Talk to me…It’s not in your words, It’s all in the way you move…

People are communicators. We love to communicate. We want to communicate. We need to communicate. But what about when words don’t get your full meaning across? What about when talking is just not enough? Have you ever traveled to a country where you did not speak the language there or did not speak it well enough to communicate? What did you fall back on to communicate? You used body language. You used facial expressions. Words can sometimes only go so far and even if you speak the same language, words may have different meanings to different people. So people use body language or non-verbal communication to get their meaning across.

Non-verbal communication is 90% of the way we communicate and verbal communication (words) is only 10% of the way we communicate. So it really is true: Actions speak louder than words.

When a reader picks up your completed novel, they are visiting a new country that is foreign to them. They are entering the world of your characters that you as the writer have created. You may know all the rules. You may see all the scenes in your head. But just because you can, don’t assume your reader can see them too without you communicating these scenes to them. Yes you can use descriptions to describe scenes and you can use dialogue to give a presence to your characters. But how do you show what the character is thinking or feeling in action? You use non-verbal communication, body language, facial expressions and micro expressions.

Ok, so how do you learn to write body language? Before you get to that question, you should first ask how do you learn to understand body language in the real world? We have all heard the expression: write what you know. Body language definitely comes under this. If you don’t do some research on body language you as a writer will be forced to either have the talking-head syndrome or you will be using clichéd phrases and descriptions to communicate your character’s body language. Clichés sometimes are avoidable and they do have their place but it is far better to try for something original.

So who are the experts in body language? Who can you talk to, to find out more? Here are some options for you:

  • The Police
  • Lawyers/Judges
  • Jury Members
  • Medical People
  • Psychologists/Psychiatrists
  • The Military
  • The Airline Industry – Pilots, Flight Attendants
  • PR (Public Relations) Experts
  • Communication Experts
  • Sales People

Off the top of my head these are just a few of the industry experts who need to read, and understand body language. From my day jobs in both sales management & training and my days as an international flight attendant (especially in this role) body language was key to doing my job correctly. In terms of my airline experience we were taught by two police detectives and a psychologist how to read body language. A lot of the most missed body language comes under micro-expressions. Below is a short video detailing the basic micro-expressions all people use to communicate various emotions.

The other layers that make up the linguistics of body language are voice tone, body posture, sign language and then individual “tics” that are unique to each individual. Think of it the next time you are in a room with someone. Think what body language you are using. Does it contradict what you are saying or does it add to it? Think of the other person. What does their body language tell you? Like most things in life, learning to read and recognize body language needs to be practiced until eventually it will become an unconscious habit.

Writing

So how do you add your new-found linguistic skills in body language to your scenes? Let’s take a simple expression that we all can recognise and all have used: smiling

Eliza smiles.

The above sentence is fairly self-explanatory. You have a character named Eliza and she smiles. But 10 people could read that and get 10 different images in their minds explaining the smile. As a writer you have a choice to either let the reader choose their own interpretation or you can open up the scene for them.

Her lips curve slightly before she can pull them straight.

Now I have opened up the scene a bit. I have told you in one sentence that she smiles but is trying to hide the smile. Perhaps she is nervous or perhaps she is shy.

In the doorway he stares at me and smiles.

Again there is nothing “wrong” with that sentence but it lacks emotion and falls flat as a result. How does he smile? Why is he smiling? What does the doorway look like? What is he thinking/feeling? The above sentence does not tell the reader any of that.

Standing in the shadowed doorway, his eyes crinkle at the corners and his lips twitch into a knowing smile.

Now the reader can picture the doorway. The reader can picture the man. They can imagine him perhaps leaning against the doorway. The reader can see his smile is a teasing smile, perhaps with a slight twinge of arrogance or confidence.

These are just two twists on using body language to open up a simple expression of smiling. You could come up with 100 others.

Here is a simple exercise: Go to a mirror and smile. But think something when you are smiling. Perhaps you are thinking of something embarrassing and the smile that comes to your face will be a nervous one. Look at what your eyes are doing, how are your lips curving. Are you smiling with your teeth showing or are you smiling with a closed mouth?

A myriad of micro-expressions can come into a simple smile depending on the person’s mood or the circumstance or the person they are with. Using these skills of describing these micro-expressions will bring a scene to life for your reader.

Two television shows that are fantastic for learning to recognise body language are Criminal Minds and Lie to Me. Criminal Minds is a television show based on the cases of a team of behavioral specialists & experts in the FBI. Lie to Me is a television show about a man who makes a living from being an expert in body language and micro-expressions. Most police shows are very educational with learning how to recognise body language but these two series are my favourite go-to series.

Do you make a conscious effort to use body language in your writing?

What is your most challenging “simple expression”, like smiling, to write using body language?

Always extra room in my closet for some…Dress me Inspiration

“Fashion is as profound and critical a part of the social life of man as sex, and is made up of the same ambivalent mixture of irresistible urges and inevitable taboos.” – Rene Konig

I know that I have been lax in posting on the blogs but hopefully this post of inspiration will make up for it. Though I am a writer and should be more focused on words than anything else, I am also a very visual person. I have spoken before about how I create vision boards for each of my WIPs and even for future works. They say a picture is worth a thousand words but for me one picture can spark off a whole manuscript. One of my favourite forms of vision boards are when I find clothing for my characters. I never need an excuse to stroll through fashion magazines/sites but when I can mark it off as “work” in research, the satisfaction is doubled.

"Everything you own should have value, either because it's functional or beautiful or you just love it."-- Peter Walsh

A week ago I was invited to sign up to a new social network: Pinterest. I had heard about it for a while beforehand and had even had friends who signed up but I resisted the lure of another social network. The resistance proved futile and my curiosity finally won out. I wanted to know what all the cool “kids” were on about. I wanted to be in on the secret too. So a friend kindly invited me (like most deliciously secretive societies, Pinterest membership is by invite/request for the time being) to Pinterest and within a few moments I was in and had my own Pinterest boards.

 “Fashions fade, style is eternal.” – Yves Saint Laurent

Pinterest is fantastic for a person like me who is a vision board junkie. It is set up much like a regular cork board vision board you would set up at home. You create all these boards, title them, describe them and then you “pin” your interesting images, either your own from your computer’s drive or pinned/linked from other online sites. The great thing with Pinterest is that the original creator of the image is credited and you also have the original link from where you found the image in the first place. This cuts down on your web-browser bookmarks and keeps all your visual inspiration in one tidy place.

” ‘Style’ is an expression of individualism mixed with charisma. Fashion is something that comes after style.”           – John Fairchild

So here for example is my Pinterest board for my current WIP trilogy – The Curse`d. So on this board I have a few of the images that I have used for inspiration for my WIP, whether it be settings, culture types, clothing and characters.

“Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.” – Coco Chanel

Which brings me to CLOTHING and STYLE. Two of my favourite interests but also vital to a story. I don’t know about you, but if I can picture the characters the way they are dressed it really gives me a picture in my mind. The type of clothing worn by some characters can tell me much about who they are. It also tells me when and where the story is set. Clothing/Style of characters can tell me about whether the character is a businessman/woman, a lady/man of leisure, a woman/man of action and it can also tell me what the character wants me to know about them. Clothing can also be symbolic of a character’s emotions. Memorable outfits by literary characters/film characters come to mind at the drop of a hat and we can recall the stories behind these outfits. Think of the green dress in Atonement or the fire dress in The Hunger Games. Clothing can make a character stand out from all the others. In a sense the fashions in a novel are characters in and of themselves.

 “Fashion is born by small facts, trends, or even politics, never by trying to make little pleats and furbelows, by trinkets, by clothes easy to copy, or by the shortening or lengthening of a skirt.” – Elsa Schiaparelli

I love the societies that my current trilogy is set in: a mix of contemporary urban, early Victorian society and Romany Gypsies. The inspiration for the clothing is almost limitless. You have the exquisite formality of the Victorian era, the romanticism of the Romany Gypsy culture and the simplicity and understated sexiness of the urban-contemporary.

“What I really love about them… is the fact that they contain someone’s personal history…I find myself wondering about their lives. I can never look at a garment… without thinking about the woman who owned it. How old was she? Did she work? Was she married? Was she happy?… I look at these exquisite shoes, and I imagine the woman who owned them rising out of them or kissing someone…I look at a little hat like this, I lift up the veil, and I try to imagine the face beneath it… When you buy a piece of vintage clothing you’re not just buying the fabric and thread – you’re buying a piece of someone’s past.” – Isabel Wolff

So here for your pleasure are some style/clothing images that have been the inspiration behind my WIP.

This is the inspiration for one of my MCs.

This dress is the dress that my MC will mean in a key moment in her story.

This is another key piece worn by my MC later in her story.

The inspiration for the debonair man who catches my MC’s eye and heart.

This is inspiration for my second MC but later in the trilogy.

This is my inspiration for my hero.

This is inspiration for my second MC.

Writers: What do you use for fashion inspiration in your novels?

Readers: What are your favourite outfits from the pages of fiction?

 

My Guest Blog | Hero with a Rebel Cause

Today I am guest-blogging...

A couple of weeks ago I was asked to guest post, by the talented and lovely Erin Cawood, on the topic of Heroes.

My heroes are very close to my heart so this was a topic I was excited to guest post on.

“The hero of my stories is usually an underdog. My heroes are rough-hewn and rough around the edges. They have a rebellious streak and love bucking the system. They usually do not know they are a hero until push comes to shove and they are thrown into the white hot fires of adversity, conflict and tension. Even though they are underdogs, they are no cowards. They also don’t have the bounties of life offered to them on a silver platter. They have had to fight for recognition and achievement every step of the way. They succeed through honour, integrity, loyalty and above all perseverance. They believe that if you do not stand for something or stand up for someone in life, you will fall for anything.

….

“My heroes and heroines don’t fit the mould of everyday society. They don’t follow the rules. They fight for their own place in society and they make their own rules. They are rebels with a good cause and they will do whatever is needed to fight for that cause whether it be rescuing someone or standing up for what they believe in. You will want my heroes and heroines on your side because believe me they are better friends than enemies. You might say my heroes and heroines are heroic rebels. … read more on the post here 

What qualities make up your heroes and heroines?

Hunting for the Truth | Interview with Reid | Patti Larsen

We Are Hunted

Kids are going missing. We see the posters everywhere. The kids from happy families are the ones with posters up and rewards are offered. But what about all those faceless kids lost in the system. The street kids, foster kids and orphans. Who misses them? Who notices that they have gone missing too? Where are these missing kids? Why aren’t we asking more questions? Enough is Enough. One brave woman asked too many questions and she went searching for answers. Her name is Patti Larsen. She was one of the people who started asking questions about the faceless kids, the ones nobody had wanted in the first place. She got in contact with one of these missing kids. Through covert meetings and phone calls he told her his incredible story. When I first read the four accounts of the horrors that are happening to kids, my heart jerked in terror. I also wanted to meet this faceless kid, an orphan, who had such a harrowing story to tell. Patti thought it would be a good idea for the kids to tell their side of the story. It is time for us to put faces and names to these lost children. It might be late for some but it might just be in the nick of time for other lost children.
Patti:
Yeah, he’d rather stay in the dark anyway…
Wants to know if you’re a reporter…
Trying to tell him this is about his story but he’s a little freaked.
Kim:
No….I am sort of a investigator…a seeker of truth.
Too many kids have been going missing and I am asking questions.
Reid:
Yeah, I know all about that.
Kim:
I am on the kids’ side.
Reid:
What do you want to know?
Kim:
Hi Reid…can I call you Reid?
My name is Kim.
Reid:
That’s my name.
Hi.
Kim:
So Reid….I have been really concerned…and I am not the only adult who is….some kids are going missing…it seems without a trace.
Patti told me I should get in touch with you.
Reid:
I’m trusting you. But only so far. Okay? You have to understand what we’ve been through.
Kim:
Can you tell me…firstly…are you with some of these kids? How long have you been missing for?
I cannot even imagine what you have been through.
Reid:
We’re in a safe place now. I can’t tell you where. And don’t bother tracking the IP address.
Yes, I’m with some survivors.
Kim:
Ok…good…so there are survivors….but then…that means there are some who didn’t survive? Is that correct?
Reid:
Yes.
A lot…
Who didn’t make it…
Kim:
Oh No! That was my worst fear!
Reid…do you know who is behind this?
Reid:
I’m not supposed to talk about it. But… damn it, people need to know. And understand.
It was a government program…
Kim:
Well let me help you get your story out there…
Reid:
Through the military…
Kim:
I am all ears…
Reid:
This crazy scientist. Dr. Kirstin Lund. She was doing experiments on animals, creating super creatures or something, decided to start testing on humans.
I guess she figured orphans–foster kids–were the most disposable.
Kim:
Like you?
Reid:
Hired this guy, Syracuse, to round up kids.
Yeah. Like me.
The cops, they figure we just ran away, you know?
Kim:
Reid….do you mind if I take notes? Should have asked you before?
Reid:
Yeah, go ahead
Drew told me you’re not tracking this.
Sorry to check up on you but we can’t be too careful.
Kim:
No I am not.
Please go ahead…I have nothing to hide…you can trust me….and I know that is difficult for you right now.
Reid:
It’s not so bad anymore. We’re okay. Trying to forget. But, it’s hard.
Kim:
Well…I have been investigating this for a couple of weeks now….the officials have been telling us that all you kids were runaways and since you were troubled kids…you probably ran away to join a gang or something.
Reid:
That is crap.
They really don’t give a shit about us, Kim.
They never did.
Kim:
I am beginning to see this Reid.
Reid:
And it’s not like this program wasn’t sanctioned.
They had a military base.
Kim:
Reid…can you tell me how many survivors there are now?
Reid:
One of the guys–Marcus–his Dad was the commander.
Kim:
Oh that is terrible!
Reid:
Eight and Minnie – she’s my lab
Kim:
Eight including you?
Reid:
Yes.
Kim:
Are you all roughly the same age?
Reid:
Well, the youngest is thirteen–hang on, let me ask.
Kim:
Ok.
Reid:
Yeah, Cole is thirteen and Marcus is eighteen so that’s the range.
They’re all here you know.
They want to know what this is about.
Kim:
Can you give me the names of the survivors? It is better for me to be able to make people realise you are just kids and knowing your names will help…you are not faceless then.
Reid:
Let me ask…
Kim:
Ok
Reid:
Milo’s pissed because I counted wrong and he thinks I missed him on purpose. LOL
Kim:
You can tell them all I am here to get the truth out…your truth? Enough is enough!
Reid:
So nine: Me, Leila, Drew, Kieran, Nishka, Sarah, Milo, Cole, Marcus and Minnie.
Kim:
Ok and where are you all from?
Reid:
I’m from Arizona.
Drew’s from NY state.
Leila’s from Cali.
Marcus says he’s from nowhere–army brat.
Kieran is from Ohio.
Nishka from Maine.
Milo’s from South Philly he says.
Cole is from Seattle.
Kim:
Ok…so all from the US?
Reid:
Yeah…
Sarah’s from New York too.
Kim:
Reid…I think this is bigger than just the US though….
Reid:
Why?
Kim:
Kids have been going missing from Mexico and lower Canada.
Reid:
There wasn’t really a whole lot of time to ask where people were from, you know?
Kim:
Which is why I am here asking questions….it has been making international news.
Yeah I get that.
Reid:
Barely had time to ask names…
Kim:
How long have you been hiding? on the run?
Reid:
Since June.
Kim:
What is the last thing you remember that was normal?
Reid:
My mom and dad alive. Nothing was normal after that
Foster homes for a year.
Kim:
But you have a sister…I have spoken to her…
Reid:
We made a new normal.
WHEN???????????????????
Kim:
About a month ago.
Reid:
Oh.
Kim:
I interviewed her, as one of the family members…
Reid:
Well… What did she say?
Kim:
She said that you were troubled since your parents died…..
She thinks you ran away.
Reid:
Maybe if she wasn’t sleeping with the guy who got me into this–
Whatever…She had no idea if I was troubled or not.
Kim:
Reid…something did not gel with me when she told me her story…
Reid:
She never even tried to contact me the whole year after Mom and Dad died until the day she got me out of foster care.
Kim:
She just did not seem that worried….I mean I have a younger brother and if he went missing I would go after him.
Reid:
It was her fault…She told her boss/boyfriend about me…I didnt’ know at the time.
Kim:
This guy…she is together with…is this Syracuse?
Reid:
WAS Syracuse…Guess she didn’t tell you she killed him.
Kim:
Was? No!
Reid:
Almost got away with it…
Kim:
Reid … what is Marcus’ dad’s name?
Reid:
Colonel Brackett.
Kim:
Right…so the suspects are: Dr Kirsten Lund, Colonel Brackett and this Syracuse fellow – who is now dead…as well as your sister Lucy?
Reid:
Yes. She was part of it for sure.
Brackett worked for Lund. So did Syracuse. One was her collector the other her bully but she was the core of the whole thing: She made the stuff that turned kids into monsters.
Kim:
What sort of monsters?
Reid:
The hunters.
Kim:
Hunters? Men with guns?
Reid:
Not exactly….
Okay, so we’re getting to the stuff that you’re going to judge us for.
Kim:
Only tell me what you think is necessary Reid.
Reid:
Dr. Lund was running this secret program to create super soldiers…
She developed this stuff that turned normal kids into these hybrid creatures
silver eyes, shark teeth, claws — you get the picture?
Thing is… The stuff made us into monsters…bloodthirsty. So when under the influence so to speak, the kids became bloodthirsty…hunted other kids…
Kim:
So that would make it appear that you are the guilty ones….cunning evil plan by this Dr Lund.
Reid:
Yeah.
Yeah totally…like we were the bad guys.
Kim:
Are you still under the influence of this experiment?
Reid:
um… I don’t know how to answer that
I mean, we’re all changed.
But we don’t take dust anymore. Unless there’s a mission…
Kim:
Ok…so the changes are permanent? They don’t wear off?
Reid:
Our senses are different, like hyper…
Eventually they don’t…if you take enough and Dr. Lund changed the formula
she said we were immortal but we’ll see… I don’t really believe her…
But we’re not bloodthirsty or anything, not dangerous.
Kim:
This Dr Lund? Is she still alive? Where is she?
Reid:
Unless you’re our enemy…
She’s dead.
Kim:
And Colonel Brackett?
Reid:
Dead.
Kim:
But there will still be people who know about this…their soldiers and helpers?
Reid:
No, not really–well sorta.
There was a general who came to clean up the mess but everyone who was responsible is no longer able to stand trial, you know?
(Trying to be subtle.)
Kim:
Yes I understand…but Reid if you kids are all changed, it also means it is not safe for you to come forward.
Reid:
No.
Kim:
Is that the sum of it?
Reid:
That’s why I was (we were Drew made me type) worried about this.
But people need to know!
‘Cause if it gets out, they’ll think we’re monsters…and we’re not…not anymore.
Kim:
OK…Could you tell me this? Do you think this is still going on? Maybe that we don’t know about?
Reid:
I… we never thought about that…
Lund is dead so we figured…
Drew wants me to ask you why you’re asking?
Kim:
Reid….kids are still going missing…
Reid:
I…from here?
Kim:
Yes
Reid:
The US?
Kim:
Yes and other places.
Reid:
I’ll ask–I have someone I can check with…but I don’t know how it could be… not with Lund dead.
We’d have to do something about that!
Kim:
That’s why I am talking to you.
I am going to do something about it…and I have people I trust who are going to help me.
Reid:
If there is more going on, this is your only warning:
Stay out of our way!
Kim:
Reid…you need to promise me that you kids will stay in hiding? Don’t tell me or anyone where you are…
Reid:
We’ll do what we have to if this is still going on!
Kim:
But I will give you an email address that you can contact me on.
Reid:
We ALL agree!
Okay.
Kim:
Reid…is there anything you kids need … anything at all?
Reid:
No. We have everything we need.
Thanks for asking and for telling me about the other kids.
Kim:
OK…..then the last question is: is there anything any of you want to say to the world? Tell me now and I will be your mouthpiece.
Reid:
I’m not so great with words… hang on, Leila wants to answer this…
Leila:
Hi, Kim. We just want everyone to know that we’re real. We exist. We’re not evil or monsters, that we may be foster kids but we’re not disposable. And we’re not dangerous. We just want to live our lives and not hurt anyone ever again. That’s all. Thank you for your kindness. Leila..
Reid:
Okay, she’s done.
Kim:
Ok…Leila, Reid and everyone else I will get the truth out there….
Trust me.
Reid:
Just be careful…if you’re poking around there’re going to be consequences.
Kim:
I will…I don’t trust just anyone….I have been trained to take care of myself…
Reid:
Listen, if a guy named Aberdeen knocks on your door? Go with him – don’t hesitate, it means you’re in danger…
Okay?
Kim:
Ok…Aberdeen…I will remember that.
Reid…I have got to go now..in case anyone else is trying to track this…I have it pretty heavily encrypted but you never know…
Reid:
Okay. Um…Thanks.
Kim:
Contact me if you need to…anytime…any day ok.
Reid:
I will.
We will.
Kim:
And thank you for trusting me…and telling me the true story behind all your kids’ stories….
Please take care of one another. Be safe.
Reid:
Just get it right!
Bye.
Kim:
I will.
Bye.
Ok…..Patti…done
Patti:
WHEW!
That was intense!
Kim:
Not so bad…
That was intense.
Patti:
The kids were right here with me.
Kim:
Its’s going to be a good story…
Well the kids were brilliant…I thought it would be a good idea to get their story…in their words…
It is time for the truth to be told.
All four books are now available on Amazon. If you want to read more of Reid, Drew and the others’ story get your copies now. It is a story that needs to be read and shared. The order of this harrowing series are:
Patti Larsen | In the Spotlight | Run or Hide (dragonflyscrolls.wordpress.com)
Run | Patti Larsen | This year’s Next YA Amazon Hit (dragonflyscrolls.wordpress.com)
Night Terrors in Patti Larsen’s Mind (kimkoning.wordpress.com)

 

Rachna Chhabria | Character Secrets

The Mad Hatter, Alice, Gollum, Samwise, Nancy Drew, Harry Potter…

These are all characters we feel we know as well as our own loved ones. They are characters that we grew up with or came to know and love. The authors of these characters may fade with time but their creators – the memorable characters – will live on in our memories.

So what makes a memorable character? Why do some characters just creep into out hearts? What makes a character jump from the page of black and white words into a fully formed 3d character that lives, breathes and acts?

Rachna Chhabria guest posts today and tells us how she comes up with memorable characters and what the secret ingredients are. 

Creating Memorable and Enduring Characters

 

As readers, long after we finish reading a book, the characters remain with us. These are what we call memorable characters. Many times we put up with dull books because we have developed a fondness for the characters, especially the main character. We put up with the story because of our affection for the characters.

 

When we start writing our own stories and books, we strive hard to create memorable characters that will haunt readers for a long time. I have had quite a few readers telling me that they identified with Leo-the lion, who was the protagonist of my first book ‘The Lion Who Wanted to Sing’. Leo’s passion to learn singing from a singing bird, was something everyone identified with. We all have plenty of desires that we wish to fulfill. Achievement of a Desire, forged a bond between the readers and the character. Leo’s sacrifices: giving up meat, roaring gently instead of loudly to enhance the musical quality of his voice and few other sacrifices struck a strong chord with readers across all ages.

 

Memorable characters are created when a character comes across as a believable character. Readers easily identified with Leo; bored with the monotony of his life as the king of the Jungle. His desire to learn singing to infuse a fresh lease of life into his dull life resonates with every human. We have all tackled boredom and monotony at some stage or the other in our lives.

 

There has to be a sense of oneness in situations, between a reader and the character’s life. Leo had to endure the taunts and jibes from small creatures who use to tremble before him, this is something we all can identify with. Time and again we encounter detractors who try to dissuade us from activities that they consider out of our reach. After that it’s up to us to prove them wrong.

 

It’s a completely false notion that for a character to be memorable they have to be perfection personified. Imperfect characters brimming with fear of failure, battling insecurities, harbouring frequent doubts about their abilities are more realistic than characters who breeze through life whistling a tune. Perfect characters or characters who have very few flaws have an artificiality about them. We immediately detest such superior than thou creatures as they hold a mirror that reflects us in poor light.

 

Characters who are not scared to show their emotions appeal more to readers than characters as closed as a clam. If a reader is getting acquainted with a character and following him page after page, he/she needs to see the character with all its flaws. The reader is literally making the journey with the character and a journey has its fair share of sorrows, joys, fears, success, failures, frustration, strengths and worries.

 

The lion’s frequent questions regarding his ability to carry a tune echo the doubts that often crop up in our minds when we start a new endeavour. This brought about a sense of identification with the character’s emotions: anxiety and doubts.

 

Characters who encounter both success and failure are ones readers identify with. Isn’t life all about both the highs and the lows? The lows the protagonist undergoes makes us rejoice when they experience a high. If characters keep tasting failure without a bite of success, then the readers label them as complete losers. And when characters constantly meet with success, they are labeled as overachievers and the readers start resenting them.

 

To hide his insecurity and doubts from his family, Leo often secretly practiced the singing lessons inside a cave so that the next time he sang before his teacher he would be a little better than the previous session. Leo’s constant battle with the thought that carnivore animals could not sing is as realistic as it can get and becomes a mirror image for all of us. Isn’t life all about conquering fears, both internal as well as external. We have as many inner conflicts to overcome as external conflicts to battle. And our fights with our inner demons is a constant one.

 

Characters who arouse our sympathy, definitely wriggle their way into our hearts. I need to clarify that I don’t mean weepy or weak characters get our sympathy. Characters whose circumstances close in on them, are more sympathy evoking than characters who are caught in a sad state because of their deeds. When we empathize or sympathize with a character, concern for their well-being creeps in a reader’s mind. It’s this concern that sees us enduring the story despite its flaws.

 

Thanks Kim, for giving me this opportunity to guest post on your lovely blog.

 

Find Rachna on her blog: Rachna’s Scriptorium 

Character Recipes | Spices & Secret Ingredients

Shop with spices in Morocco

Image via Wikipedia – Spice shop in Morocco

Do you love cooking?

Or do you prefer baking?

Personally I love cooking. In baking you have to be very careful to follow a recipe to the letter. You have to be precise with times, temperatures and measurements. The smallest variation could be disastrous. Frankly the thought of baking leaves me cold. I tend to leave that to the experts like my clever CP who is a baker extraordinaire and my amazing mother who is the world’s best baker. Cooking however, is something I love and something I thrive at: especially when it comes to making my own tasty recipes where the only rules and limits I need to stick to are the boundless limits of my creative imagination.

The art of creating a memorable character has more in common with cooking than baking. You have your standard ingredients as your base but the rest is up to your creative skills as a writer: you are the chef in your own Character Recipe. So what’s my Character Recipe? What spices do I use to flavour? What secret ingredients do I use to make the character breathe with depth and emotion? What is my inspiration for the recipe? This brings me to the topic for this month’s Tuesday Blog Hop.

Topic for Tuesday August 9th:  Character Recipe 

Alphas, betas, helpless Hannas we all have characters we love and those we hate.

But how did we create them? What’s your character recipe? 

 

The best cooking is rich with spices, sauces and exotic flavours. The best dishes are when you, the cook & chef extraordinaire, can come up with a new twist on a well-known dish. Writing a story is very much like this. Just by changing the spices in a dish you can create a whole new flavour explosion. Characters are the spices that writers use to flavor their own dishes: the stories.

Very few plots are completely original. I read a quote this week that your story is either a Romeo & Juliet or a David & Goliath but just in different variations. In just the same way most cookery dishes are just new twists or different variations on the old tried and true favourites. But the difference between each dish is the combination of spices, herbs and sauces that add the final WOW touches that create an EXPLOSION of taste-bud orgasm that leaves you breathless and wanting more. We have all had those moments where we have had a plate of food put in front of us that may have looked similar to a well-known dish but the moment a forkful is put in your mouth: Your tastebuds just melt in submission of a flavor EXPLOSION that is happening in your mouth.

Creating characters is like adding my favourite spices, herbs and sauces to a dish. They are the WOW factor in a dish that will make you begging for seconds, thirds and fourth helpings. For me characters are what I love or hate about a story. Sometimes it is even  a question about loving to hate the bad guy/girl in the story. They often are the most memorable. Just like a great spice they might be sharp, spicy-hot or colourful. I have always had a soft spot for the villains in the piece. Maybe it is because they are limitless and in-your-face with their attitude and their lack of moral or ethical restraints. They do what we may in our deepest parts dream to do but dare not.

In my current story I have two Main Characters and a shadow character that binds them together. I have quite a few beta characters and secondary characters but these three characters that I mentioned are the heart, gut and backbone of this story. I am going to write an individual post for each of these three characters. So let me start today by introducing you to the character who started it all.

My favourite character in the story is actually my antagonist or villain. Her name is Eliza Chambers. She is also the inspiration for the whole story. The story is really her story and all its complications. She isn’t the easiest of characters to work with and in the beginning she was quite stubborn and reticient in sharing with me. But I am equally as stubborn and with a lot of persistence I managed to tease the story out of her. She lives in Victorian London in the suburbs. She is the eldest daughter of a very well known and high society family. But she does not fit the mould of either her society’s view of a woman nor her family’s. She is feisty, headstrong and incredibly independent. Her heroes of the day are the many inventors of the Victorian age, starting with her father. She also sees and communicates with spirits. This starts getting her in all sorts of trouble and soon trouble is brought to her own doorstep  in the form of deadly family secrets & skeletons that force her to face her own capacity for rage and scorn. The twist is that she ends up confronting her worst self and she becomes the family skeleton & secret.

One of my betas told me they found her creepy. I loved that reaction and that description. It meant that I had interpreted Eliza correctly and done her justice even though justice is the last thing she has coming. The story is about ghosts, family secrets, cursed love affairs, revenge and redemption. Without Eliza Chambers there would be no story. She will give you the creeps but she will also fascinate you as she has me. I love writing all her chapters because it stretches my skills and my imagination. Because she lives in a Victorian time I had to think, speak and act like a Victorian woman. She starts off very stubborn, secretive and austere, even cold at times. But as the complications ensue, passion and scorn transform her into a woman bent on revenge and seething with rage. Hell hath no fury like Eliza Chambers being scorned. In the end this is a woman who even ghosts & spirits fear to tread with. I think women will understand her even though they will swear they have nothing in common with her and men will fear her. She has given me sleepless nights many a time since I first met her last year in October.

Where did she come from? I really don’t know. One day she just appeared and started telling me her story. It was all I could do to grab a pen and start writing down the bones of this story. Perhaps she came from my fascination with ghosts & the afterlife which usually co-exist with family secrets & skeletons, both literal and figurative. I am also in love with the Victorian era and often believe that is my true era. I also like strong women who don’t always fit the mould. Are there elements of me written into the character? That is a difficult one because when you create a character there is a fine line between yourself and a created personality. Would I behave in the ways Eliza does? I would hope that I didn’t. But in the same manner, I can sympathize with her. The fun part of a mean & vengeful character is that you get to act out without actually acting out.

Eliza Chambers will remain with me for a long time even after this story is finally put to bed. She is a complex individual who chooses the wrong turns. Her story is an extreme story of cursed love, taboo relationships, betrayed secrets, broken hearts, revenge and thrown together with large helpings of the supernatural. But the one reason why I do respect her is that she never apologizes for who she is and above all she stands up for her views of right and wrong, good and evil: even though her views may be slightly skewed and twisted. Do I like her? Yes, there are many parts of her I like. Do I like her actions? No, although understandable, they are extreme and usually bent to her own agenda which is tinged with revenge, scorn and rage. But all of these same characteristics make a great story and create a multi-faceted person who you will either love to hate or hate to love.

 Eliza Chambers

is the spicy pepper,too hot chilli and pungent garlic to my, or should that be her, story: The Raven’s Court.

Kim

Lose yourself | Find Your Character

141 Thursday  - letting go -

Vincent Cassel and Natalie Portman, Black Swan 2010
Thomas Leroy: Really? In 4 years every time you dance I see you obsessed getting each and every move perfectly right but I never see you lose yourself. Ever! All that discipline for what? 
Nina: [whispers] I just want to be perfect.
Thomas Leroy: What?
Nina: I want to be perfect.
Thomas Leroy: [scoffs] Perfection is not just about control. It’s also about letting go. Surprise yourself so you can surprise the audience. Transcendence! Very few have it in them. 
Nina: I think I do have it in me.

Today I watched Black Swan. It had me transfixed. Within minutes of the movie I was lost in this world of hallucination and ballet. But for me the whole crux of this movie’s message is contained in the above conversation between Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) and Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman). Nina (a ballerina auditioning for the principal part in Swan Lake) wants to be perfect. For her,perfection is all about keeping tight control of herself and being technically flawless in her dance. Thomas instead tells her that perfection in art is the opposite. It is all about losing control, letting go, losing yourself and letting the character in the dance transcend the dancer.

This is a movie and a script that polarized movie audiences. People come away from this film, either loving it or hating it. Yes there is no denying there are many disturbing scenes in this film. But are any of them unnecessary. No, in my opinion every single scene was necessary.

But today I want to use this film as a symbolism for writing. When we write fiction, we are creating something that is not true. It comes from our imagination. The characters are the writers’ creations unless they are based on someone in real life. In just the same way Ballet is a form of artistic creation in dance. The audience is expected to be transported to a fantastical world where art transcends reality. In the movie, the Ballet of Swan Lake is the subject. The dancers are supposed to be swans. They do not wear swan costumes but through the movements of the dancers the audience sees swans on the stage. As writers we use our words and our skills to create an image of a character. Sometimes the character is literally described in their physical appearance. But a lot of times we allow the image of the character to come about through sensory language and dialogue. If the writer is skilled the reader (our audience) believes it.

Writers are creatures of imagination one would say. But most writers I know are also creatures of control. We like creating a world that we can mold and control. We like knowing the direction our story is going in. None of this is wrong. In fact at the editing stage this characteristic of controlled perfection can come in very handy. But can a writer be too controlled? Can a writer be too focused in technique and skill? Do we want the reader (audience) to see us (the writer) or do we want them to see the characters?

I think that if I want a reader to be lost in my created world of fiction and to believe the characters I have created are real and make them feel emotions then I need to lose myself. I need to let go. I need to lose control. It is only then when I start truly living,thinking and feeling the character that I find the character. That is when I can breathe life into an ink and paper character and flesh them out into someone living, feeling, breathing and real. I must allow the story to take over. I must let the character speak through my writing. My words and my tone should not be in their mouth. If my character is a forty-year old gypsy man, he needs to talk, move and think like a forty-year old gypsy man. I have to make him real in order for a reader to believe they are listening to a forty-year old gypsy man.

The best art transcends the artist. Story is a writer’s art. In Black Swan, Natalie Portman’s character only starts embracing the role she wants when she starts letting go of herself and she loses all her control. You watch as she battles to tell the real from the make-believe. So the question I have been asking myself with my current WIP is: Have I lost control yet? Have I let my characters transcend me on the page? Some stories are easy to write especially if they are close to your own reality. But what happens when you are writing a story that is completely removed from your reality? This weekend I had an epiphany about my story. I realised I was over-thinking it and over-analyzing it. I was rewriting scenes over and over, striving for some elusive form of perfection. That is when I realised I needed to step away from the story to allow the story to breathe. I have been so focused on editing this final draft that I was losing the story. I was holding too tightly onto my control. I kept on thinking what would my cps or betas think about me when they were reading this story. But it is not about that. Or it should not be. I need to think about what they will think of my character’s story.

So I have decided to take a few days break away from this story. Although it is frustrating that I know that I could finish the final draft in a day, I also know that in the state my mind is in I would have butchered my story and killed my characters. I know that in a few days time when I go back to this final draft it will have been worth the enforced vacation. I love my story and I love my characters. Sometimes when you love something you have to walk away. I know that is a terribly over used cliché but as clichés go it works in this case. I want a reader to get lost in my story. I, as a writer, don’t want to enter their thoughts. Perfection is over-rated and unachievable. As a perfectionist it is incredibly difficult to write that sentence let alone say it out aloud. That is why I have a little troll with bright pink hair who holds a sign saying : Nobody’s Perfect. This little troll sits on my desk within constant sight to remind me that to get to the heart of my story I need to stop striving to be the perfect writer and instead let go and let my characters be “perfectly” believable. What is a story without characters? It is like an office building at night with all the workers sleeping. It loses its purpose. It stops becoming a story.

As a writer, have you ever let your ego get in the way of your characters? What did you do to stop yourself?

As a reader, have you ever read a story and although you know it is technically brilliant, it just feels dead? Would you rather read a story that is technically perfect but has flat and unbelievable characters or would you want to read a story that may not follow all the technical rules but the characters are so alive you believe you know them as real people?

I know which one I would choose.

“Confidence, like art, never comes from having all the answers; it comes from being open to all the questions.” ~ unknown

If you have not watched Black Swan, do yourself a favour and watch it. If you have watched it, watch it again. Watch how Natalie Portman in her role as Nina becomes the role of the Swan Queen. I dare you to watch a movie like Black Swan and walk away unmoved. Love it or hate it, it will make you feel something. If ever I have a book that polarizes readers I will feel I have succeeded. I don’t want readers to think, I want them to feel. I am not writing a thesis. I am not a professor. I am just a story-teller. That’s when I know that as a writer I will have done my job sufficiently. Until then I will keep stepping back and taking stock if ego starts getting in the way. If that means my drafts take a little longer than I want, then so be it. In the end it is only the characters and their story that counts.

Are you ready to lose yourself to find the characters?

~ Kim