September 9 2016

Creating Characters

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I get my characters from real life. Sometimes they are loosely based on an actual person I have met and admired. Most of the time my characters are a compilation of characteristics of many different people I have come across in my life. I may take the looks from one person and add in the personality of another person with the odd quirks from someone completely different from either of the two people the character is based on. Sometimes my characters are based more on ideal people than actual people. I imagine a person I would like to meet and how that person would behave in a given situation.
I had the idea for the Crafty Ladies Club and wanted them to all be in the 45 to 70 year old age range. I wanted them to all have different crafting specialties, so I began making a list of the various types of crafting they might be good at. At first, they were listed as Crafty Lady #1, Crafty Lady #2 and so on. Then, I wasn’t sure how to make them realistic. I remembered a co-worker who was creepy accurate with describing a person he had just met based on learning their zodiac sign. He had apparently made a study of how various zodiac signs interacted with each other and how they behaved. I witnessed him telling a woman she likely had a shoe collection that would make Imelda Marcos jealous. He told her that she behaved like this or that and her eyes got as round as saucers and she was shocked how accurate his guesses about her were. He went on to tell her that she likely had a good friend who was a particular zodiac sign and that she had trouble getting along with another zodiac sign. She thought he was psychic or something. So, remembering that, I decided that I had come up with twelve character that I needed to know more about, so I assigned the twelve zodiac signs to them to make sure I had variety in my characters. I studied a sheet listing the signs and a few characteristics about each one and decided which craft or job a person with that zodiac sign would be best suited to. Some were very easy to match up and others were harder, but I really liked having a little guide to help me create each character and decide how he or she would act.
I have heard of authors who use the personality types for their characters. There are numerous websites and tests you can take either as yourself or as one of your characters. One site to help explain the sixteen personality types is https://www.16personalities.com/personality-types. It can help you to get to know your characters better by answering the questions on the test as though you were that character. I have taken the test a few times at different times, but have never used it to help me with story writing or character development.
Now, I have no idea if this is an original idea I came up with or not. I’m not sure if it was a good or bad idea but it was a place to start and at the time I really had no idea how to do it any differently or better. My characters went through most of the first draft of the first book in the series with names like The Sheriff, Deputy One, Female Deputy, Store Keeper and that sort of name. They were place holders. One time, my main character’s late husband went through most of the book being called Hubby and with me having no idea what sort of job he had, but knowing it needed to be a decent office type job that paid well enough for his wife not to have to work. I think I was so afraid of picking the wrong name and occupation for him that I just kept putting it off and thinking about it.
I don’t really create character profiles, but I do try to carefully record in a character sheet each detail about that person as I write it into the story to keep myself from having trouble remembering what I have written about them later.
When I come across a person that I think would make a good character, I try to write what ever I know about them on an index card or scrap of paper so I can add it to a character list I have in a document in my computer. One time I was perusing the forums on the NaNoWriMo.org website and found a place where NaNos could offer themselves up as characters for others to use in their writing. They would give as many details as they felt were needed and that they felt comfortable putting out there for the world. I found several that I thought I could use, so I copied the details down for later use. Most of these people just wanted to be told if they were used as the basis of a character and be given the chance to read all about their fictionalized selves if they were used. This was extremely interesting because many of the “characters” had details listed that I wouldn’t have thought of or have put together in the same person.
So, what about you? Are you a character? Would you want someone to fictionalize you? Where do you get the characters for your writing from? Do you write about the real people in your life, your family members or maybe the strangers you see at the mall? I have been known to sit in crowded public places watching the people and trying to imagine what they do for a living, what their relationship to the person they are with is or what sorts of trouble they have seen in their lives. Sometimes I wish I had the nerve to take photos of them so I could describe them better later on . Have you ever looked at the photos at peopleofwalmart.com? I have often wondered how those photos get taken without someone getting suspicious or angry about their privacy being invaded. Heck for all I know the photographer (and I use that term very loosely) walked up to the person and asked if they would mind having their picture taken. From what I have seen there, that scenario is entirely possible. I’ve thought of using some of those photos as inspiration for characters, but then talk myself out of it because they would never be believable characters. But then again, they are already real people, so I supposed there is no reason they wouldn’t make believable characters. Maybe I am just not imaginative enough to create the right setting and story for them to appear in.

September 1 2016

My Writer’s ToolBox

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No matter what task you plan to do, you must first gather the necessary tools to get the job done. Some would say all a writer needs is pen and paper, but I would have to disagree. I almost never write with pen and paper unless making a grocery list. Since I don’t really count grocery lists as writing, perhaps I should tell you about my writer’s toolbox and what tools I consider necessary to get the job done.

The most important tool for me is my computer. I currently use a Microsoft Surface Pro 2 as my portable computer. I chose it for the portability of it and the fact that is was not merely a tablet (though it can function as one). It is a full-fledged computer capable of running any computer software that I could run on a Windows desktop computer. It is very portable, and much lighter than any laptop I have used in the past. The battery life is so much better than any laptop anyone I know is using. While they must plug in to use their laptops for more than a few minutes, I can watch an entire movie without plugging in or write for hours. I rarely have to carry a cord with me unless I am traveling or going to a write-in for more than four hours, and even then I usually just put the cords in a zip-top bag and leave it in the car as a backup. It has a detachable keyboard that closes to protect it and thus acts as a cover. Oh, and my favorite thing about the keyboard, besides the fact that it comes in purple, is that the keyboard can be back-lit so I can type in the backseat of a darkened car or in a dimly lit bar. One less excuse not to write, right? Anyway, it took me a while to choose this laptop/tablet, but I am still happy with my choice even three years later. If it died tomorrow, I would replace it with whatever the latest version of the Surface Pro was at that time.

After the computer, my next most important and useful tool would have to be Scrivener. Scrivener is the most amazing writing software ever in my humble opinion. It helps me to stay focused and organized. You can learn all about it at https://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php and if you want to try it before you buy it for $40 (for the Windows version) they have a free 30 days of use trial. That is not 30 days in a row, but thirty days of actually opening the software. I will be the first to admit that Scrivener can be a tad daunting to get familiar with, but there are tons of helpful tutorials on YouTube to help you learn the tips and tricks. My favorite tutorials are those by The Scrivener Coach, Joseph Michael. Scrivener can help you outline, research, write and publish. It can do so much more than I know how to do with it. I learn new ways to use it all the time.

I also find that using bluetooth headphones for writing while out in public to be essential. Gotta love the no cords thing and they can connect with either my phone or my computer. I actually have two pairs one that is a tiny set of earbuds and another that is much larger (less portable) but does a better job of blocking out the noise around me while listening to music.

Another important tool for me is music. I keep a decent selection on my phone and have a playlist without words for writing, because sometimes hearing words while I am writing is distracting. It is amazing how the speed of the music helps me write faster. One of the best songs to help get me to write fast is Dueling Banjos, because when the tempo picks up, I write faster, and this song keeps getting faster and faster. There is a huge variety of songs in my writing playlist and the only rule is, no words in that list
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Another tool in my Writer’s Toolbox is other writers. I have joined several groups that meet with varying frequency and purposes. One group gets together weekly to write. We have writing sprints where everyone is quiet and focused on writing for a set amount of time and then in between sprints we catch up on life events, talk about our novels and what we are struggling with, ideas for new projects and any difficulties we are having with our current work in progress. They are a fun group and sometimes that meeting time is the only writing I get done during the week.

I also need a Word Count Tracker of some sort because I am nerdy like that and need to see that I have made progress. I created a really cool one in Excel 5that is open on my computer almost all the time. I also share one that someone else created on Google Docs where we can check in and see how each member of the group is doing. The important thing about any word count tracker is remembering to actually use it.

I also include various writing craft books in my tool box. I don’t usually buy them, but rather check them out of the library and read the parts that pertain to whatever issue is causing me trouble at that time. I do have a few I have bought on my Nook and Kindle accounts, but I find that while I love to read fiction books in electronic format, I find that non-fiction books I prefer to read in the paper form.

While I don’t always carry my entire tool box around with me, I need all of my tools to write. Please let me know what you favorite writing craft books are. I would also love to know what is in YOUR writer’s tool box. (1,006 words)


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August 27 2016

My Muse Woke Me Up Today…

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​I woke up early this morning after having gotten only a few hours of sleep. I was too tired to get up, but for a few minutes ideas were flying around in my brain about writing. This doesn’t really happen to me, so I was tempted to get up and write it down lest I forget by the time I had slept enough that my body decided to get up for the day. I asked God to help me remember what I had come up with later and to let me get back to sleep now. I knew if I got up I would not be productive. I would wander through the day in a sleep-deprived zombie-like state. I was able to go back to sleep and once I had gotten more than the eight hours of sleep I wanted to get, I woke up ready to face the day. I was calm because I remembered what I had been thinking during the wee hours of the morning and was rested enough to think clearly about it. Thank God!

I know, now you are waiting to hear what ideas were flying around in my brain. A while back, I had been stressing out about the upcoming November challenge called NaNoWriMo (http://nanowrimo.org/). I even wrote a blog post about it. I wanted to participate fully again this November because I really love the energy and support I get writing with the NaNo Indy Group every November. It is unlike any other time of the year for me as a writer. The challenge, the deadline, the meetups and write-ins all help to keep me going even when I think I can’t do it, that my ideas stink worse than garbage and that I really have no idea what I am doing with this whole writing thing. I mean ideally, I would love to be able to support myself by writing. Even more ideally as an inspirational fiction novelist. I know several authors who have written and published numerous books, both traditionally and the self-published route, but they are all quick to let you know they are not doing it for the money and you should hang on to your day job. 

Anyway, I wanted to write another 50,000 words this November on a fiction novel, but didn’t see how I could do it because I have started no less than five novels since November 2013 and none of them is what I would consider finished or ready for anyone to read even as a rough first draft. How could I start yet another novel? Last Saturday I took a class at the Indiana Writers Center (http://www.indianawriters.org/)  called “It’s A Mystery — A four hour intensive mystery writing workshop” taught by local author Larry D. Sweazy (http://www.larrydsweazy.com/). I took another class a couple of years ago about writing Mystery from another local author, Tony Perona (http://tonyperona.com/). I chose mystery as my sub-genre on my first fiction novel attempt written during the November 2014 NaNoWriMo. I wanted to get it right but really had no idea how to plan and write fiction back then. So I pants’d it. Thinking back to what I remember of the novel I wrote, I know there is some good stuff there, but I did so many things wrong too. So my big moment of inspiration had to do with using the premise for that original novel and the knowledge I have gained from the classes I have taken over the last three years to start from scratch on that novel. I am considering a second draft, but this time, I am planning things out ahead of time. I’m not editing the original manuscript or adding to it, I am starting over. I now have a plan. I signed up for the class “Planning for National Novel Writing Month, You Can Do It: 30 days, 50,000 words, 1 novel” taught by a wonderful teacher/author/friend, Cameron Steiman, in early October. Cam is part of our Thursday Nights Writing Group. She usually helps inspire us to actually get lots of words written and stay on task. I know I can do this. I have more knowledge this time and more support. I CAN do this. I have a plan. I already know the characters. God is there to lean on and to get me through it. I have time to get myself together and make a decent outline for the novel this second draft. Yep, I got this! I am excited for November now, no more panic and confusion. Thank You, God! (773 words)


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August 25 2016

​Building a Book

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They say there is only one good way to eat an elephant, one bite at a time. This is a great way to do most everything in life. Do a little bit toward the goal, then do a little more. If you keep doing this, eventually, all that forward momentum will pay off and the dreaded task will be done. 

Building a book works the same way. You write a scene, then another scene, and eventually you have a whole book full of scenes. Hopefully they are in order and you can connect them together without much trouble. I started a challenge in March 2015 to write 500 words-a-day (http://goinswriter.com/my500words). When I actually did it, it was awesome. I had so much enthusiasm going into the month, I even wrote a blog post about it the last day before the month started and posted it as a way of committing to the challenge for the whole world to see. Then a few days in, I found some reason to skip a day. I then felt like I needed to write 2 days worth the next day. One day, I was inspired and wrote over 2,000 words on one piece. I was so happy, but then the next day I used my over-achievement to justify coasting without writing. Once I messed up my streak, it got harder and harder to talk myself into meeting my 500 words-a-day goal. I convinced myself it was still ok, because I was still way above goal for the month so far.

 If you want to read some of what I wrote, and see the variety of subjects I chose, click on the archives of this blog for February and March 2015 I gained a total of 8 days of writing out of that challenge, so technically I failed miserably. I gave up even pretending to do the challenge after the eleventh of March, but you know what? I wrote and posted on my blog 8,135 words in 8 days of writing, 12 calendar days total (February 28th to March 11th). In my writing history, that is a win, especially if you consider that back then, I was really a November-only writer, trying desperately to turn myself into a year-round writer. Am I a year-round writer yet? Well, not exactly, but more so that I ever have been before. In case you find yourself wondering why November, go visit http://nanowrimo.org/. I had felt like I was suppose to write a book for a year or more before I found this website in the wee hours of November 1, 2013 and I felt like this was God’s way of telling me to stop thinking, dreaming, planning and talking about writing a book, and get busy doing something about that feeling that just wasn’t going away. 
I’m still not perfect, but I continue to try to improve both my writing skills, my consistency and my word count totals. This year has been my best effort yet to write consistently, even if it is only once a week, I try to keep writing.

This post was spurred by the photo below of the Eiffel Tower in various stages of construction. It sparked the idea that all great things take time and consistent effort to finish. This includes writing a book. Do you have a goal on your bucket list that you could work on a little at a time? What are you waiting for? Don’t tell me you don’t have time, I don’t believe you! I’m calling your bluff. You found the time to read this, so you can find 15 minutes a day to work on some goal and stop using the lack of time as justification for not getting around to that goal. If you need more help with putting 15 minutes to work for you, go see The Fly Lady at http://flylady.net/. Use a reward system and make big stars on your calendar with a bright colored marker when you do your 15 minutes each day. It may sound like elementary school, but it really works. You see the pattern and you don’t want to mess it up by being a slacker for a day. I’m thinking that as a warm up to writing everyday in November again, perhaps I should try the 500 words-a-day challenge again. Leave a comment or email me if you think I should do it and you are willing to join me. For me, writing is really a group sport and I do better if I have someone else to hold me accountable. (781 words)


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August 18 2016

A Different Kind of Vacation

Back in April, hubby and I went on a different kind of vacation. Why was it so different? Well, we didn’t have either of the kids along. Now don’t get me wrong, we love traveling with our kids and took them with us all the time when they were children. Now that the kids are grown and graduated from college, we don’t feel the need to take them along on trips as much anymore. It would be fun to do a group trip again sometime though. We should find a time when all four of us can get away from work at the same time and just go.

Another reason it was different is because we didn’t get to leave when we had planned because of an emergency at hubby’s work. Instead of Friday early morning, we finally got to leave town at 7:30pm on Sunday night. Our trip was supposed to be extended on the other end because he couldn’t get away on time, but we still only had the condo from Saturday to Saturday, so we were planning where we would go once we checked out of the condo. Just before noon on Friday of our trip, my boss called, not sure how I missed the call, but it went to voice mail without showing a missed call. She left a voice mail telling me I was needed back to work by Monday morning at 8am because she had an emergency. We were planning on going back to work on Wednesday, not Monday. Not a happy time for either of us, but really didn’t see as we had a choice. It was the first time both of our works interfered with our vacation time. I REALLY don’t like having my vacation time taken from me that way.

This is the first long trip we have taken where I did all the driving and hubby sat in the passenger seat. He refuses to drive with me in the car because, when he terrifies me with his driving, I can’t help reacting with a gasp or a squeal, maybe even a shriek. I mean, the man thinks the speeds posted on curves are merely suggestions and that they can always be at least doubled safely. I was taught in driver’s education, a million years ago, that for every ten miles and hour you are driving there should be a car length between you and the car in front of you. So on the interstate, I try to keep a minimum of five or six can lengths between my car and the one in front of me. I also try to make sure there are about three car lengths for me to slide into when switching lanes. Hubby does not observe these rules. I don’t think it is just a matter of the car length he is using being Smart Car verses Cadillac either. So anyway, his driving terrifies me. I would rather not have driven the 800 miles each way, but really what choice did I have. When we got home he was lamenting the fact that he missed doing the highway driving. I told him I missed being the passenger too, but since he didn’t go for the deal I offered where I react half as often if he drives half as scary, it may not be the last time I do the driving on a long trip. Hubby did all the driving on the island while we were there, so that was something.

The most unusual thing about the trip was that we only ate out two nights while we were at the condo from Monday afternoon to Saturday morning. One of those dinners was to celebrate my birthday. We went to the grocery and bought food to get us through the rest of our meals and snacks. We almost didn’t never the condo except for a walk to the beach a time or two. The rest of the time I was either, reading, writing, crocheting, surfing the net or we were working together to make a meal. That is NOT normal for us on a vacation. We usually would plan to eat out at least one or two meals a day and visit several museums or tourist attractions. Hubby did some reading, worked some Sudoku puzzles on his Nook, or played one of his computer games. The condo had a wall mounted TV, but we never even turned it on. I made the comment that I felt guilty that we spent the money for the gas and condo and the time to drive there to basically do what we could have done at home. He reminded me that the most important part of getting away was that we were a twelve hour drive from work. Point taken, well worth the cost.

We especially liked sitting out on our little patio/balcony to watch the goings-on around us. We had a few meals out there, did some reading too. My favorite thing to do out on the balcony, which was only about four to six feet off the parking lot level was to crochet. I would go out after eating breakfast and do a row or two on the shawl I was making. It was a very relaxing time while we were at the condo. While I was driving, not so much, but then I don’t particularly enjoy driving the way hubby does. 

The best part is that we decided before we left the condo that we were booking another trip next April and that this would be our relaxing escape from work vacation. We will have a fall trip that is more the typical tourist type vacation, but the spring trip is planned specifically as a get away to relax. I can really embrace that plan. (976 words)