Creating memorable characters with a go-to excuse by Lani Longshore

Over the years, I’ve read lots of books and articles about creating memorable characters. Early on, the advice focused on visualizing your character and considering how gender, height, weight, coloring, and recognizable facial markings could have affected that character’s life. Later, it became fashionable to think of fashion. What did it mean that your character wore high heels, low heels, no heels? Later still, the trend went to what your character always carries, or the one thing your character regretted losing. Good advice, all of it, but today I want to consider delving into the soul of your character. What is his or her go-to excuse to weasel out of trouble?

Try writing a scene where your protagonist is in trouble and desperate to find that get-out-of-jail-free-card. Envisioning the lies, truths, or combinations thereof that your protagonist tells will give you a good indication of whether you’re playing with a hero or anti-hero.

Now write a scene for the villain, but in this case try layering some honesty into the go-to excuse. What happens if another character, perhaps the protagonist’s best friend, recognizes some truth in the excuse being told? How will that affect the protagonist’s and side-kick’s approach to the next crisis?

Since problem-solving is at the heart of every story, it makes sense to discover how your characters will react in difficult situations sooner rather than later. Who knows, in the process you might even discover a few excuses you can trot out on that day you discover someone forgot to pay the electricity bill.

Writing Beyond the Ending by Lani Longshore

I just finished Lisa Cron’s Story Genius. It’s a fabulous book with some outstanding exercises, especially for finding the real starting point for your novel. I’ve started planning my next novel, exploring my characters, and collecting scenes that will help me find the right place to begin the story. My revelation for this blog, however, is about ending the story.

My critique groups all told me the ending to my next novel, The Chenille Ultimatum, was too abrupt. As much as I loathe the “and suddenly the crisis ended and they all lived happily ever after” style of denouements, I had to admit that I had done just that. Luckily, my co-author and I sat down to discuss the next book in the series, The Captain and Chenille, and it became clear that I could solve the problem with the ending to one book and give the plot to the next a big boost. What I needed to do was write beyond the end of Ultimatum and into the beginning (or at least the outline) of Captain.

The validity of this approach was confirmed when I showed my critique groups a new short story. As I wrote it, I thought of how it could be expanded into a novel. I wrote the short story as if I really intended to turn it into a novel. Suddenly my protagonist had more depth, her world had more breadth, and the solution to the problem posed in the first paragraph of the story became the seed of the problem that would be addressed in the novel.

Whether I get to that novel or not, I recognize the value of writing my endings as if the characters had another tomorrow.

Well-timed Writing by Lani Longshore

I am a writer, therefore I collect technique books. And articles. And notes on random scraps of paper. I’ll save anything that will help me get through a muddy plot or tame a misbehaving character. The problem I have isn’t a lack of information but the wrong timing. The most brilliant advice in the world won’t help a fig if I’m not in the right place to accept it.

I’m not talking about being receptive to criticism, although that can be an issue. When I’m in my “I am genius” mood, there’s just no talking to me. In this instance, I’m talking about being in the right place with the right project to incorporate good advice.

Case in point: writing prompts. I have pages of abandoned story ideas from writing prompts. The ideas weren’t abandoned because they didn’t have promise, but because they didn’t fit into my project at the time. Then TVW President Patricia Boyle gave us a writing prompt at the February 2017 meeting that fit my needs perfectly. I had been considering writing more short stories to have available for contests and the next TVW anthology. Boyle’s prompt of “Beyond that door” set me on a journey that resulted in one short story and two pages of notes for a novel based on the short story (which I will write in my copious free time).

I will continue to collect writing advice and notes from writing prompts. I am also going to add to my writing regime a review of those notes and tips on a regular basis. Sooner or later, it’s bound to be the right time to use them.

The Idleness of March by Lani Longshore

March began quietly. I finished a story for critique group. I did the laundry. I listened to the weather report so I could prepare for the next rain storm. February is short, and there are deadlines. Between getting the tax information collected, registering for the April 22 Tri-Valley Writers conference (have you registered yet?) and entering the writing contest, and all the other things that must be done, I was fairly knackered by the end of the month. March arrived, lovely and green (and not just for Saint Patrick’s Day), and I relaxed.

That’s never a good thing.

There is always more work to do, more contests to enter, more stories to write, more revising required. Taking a breather sounds like taking positive action, but too much deep breathing can lead to sleep. Then you wake up and it’s the end of the month and what do you have to show for it?

That’s why I’m going to change my calendar. March 15 will no longer be called The Ides of March. I will rename it The Idleness of March, and make sure that when March 15 dawns, sunny or cloudy as the case may be, I will put my breather behind me and my fingers to the keyboard. Time to get to work!

Building Our Own Monuments by Lani Longshore

The ancient Egyptians revered their scribes. The pharaoh was a scribe. One of the craters on the moon is named after Thoth, god of the scribes. According to a poem that I believe is ancient (but can’t remember where I found it or all of the words), the scribes may be dead, their families gone, but what they wrote will keep the memory of them alive as long as there are readers.

That doesn’t necessarily mean their names are remembered. Like wonderful character actors, you may forget the names but you remember the faces and the way you felt watching their work. Today, that hope of someone remembering my words if not my name is enough to get me back to the keyboard. I encourage you all—keep on writing, keep on publishing, keep on blogging. Even if our words offer only a fragile immortality, they are our best monuments.

Character, Plot and Writing Happiness by Lani Longshore

I started writing another book. I have a title (The Captain and Chenille), and a concept. That is, I had a concept until I realized the universe is telling me to rethink the idea. I wasn’t listening to my characters telling me what they wanted to do, and my writing time wasn’t happy.

First came the October Tri-Valley Writers workshop with Scott Evans. His concept that character drives plot resonated with me, and I filled pages with notes on my two protagonists. From those notes I developed a rough outline of the novel. Unfortunately, it had one of those “Step 2: And Then A Miracle Occurs” middles.

Luckily for me, one of my critique groups decided to spend a day together in our own personal, private writing workshop. During that workshop I got an earful about my characters. It was all good, and all energizing. I went home and added those notes to my outline. The outline looked stronger, but the middle still needed work. I stared at the screen, saved the document and signed off.

Then a member of my other critique group lent me a fabulous book, Storytelling Genius by Lisa Cron. Like Evans, her position is that character not only drives plot, it drives the reader. Once again, every cell in my brain quivered with delight. I realized I wanted to know my characters so much better before I started on chapter one of the novel.

As I write practice scenes and more focused back story, I have a much better idea of what I want to say, and what events will help me say it. I am happy with my writing, and I’m even confident I’ll get that murky middle fixed.

A Second Chance at Ekphrasis by Lani Longshore

Even if you  missed the deadline to write about the artwork on the Winterfest 2017 page, here is a visual prompt to let you experience the challenge now.

 

Photo Credit: Lani Longshore

My husband and I bought this vine because we had never seen such an unusual flower. The gardener in him looked forward to seeing it wind its way up a pergola. The Sci-Fi writer in me saw opportunities for world building.

Examine the flower. If you write romance, imagine it in a bridal bouquet. Do you prefer mystery? Set it in a funeral wreath. Now, throw some words on the page. I’m thinking of my next intergalactic setting (which is why I cropped the picture the way I did):

 

fragile purple spikes

hovering above white sheets

I dream of space ships

 

You don’t have to write much. Even a few phrases may lead to a longer piece later. The real benefit is in absorbing the world around you, and letting fragments of what you experience inspire your writing.

 

Lament for the Winter Solstice by Lani Longshore

Lani LongshoreAnd so the darkest day arrives, and everywhere the storytellers settle in to bring the people through the night. Or we would, if someone would leave us alone long enough to write the story first, then revise it, then send it to beta readers, and finally do one last edit before the performance.

Every year, I envision the perfect holiday. The house is beautifully decorated, the presents are all hand-made and meaningful, the food is nutritious as well as delicious. That has never been the reality.

The same is true of my writing fantasies. Every year, I envision entering contests (and winning), creating the perfect platform, writing the blogs that everyone goes to first. Sometimes the tyranny of daily responsibilities gets in the way, sometimes my inner editor gets in the way, and sometimes I just can’t muster the energy to do more than sit on the couch and drink tea.

Then the darkest day arrives, and I’m reminded that the sun will be shining one minute longer tomorrow, another minute longer the day after. Winter solstice teaches us that while there is an end, so also is there a beginning. Today I may be glued to my couch, tea cup in one hand, TV remote in the other. Tomorrow, I’ll be glued to my chair, both hands on the keyboard.

And a Happy New Year to you all.

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