nobody wants to hear the truth.

5.    Are you a forgiving person?

No.  Why should I be?  Of course there is one exception and that’s my Angel.  I could never turn away from my Angel.

6.    Would your life make an interesting movie?

I don’t care about crap like that.  Movies are a stupid waste of time.  Nobody wants to see a movie when it’s filled with the truth of the real world.  Hollywood wouldn’t make any money on the truth.

7.    How do you feel about children?

Children just get in the way. 

8.    If you could be someone else, who would you be?

I don’t fantasize about stuff like that.  What’s the point?  I am who I am so I’d better learn to live with it.

9.    If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you go?

Somewhere private and secluded with just me and my Angel.

10.   What do you think your future holds?

That’s nobody’s business but mine but I know I’m going to make sure I get what I want, no matter what I have to do to get it.

June 3, 2010

Character Interviews Part I – Eleanor

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I got this great idea from some of the authors at my new publishing company and have decided to post interviews of my first suspense novel’s characters in the hopes that you will want to read more about them by buying the book when it comes out.

ELEANOR  (heroine of novel “When Love Won’t Die”)

1.    What made you start writing suspense novels?

Believe it or not, I never really thought I would become a writer as my career.  I initially used writing, in journal form, to deal with some circumstances in my past that continued to haunt me years later.  Who knew I’d get three best sellers out of random journal diddling.

2.    Do you believe in happy endings?

I think a happy ending is all in the perspective of who is looking at it and how it affects them.  I don’t know if any ending is ever completely happy, but when circumstances that affect me cause me to be happy, I would definitely call that a happy ending.

3.    What are your deepest fears?

I have one fear, but other fears stem from that.  My deepest fear is that my past will destroy my present.

4.    Do you consider yourself an honest person?

I do for the most part, however, I know a few people who would disagree with me.  I think, on a rare occasion, sometimes the truth just isn’t appropriate.  But be prepared for the fallout if a lie ever catches up with you.

5.    Are you a forgiving person?

I try to be, but unfortunately there is one person I truly don’t think I can ever forgive.  I wish that person didn’t have that power over me.

6.    Would your life make an interesting movie?

Yes, I’m afraid it would, but that doesn’t make me happy.

7.    How do you feel about children?

If I had one regret in my life it would be that I was never able to have any children.  I guess it wasn’t in the plan and I don’t know why.  My husband and I did try several times but we kept having miscarriages.  I don’t like to think about the emptiness that I feel when I think about not being able to have any children.

8.    If you could be someone else, who would you be?

I was someone else a long time ago.  I can’t imagine being anyone but who I am now…Eleanor Marie Bennett.

9.    If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you go?

I’m not big on world travel.  As long as I’m surrounded by family and friends, that’s home to me and that’s where I want to be.

10.   What do you think your future holds?

In all honesty I hope my future is quiet, calm and uneventful (laughs).  No really, I mean that wholeheartedly.  I’ve had more than enough (clears throat) excitement, if that’s what you want to call it, to last me ten lifetimes.

 

May 31, 2010

I miss my characters

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I’ve spent a long time with the characters from my first suspense novel and I’ve come to know them as well as the “real” people in my life.

Eleanor, my heroine, is also a writer of suspense and she is enjoying much success with her books.  I can fast forward a few years and pick up her life as if it were my own.

Michael, Eleanor’s husband, has been a tougher character to create.  I wanted him to be one of those men only a handful of lucky women manage to connect with, and yet still be a believable 21st century male.  Michael’s character took on the most revisions before he became the man he needed to be.

Mel, my villain, was fun to write, yet often very scary.  Sometimes I wondered how his creepy thoughts kept surfacing inside the mind of someone like myself, a stable, very normal individual.  But I also enjoyed being able to step into the psychotic nature of a person like Mel and try to figure out what made him do the things he did.

As I write the pages of my newest book, I find myself wondering what Eleanor, Michael and Mel would do in the situations of my new plot.  I wish I felt the same intimacy with my new characters, but I know it’s only a matter of time before they too become as real to me as my original trio.

Do you write characters that you miss once you’re done with them?

November 23, 2008

Nano’s not working out the way I thought

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As writers around the globe continue to scribble out page after page of their novels for the Nanowrimo challenge, I sit here, looking at the verbiage I’ve accumulated and wonder how any of it will ever become a book.

I have to question whether or not my decision to abandon my first idea and jump into a different one was wise after all.  I could feel the adrenaline rush as I planned out my suspense novel ideas, but I’ve spent the first three weeks of Nanowrimo doing character sketches, plots and sub-plots and starting the first chapter over several times.  I had already done this pre-nano work on my chicklit nove.

I’m definitely not going to end up with a huge word count.  In fact, I’ll be nowhere near the 50,000 word goal set out by the contest.  But I’m okay with that…I think.

I have spent a lot of time working out this new book.  I think I’ve come up with some neat twists in my plot and I also think my protagonist will appeal to today’s readers.

So I’m not going to look at my Nanowrimo participation this year as a complete failure.  Yes, I would have liked to accomplish the 50,000 word goal. Yes, I would like to have the better half of a first draft of a novel under my belt. 

But I have to be realistic.  It’s just not going to happen.

So, with the last week of Nanowrimo reving up, I’m just going to continue immersing myself in what I have so far and see if I can build my momentum until I end up with at least a good chunk of work. 

I’m not posting my word count until the final day.  I haven’t even checked it, to tell you the honest truth.  I want to be surprised.

I hope everyone’s Nano experience is leaving them with something positive. 

Any writing is better than no writing at all…right?

October 5, 2008

Can you really make me feel for the villain?

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As I continue to work on my final revisions for my adult suspense novel, I vaguely remember an article I read in one of the many ezines to which I subscribe.  The article addressed the villain character in novels, plays, movies etc.

What does the writer have to do to make the villain more than just a horrible, frightening individual?

Well for one, this article stated that the reader had to be able to find something “human” about the villain.  We have to remember that no one, not even our worst villain, is 100% bad. 

So, that’s had me thinking a lot about Mel, my villain, this week.  Basically, Mel is a controlling, abusive, obsessive guy who has killed the women who tried to leave him.  My heroine, Eleanor, ends up in a relationship with Mel, but finds out before long that Mel’s idea of a relationship means she will have to surrender to him in every way or be punished.

After almost a year and a half of verbal, emotional and physical abuse, Eleanor leaves Mel and changes her identity so he can’t find her. 

Now, as a reader, I don’t think you’re too crazy about Mel right now, are you?

But everyone has a story.  Mel was left in a dumpster by his biological mother when he was just a few months old.  He was a sickly little fellow with extremely bad asthma and spent a lot of time in and out of hospitals.  He moved from one foster home to another until his eighteenth birthday, never being allowed to  establish himself in a loving, family environment. 

We still cringe at the things Mel has done, and continues to do, but at least we have some insight into “why” he behaves as he does. 

Mel has a vulnerable side and longs to be loved unconditionally.  Unfortunately, because he does not know how to elicit love from the people who come into his life, every relationship ends in disaster.

I still cringe when I read the pages I’ve written detailing Mel’s horrific actions.  I still feel my heartbeat pounding in my chest when I watch my heroine try to escape.  I don’t like Mel one bit!

But, I do feel for him at times.

How does your villain stack up as a character?  What will your readers think of your villain?

Here are some good articles/blogs about creating villains:

http://blog.worderella.com/2008/06/developing-villainous-characters-part-1/

http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/CU0711/S00197.htm

http://www.theromanceclub.com/writers/articles/article0042.htm

http://www.ehow.com/how_2222257_avoid-creating-weak-villain-creative.html

http://www.stellacameron.com/contrib/villains.html

http://www.wikihow.com/Create-a-Credible-Villain-in-Fiction

March 16, 2008

Getting inside your characters

We’ve all read articles aimed at helping us create more believable, three-dimensional characters.  We’re told to give them mannerisms or expressions that make them unique.  Most likely we’ve gone to coffee shops or food courts to people watch, scribbling character descriptions into our notebooks.

And that’s all good.  Listening and watching are two very effective ways to add depth and believability to the characters we create.  We want our readers to identify with them as people and care about what happens to them.  That keeps our readers reading.

I’ve tried something new for a couple of recent projects, one an MG book and the other a YA chicklit type novel and it has really helped me shape my main characters into “real” people.

I’ve created a journal for each of them – not the online kind but an actual, handwritten journal in a journal book.  Even picking out the book to use helped me define more of each character’s personality. 

My MG character half prints and half writes in her journal.  Sometimes she uses short forms, like the text message kind except they are her own creations.  My YA heroine likes to dot her i’s with little circles instead of dots and her writing is very feminine and flowing. 

I don’t write in the journals everyday, but whenever I’m working on an aspect of the story where my character might have something to say that won’t make it into the actual pages of the book, that’s when I let them journal.

Who knows – maybe some of the journal entries might end up in the manuscript, but I doubt it. 

But sadly, there’s one downside.  I rarely write or reflect in MY journal anymore.  Oh well.  Until I use myself as a character in a book, I guess it’s really not necessary…haha!

Try it and see if it works for you.

I’d love to hear from any of my readers who try this form of character development or those who have other ways to really get inside the heads of their characters.

February 5, 2008

Howdy y’all – Developing a character

I’s a takin’ a break from writin’ a hillbilly play fer our drama class.  Ifn I’s a talkin’ funny, it’s a cuz I’s bin a writin’ in hillbilly speak fer daze an’ daze.

All kidding aside, using a dialect can add a whole new flavor to a character but writing it can be a tough job.  I spent a lot of time researching hillbilly expressions, names, activities and anything else I could find before tackling this type of character.

But, due to the success of last year’s hillbilly play, and the way the class responds to the silly humor and antics of hillbillies, it was time to write a sequel of sorts. 

As a reader, I’m not always excited to read a character who speaks with some unique dialect.  I can imagine that I’m not the only one who finds this type of read slower than if the character didn’t speak in such a way.

The neat part about writing a play that utilizes characters who speak in dialect is that it’s not a “sit-down” read at all.  Yes, I have to read through the dialogue to make sure the characters have their own personalities and of course when I’m checking for typos etc.  But the fun part is listening to the students as they begin to master the hillbilly dialect.  And of course, the finished product is always a crowd pleaser once the audience gets to come and watch.

So how do you feel about dialects as a writer?  Ever try a character like that?

How about as a reader?  Do you prefer to read straight English without the flavor of dialect?

No matter what you do as a writer, just remember that in order to create believable, 3 dimensional characters, they must possess qualities that remind the reader of real people.  Whether it’s an expression they use, or mannerisms they possess, or a personality trait that always seems to get them in trouble, make sure your characters come alive on the page.

January 14, 2008

Paying attention to your characters

Every writer has their own methods of developing their stories.  For some, they plot and plan everything out on paper before tackling the writing.  For others, they write freely and worry about making it all fit together once they begin their rewrite.

For me, it’s as simple as listening to my characters.

What does my heroine fear most?  What does she want?  What is she willing to do to get it? 

Why is my villain acting and reacting as he does?  How is his life intertwined with my heroine?  What drives him?

I spent a lot of time developing the characters for my suspense novel.  I researched the type of crime I felt inclined to write about and I poured over information about victims of such crimes.  I spoke to counselors and the authorities.  I interviewed someone who’s life situation had similar circumstances to what I had planned for my heroine.

Then, I listened.  As I wrote each chapter, distinct voices emerged.  My heroine shared her innermost fears and desires with me and her story began to take shape in a whole new light.  My villain, who still scares me, took on a dimension of a human person, rather than a stereotypical “bad guy”.  I still really don’t like him, but I’m beginning to understand why he does some of the things he does. 

My characters have been instrumental in helping me create a much stronger manuscript in this final revision.  I feel like I could meet these people on the street and I would instantly know them.  I can see their worlds so visually clear inside my head.  I hear their voices as if we’ve already met.  They aren’t just characters inside my head – they are real.

So what are your characters trying to say to you?  Are you paying attention?

January 11, 2008

Something fun to try

Blogs are a great way for a writer, published or unpublished, to create a web presence.  Some are very pointed and specific while others run carefree. 

 I recently read somewhere (I know, as a writer I should have written down so I could cite it properly for all my readers) that some authors use blogs to allow their characters to speak out.

And I thought – HEY, what a cool idea!

When I first started this blog, I talked a lot about my adult suspense novel.  I’m still hot and heavy into the final (yeah, right) revision and I wondered if my heroine, and my villain, might have some things to get off their minds.

So, don’t be surprised if they start making an appearance here shortly.

November 19, 2007

At nearly 26,000 words, I think I finally have a story

So Nanowrimo is consuming all my free time this month, but that’s okay because I’ve never written so much in such a short time. 

For a time, I was concerned that my chosen book to do in this month long challenge was nothing more than wordage…a bunch of letters on paper and nothing salvagable. 

But I’ve hung in there and the story is really starting to take shape at last.  My characters are helping me weave my way through the plot and although the book’s not exactly what I pictured it to be, it is finally taking shape and resembling a book.

So now I’m inspired to keep going and to find out where it’s all leading. 

And best of all, I’ve stopped editing it.  It’s supposed to be a first draft and I’m at peace with that now. 

So if you’re struggling through your Nano project and wondering “What’s the point?”, don’t despair.  Just keep going. Keep putting words to page.  Keep following ideas, even if they lead you in different directions. 

But most of all…keep going.

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