Writing Wednesday: Review of Getting Into Character by Brandilyn Collins

Getting Into Character

The author, Brandilyn Collins, studied acting, including the Method of acting laid out by Constantin Stanislavsky, which teaches actors to really get inside a character, to take on their inner lives, to become the character. When she became a writer, she automatically used the Method techniques to bring her characters alive. Speaking to other writers, she was surprised that they didn’t know about this, which is why she wrote this book.

I was fascinated by the idea, as I really need to work on the characters in my novel. Brandilyn explains the different techniques very well, with specially written examples and study passages from classic novels and her own books. 

She shares seven ‘Secrets’ which authors can use to get inside their characters and make them believable, and then learn to write about them in a realistic way. For example, Secret #1 Personalizing, ensures your characters aren’t stereotypes. By focusing on a character’s inner values you can discover natural traits and mannerisms that spring from their backstory instead of just making them up. You may even discover a whole new plot point because of a belief or attitude you had not considered before.

The first five ‘Secrets’ show you how to burrow down into your characters and discover their inner traits, manners  and objectives and how they will manifest in different situations. The last two ‘Secrets’ are about how to write what you have discovered, creating a strong visual picture and using your own emotional memory to portray your character’s actions and reactions.

I like her statement, ‘Good fiction can be defined with “Five Cs”: convincing characters caught in compelling conflict.’ Highly recommended.

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Thinking Thursday: A Tale of Two Sacrifices

Cover_for_A_Tale_of_Two_Cities,_by_Phiz

One of Charles Dickens’ famous books is A Tale of Two Cities. It is set before and during the French Revolution and, towards the end of the book, Charles Darnay, an escaped French aristocrat finds himself in the Bastille prison, condemned to the guillotine. Darnay left France because he could not tolerate his father’s behaviour towards the peasants, and wanted nothing to do with it. He only returned to help an old friend. In England he has married and has a child, and his family and friends are distraught.

During the book we have met Sydney Carton, a barrister who bears an uncanny resemblance to the condemned man. Their looks are the only similarity between them, for Carton wastes his life and never puts himself out for anyone. Carton was once in love with Darnay’s wife Lucie, and pledged to sacrifice anything for her, even though she married his rival.

He overhears a plan to denounce her and her child too. Carton realises that his life is worthless, especially when compared to Darnay’s and Lucie’s, and he resolves to change places with him. He visits Darnay in the Bastille, drugs him and exchanges clothes with him. An accomplice takes Darnay out of the prison and he and his family escape to England.

On the way to the guillotine Carton comforts a young seamstress with a vision of the future and ends with this now-famous quote:

“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”

No matter what sort of a life someone has lived, to sacrifice their life to save another is looked on as an amazingly noble act.
Jesus said, Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)
Paul said, Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. (Romans 5:7)

Sidney Carton thought that it made sense to sacrifice a worthless life for a worthy one. Those affected were deeply moved by what he did.

Jesus gave up his life for us, but the sacrifice was the other way around. He gave up his supremely worthy life to save our worthless ones.

Paul said, At just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6,8) Not only were we powerless, ungodly, and sinners. He goes on to say that we were actually God’s enemies! (Romans 5:10)

Two sacrifices, two very different situations. One is a story, one is true. Your life will not be changed if you don’t read A Tale of Two Cities. But the other sacrifice affects you personally. What will you do about it?

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Writing Wednesday: Creating Characters

Now I’m about to start the big rewrite of my science fiction novel Intruders, following the big edit, I’ve been looking through my computer files for good advice.

If your characters aren’t believable, if they don’t feel like living breathing human beings, if their actions don’t ring true, your novel won’t work. I don’t know where I got this from, it may be notes from a book, but it’s worth sharing.

Creating Characters

  1. What do they care about?

  2. Rationalise their behaviour – find plausible reasons for why they think and believe as they do.

  3. Labels: sex, age, vocation and manner.
    A. Manner: practice finding adjectives
    B. Manner: what is their dominant impression?
    C. Manner: incidents which show this

  4. Fleshing out: tags, traits and relationships
    A. Tags: name, appearance, ability, speech, mannerisms and attitude
    B. Traits: habitual modes of response and patterns of behaviour
    C. Consider whether to cast a given character to type or against type
    D. Weaknesses

  5. The World Within 1: motive
    A. What must they change to win happiness?
    B. What constitutes happiness for them?
    C. What are they scared of?

  6. The World Within 2: direction, goal, drive and attitude
    A. Direction: his tendency to lead the kind of life he enjoys
         i.   Adventure: yearning for new experience
         ii.  Recognition: fame
         iii. Response: love
         iv. Power: over others
    B. Goal: a goal exists only in terms of dissatisfaction with an existing situation. To
         reach the general goal, the character must attain a whole series of intermediate goals
    C. Drive: the intensity with which a character wants to change or reshape his situation.
         Most people are not totally motivated, they just drift
    D. Attitude: a hangup that’s hard to get rid of.

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Thinking Thursday: Plan Ahead

Yesterday was my ‘Thinking Thursday’ blog post day, but it was such a busy day, and I didn’t have anything prepared ahead.

Schedule

That’s one of the drawbacks to committing to a schedule. If I didn’t label it ‘Thinking Thursday’, no one would know I was a day late. But for the most part, committing to a schedule is something that works for me. It means I don’t have to think about when to post – I just need to be prepared ahead of time!

This works for other areas of life too. I have just been reading the summer edition of the UCCF magazine, now called Impact. It contains an article on preparing someone for university, which contains the question, ‘How are you going to deal with the uni drinking culture?’

Drunken people

The drinking culture is nowhere near as pervasive as you might have been led to believe, but freshers’ week often gives people the impression that being a student means drinking like a fish, so Christian freshers simply don’t have the time to decide how they will deal with this challenge when it comes. Help them to think it through now. Will they drink in moderation, or not at all? What does moderation actually mean? How will they explain to their mates why they don’t drink like everyone else? If they slip up and overdo it, what will they do about it?

There are lots of areas in our lives where we would benefit from making decisions and plans ahead of time. Sit down away from the pressures and work out how you will handle them when they come.

Cakes_2

I’m losing weight, and I’ve discovered that if I have space, I can make healthy eating decisions, but if there are cakes or biscuits in front of me, I can’t resist. The trouble is, every Sunday in church we have tea and biscuits after the service, and sometimes cake. Sometimes after the evening service too. So I sit right down the far end of the hall, away from the table with the food on, because I plan ahead. On one occasion when we were asked to bring cake to an event, I took a bag of fruit – and other people were grateful too.

My goal with my blogs is to sit down over the next few days and write some posts, so I’m ready ahead of time. If I fail, if I don’t post at all some days, it’s not the end of the world. Some areas of life are much more important – like alcohol or unhealthy food. Some are crucial – like spending time in prayer and Bible study, like resisting temptation over sex or stealing or following the crowd.

Satan is so clever. He will convince you that you can deal with it when it comes. If you’ve failed before, or you’re not sure you can resist, make a decision now and treat it as a settled issue. Make a plan for what you will do, so you know when your mind is clouded in the heat of the moment.

You know what they say – Fail to prepare, prepare to fail. God bless you in your efforts to decide and plan to live His way.

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Writing Wednesday: Innovation and Adaptability (Firepole)

Today is my birthday and I haven’t had time to write. I did write the following for Firepole Marketing, who have been a help to me, so I thought I would share it:

My story is not really about my business, but about my life. Five years ago I was leading a pretty humdrum life and convinced there was little I could do to change it. Then I had a major stroke that robbed me of the whole right side of my body.

Recovery was slow, but I did eventually regain most of my leg movement and some of my face. But not my arm. In the past I would have had a pity party, but not this time. Something changed in me. I found a new determination and persistence, and made the best of things. When I couldn’t do things, I worked at it until I could, or found a way to adapt. I learned to dress myself, wash dishes, carry stuff and open doors at the same time, and even to write left-handed.

In the middle of this, I decided not to mope about all the things I could no longer do, but to take up something I could do – I wrote a book. I also had to learn how to format it, deal with a printer, format it again and deal with Kindle and Smashwords, and, the biggest job of all, how to market my work.

That’s where Firepole Marketing came in. Their friendliness, encouragement, and high standards helped me, even when their courses and materials weren’t suitable. Lots of the free stuff got me going, and I even had several questions answered. Now there are three books! I know that when I’m ready to take the next step, Firepole will be the ones I turn to.

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Thinking Thursday: Omnipresent

CalendarBack in the past, God created to last,
and invited his children to come.
Then came the day that God made a way,
and is patiently waiting for some.

Here in the now, God is showing us how,
and is with us wherever we roam.
As the ages run, Father, Spirit and Son,
are ensuring we’re never alone.

There in the then, God is waiting for when
we will finally find our way home.
Time will be done, and all will be one,
and we’ll know, as we have been known.

Ann Marie Thomas 2009

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Writing Wednesday: What a Stroke Taught Me About Focus

Five years ago, I had a stroke. It changed my life, as you might expect, but it changed in lots of unexpectedly good ways too. I learned a lot about focus, which applies in lots of areas, including my writing. I hope it helps you too.

What a stroke taught me about focusWherever you are, be there.

We all do multi-tasking most of the time. Using the computer in front of the TV, texting while walking, checking emails while having lunch with friends. Even those of us not online all the time are often not concentrating on what we’re doing.

After my stroke some of my muscles no longer work automatically. You wouldn’t believe how many separate actions it takes to walk one step! Bend the knee, lift the foot, raise the toe, swing the leg, heel down first – and you have to watch your balance. If I thought about anything else, my leg failed to work properly. But if I focussed long enough, it eventually became easier. Now I can walk and talk at the same time!

Sometimes we need to cut all the distractions and really focus on one thing at a time.

Set small goals.

You may have a big goal with a long timescale but that can get daunting.

My stroke took away the use of my whole right side. When I came out of hospital I could walk only a few steps with help, and was very weak. I wanted to be able to walk again. When I first began walking outside I used to count the gates of the terraced houses on our street. The first time, I managed 3 gates out and 3 back. My goal was always to walk to one more gate and then back. A neighbour who lived 19 houses down the street promised me cake if I could walk to her house. Then I walked to the end of the street, and next, round the block. Now I walk the half-mile into town and round the shops .

Set small intermediate goals that you can achieve in a day or a week. That way you will have little successes to encourage you on the way.

Work at a problem until you solve it or work around it.

Because the use of my right arm never returned, I was constantly frustrated with the number of things for which you need two hands.

I taught myself to write left-handed but can’t hold the paper still. If I’m out, I either ask someone to hold the paper, or I get out my purse and use it to weight down the sheet. Some things I use my teeth to hold, sometimes my feet. Need to open a bottle of pop? Hold it between your feet and twist the cap with your good hand. Hand-washed clothes need wringing out? Roll them in a towel, put it on the floor, and walk up and down on it!

When I’m stuck with a situation in my novel, I think about it from every angle, sometimes for days, until eventually I can see the way through.

Always be on the look-out for tools.

Some problems you can’t resolve by yourself, but maybe there’s a tool that will help.

I can’t do much housework one-handed, but I tried washing up. Then I found a round brush with suckers on the bottom so it stands up in the washing-up bowl, and I can wash all my mugs and glasses easily.

I was losing track of my novel until I worked out how to use a spreadsheet to keep track of my characters. I wrote about it here. I think it’s a neat idea.

There’s so much advice on the web, maybe there’s a tool or a method that will help you plan your novel or organise your work.

Giving up is not an option.

If you stop trying, you’ll never know how far you could have gone.

There are people who give up after a stroke, and sit in a chair all day watching TV. They never go anywhere unless someone takes them out, they rely on carers to do things for them. I couldn’t face a life like that. I found a determination and persistence that I never had before, but it wasn’t easy. I still sometimes cry with frustration, but my focus doesn’t change.

If your goal is really important to you, you will find a way, and not give up. Now, where’s that unfinished novel?...

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