I had a great time visiting fourth graders at Baldwinville Elementary School yesterday. We talked about making characters interesting, giving them real emotions and fears, and figuring out what they want most in the world. The students came up with fantastic character ideas, and they also had some really insightful questions, including this toughie:
“How do you get readers to feel what your character feels?”
Let’s face it, that is one of the biggest challenges of writing stories. You want to make your readers empathize with your characters and make them feel like they’re experiencing the journey alongside your protagonist. But how, exactly, do you do that?
I did my best to give the student a coherent answer, but I wanted to talk more about it here since I think it essentially boils down to these four factors.
-Motivation. We need to understand why your character is doing what she’s doing and why she thinks it’s the best course of action. If she, for no apparent reason, wanders into a room where you know a psycho killer is lurking, you’ll be yelling at her instead of empathizing with her.
-Goal. The character’s end goal needs to be clear from start to finish. Every time the character’s goal shifts in the story (and it should evolve as the character learns more about what’s standing in her way) then the reader should know about it.
-Fear. Whatever your character is afraid of, whatever she dreads , we need to know about it. If she imagines what terrible things will happen if she doesn’t achieve her goal, then we’ll be even more invested in her succeeding.
-Impact. We need to witness how events affect your character emotionally. We don’t need to see her wallowing in grief (and it’s probably better if we don’t) but we do need to see at least a hint that she’s been somehow changed by whatever has happened.
There are more aspects to this technique, of course, but I think these four are the bigger ones.
Now, how do you convey all of this without putting in pages of internal monologue? Ah yes, another tricky business!
Remember that your reader is willing to put in a lot of work when s/he’s reading a story. A hint here, a line there, will give your reader just enough to be able to fill in the gaps. You don’t have to give your readers a lot for them to empathize with the character, but you do need to give them enough to feel like they’re right there with her.
|Originally published at www.annastan.com|
Big news! I will be signing with an all-star Harlequin Teen cast during the Romantic Teen Reads event at the one-and-only Books of Wonder in New York City, Thursday, April 17th, 6-8pm. Who will be there and what will they be scribbling on? Check out this list:
Michelle Madow (The Secret Diamond Sisters)
Kady Cross (Girl With the Iron Touch)
Maria V. Snyder (Touch of Power)
Cara Lynn Shultz (Spellbound)
Amalie Howard (Waterfell)
and me with INDELIBLE!
Come by, meet the crew, laugh with us and buy books! You can RSVP on Facebook and check it out in-person and online at Books of Wonder!
You know you want to.
* Cool banner image by Michelle Madow who is, herself, pretty damn cool. Come see for yourself!
On the upside, I'm having strong urges to start reading historical nonfiction again, for the first time in ages, which is a big personal relief. History books - especially books on time periods that really fascinate me - have always been some of my favorite things to read, as well as providing the best story-inspiration ever. For a long time now, though, I've been so exhausted (Baby X still won't sleep for more than an hour at a time!) that I've had to cut down my reading to fiction only - and only very light fiction, at that.
(You wouldn't believe how many excellent books I've had to give up on reading just because I couldn't cope with their darkness - or the necessary concentration levels - when I was so exhausted. Of course, it doesn't help that I do most of my reading at night while Baby X is keeping me awake! It's not the best time for any reading that requires brainpower.)
So the fact that in the last few days, I've actually found myself really, really wanting to sink into some good new-to-me history books feels like a wonderful sign that I'm finally coming back to myself post-pregnancy and childbirth. Whew!
Right now I'm reading the wonderfully named The Secret Rooms: A Castle Filled with Intrigue, a Plotting Duchess, and a Mysterious Death, by Catherine Bailey, which is so breathlessly paced and full of intrigue, it's the best possible re-introduction to nonfiction. I've also got Wendy Moore's Wedlock: How Georgian Britain's Worst Husband Met His Match and Jenny Uglow's The Lunar Men: The Friends Who Made the Future sitting piled by the big rocking chair in our living room, waiting their turn in the queue.
Oh, and I've finally - finally! - got a copy of Marie Brennan's A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent, a really fabulous-looking adult historical fantasy novel. I can't wait!
What about you guys? What books are on your personal reading lists right now?
Pre-release of Marvel's Captain America: Winter Soldier, S.H.I.E.L.D. brought in some of the Asgardian heavies including Lady Sif and Lorelei, long-time enemies on either side of the Thor story arc--one, a loyal soldier of Asgard, the other a power-hungry seductress who can sway men with her sexy, sexy voice. (Cue the eye-rolling and Little Mermaid parallels, but let's go on.) Without giving away too many spoilers, it's no surprise the Lorelei manages to snag some of the agents under her spell, including the utterly forgettable Agent Ward (pardon the side commentary but I keep having to actually look up his name because it's such a yawn-worthy stock character, but I digress). Under her spell, he does whatever she says, including bringing her to Caesar's Palace, as befits her rule, and have sex.
And this is where things could get interesting.
"Interesting" for the writers seemed to be exploring May's reaction and the subsequent fallout, ending their side affair and revealing he actually has the hots for someone else on the team (gee, I wonder who?) but what *I* find interesting is that we could have had a real conversation about rape and sexual assault from a man's point of view.
It was 100% clear that Ward wasn't interested in Lorelei under normal circumstances and ended up having sex against his will/under the influence of Asgardian magic mojo, but it might as well have been ruffies. He didn't say "no" (or have even the ability to say "no" under these conditions), and the fallout for him, personally, and the relationships he has professionally were profoundly affected by it. And yet not one word about how he felt about this. And herein lies my point: in the misogynistic rape culture that we're all raving about lately, there is a dual assumption that is at work here, 1) that any excuse for sex is fine by men & 2) that men don't get raped. I disagree. Strongly. And, by failing to talk about it, we become part of the problem.
According to the Rape Crisis Center, 1 out of 33 men have been the victim of rape or an attempted rape in their lifetime, accounting for about 3-10%, somewhere between 93,000 and 140,000, according to the CDC. (By the way, this accounts for about 10% of reported cases; do the math--the rest are female--and an estimated 60% of rapes go unreported). No one likes to be coerced, no one wants to have their choices taken away or forced into anything--from sexual contact to eating their veggies--and guys have the extra, added bonus of a homophobic, victim-blaming culture that adds another ton of shame-based meaning onto an already degrading and horrific crime heaped on a person. How often do we get the chance to talk about such things in popular culture? A lot of conversation came up about the rape scene in the Divergent movie--and whatever you've got to say about it, it got people talking! And here was the chance to have that kind of important look at something a lot of men don't want to look at and here it was, staring them right in the face...
And they didn't.
I admit, I was disappointed. Although no one seemed to notice or even react much when I pointed it out in my geeky conversations with friends and *that*, more than anything else, made me want to write this post. Maybe I expected more from Whedon, but I was actually surprised that we didn't go down this road--one that he explored in Buffy often enough--from casual sex to rape to failing to give permission first--and the entirety of Dollhouse was basically based on the premise, but this time, it wasn't even sniffed at. What a lost opportunity!
And why? Because it was a guy. And we presume guys are okay with this.
I, however, feminist that I am, still believe in everyone's basic humanity--that guys, just as girls, have every right to have boundaries of trust and comfort, that they know what it's like to feel betrayed, have their feelings hurt, to avoid wanting to be debased or humiliated and not have sex used as a weapon against them. The difference is, even while it's hard to talk about women's issues in a male-based society, it's sometimes even harder for men to talk about these issues for themselves. Was this the cause of the oversight? Shame? Maybe, but I think it's more the fact that this premise doesn't even show up on most people's radar that's the real underlying problem. Most guys would feel something after being drugged, manipulated and abused--even if it was sex with a hot alien chick--unless they're as 2D cardboard as Agent Ward (sorry). But we don't go there. We don't talk about it. And we should.
In our writing world, please check out Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak for RAINN15 Campaign and if you or anyone you know is a survivor of sexual abuse, please reach out for help and support at the National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1.800.656.HOPE.
I am sooooo much happier this week than I have been for the last few, I can't even begin to express it.
Of course, I also feel REALLY far behind where I'd expected to be by now, since I'd been writing 5,000 words a week on my Kat novella ("Courting Magic") in the weeks before Baby X and I got sick. So, honestly, I'd been hoping to be nearly finished by now, whereas I'm actually only about a third of the way through - and since this is a 4-day school week for MrD, followed by two and a half weeks of school holidays, I don't think I'm going to be getting back to that 5K/week writing model any time soon!
Oh, well. I'm having an enormous amount of fun with the story, and that's what really matters most. I love reading it out loud to Patrick after each writing session, especially when he laughs at some character interaction. I totally live for that kind of laugh! And he's already bought the image that's going to be used in the final cover! I'm hoping to finish first-drafting the novella by mid-May, then send it out for waves of critiques, then proof-reading, etc., and finally put it online sometime in late summer or (more likely) early autumn. But if the cover is finished earlier, I will definitely post it here! Because I can't wait.
And in other news...well, if you're one of my Facebook or Twitter friends, you'll already know this, but: this past weekend, I FELL IN LOVE - head over heels love - with a movie: Frozen. I know, I know, everyone else in the world had already seen it! But with Baby X still so small (and without any available babysitters for him), I'd never managed to see it in the theater despite all the friends who told me (rightly) that I had to see it. (One of them told me in an email that it was "the ultimate Steph movie". She was so right!) So instead, I pre-ordered the DVD, it arrived last Monday, I used all my willpower to hold off and not watch it until I could watch it with MrD on Saturday morning...
...and it was just wonderful. Sisters and magic and love and guilt and drama and humor - oh, and fabulous trolls! It really couldn't have been more perfect for me. (Or for MrD, for that matter - he says Frozen is not only his favorite movie but also his second-favorite, third-favorite, etc. It's swept the ratings, for him!)
But it wasn't just fun to watch. That's what movies I like usually are, and I really enjoy them. But every so often - very rarely, honestly - I'll watch a movie that turns a key somewhere inside me and sets my mind buzzing with new creative ideas. The very last Harry Potter film did that for me - I loved it so much, it reminded me what I'm really aiming at with writing - how powerful and fabulous fantasy stories can be. Then Frozen did it for me, this weekend. Something went ting! inside me when I watched it.
Ever since, I've been buzzing with ideas for all sorts of stories - a new opening scene for my Family Magic rewrite popped into my head, for one thing! They aren't Frozen-linked ideas or fan-fic - but watching Frozen reminded me of how great a story can be, how hard I can fall for it, with so much personal connection AND fun, and it made me want to try even harder as a writer. Better yet, it made me want to play.
What about you guys? Have you had that kind of response to any movies? Which ones?
I was poking around my old files yesterday, prepping for some upcoming school visits, and I came across the very first version of The Dirt Diary that I ever sent to my writing group (then entitled DIRT). Oh the memories!
While the premise is basically the same and the story starts in roughly the same place, Rachel’s age and voice in the original chapter are a bit different, and baking isn’t even part of the story! It’s amazing to see how much a project can evolve. At this point, I can’t imagine every having told Rachel’s story any other way.
Are you curious to read this early early early draft? Well, you’re in luck! I’ve decided to embarrass myself by posting it. So here it is, the very first chapter I ever wrote of The Dirt Diary.
By the way, if you’re in New England, I’d love to see you at The Writers’ Loft this Saturday for a great panel on writing historical fiction with authors Marissa Doyle, Alisa Libby, and Susan Meyer. It should be a great event!
|Originally published at www.annastan.com|
I do however, have a nametag from this weekend job I've been holding on to in an effort to, I don't know, maintain a routine? But I think it's time I gave up that ghost and take some time off to hammer around on this computer a bit. Wait, does that sound like I'm sexually assaulting my computer? Well maybe I am. Don't judge me.
Anyway, thanks to all of the awesome folk who helped me share the cover for Mortal Gods this month. You're the best. I will draw ARC winners as soon as I have them in my grubby paws and know how many extra I can give away. The pub date got moved from September to October 14th, but I still expect them soonish.
Dylan and I depart soon for vacation in Paris, and when we return, we're moving house, so the blog will be quiet (ha, I say that like it's a rare occurrence) while we get settled. I detest moving. I try to keep from accumulating too much crap, but it turns out that crap is really sneaky. And I hate the idea of having a house, because I'm going to have to fill it with crap, and what's going to happen the next time I have to move house? Death, that's what. I miss the days when Americans lived in tipis and followed the buffalo. Mobility, man. That's the ticket.
Anybody watching Resurrection? I had the book gifted to me and like an idiot left it in a car on tour, but I started watching during this week's free watchathon and I enjoy it. I think. TV has so much to live up to post-True Detective. It's a real high water mark. Pre-True Detective, I was more forgiving.
On the writing front, for anyone following along, I finished the short story for the SLASHER GIRLS & MONSTER BOYS anthology and had the joy of reading April Genevieve Tucholke's contribution, "Trick the Willows". You guys are going to love it. And you only have to wait until 2015.
Secret Project C is in turnaround, re: a dying duck in a freezing pond, I'll see if I can thaw him out later, but I think I only wrote him for myself. Meanwhile, Secret Project 3B is full steam ahead after a scrap and dismantle. Hopefully more deets soon. But maybe not.
Now, time to go get the mail before it gets dark and I get hit by a car.
Oh yeah, I updated the Sticky Post with some events and pre-order links for Mortal Gods, if you are so inclined :)
But look what came via Twitter and cheered me up immensely!
Sally Jane Thompson, one of my favorite artists (and graphic novel writer/artists!) sent me this sketch of Kat! It makes me SO happy every single time I look at it. :)
In other Kat news, congratulations to sapphireone, Jen Petro-Roy, and Colette, who all won Kat jewelry in my giveaway! If you guys could use my contact form to let me know your mailing addresses and jewelry preferences (ring, necklace, earrings, or charm bracelet - let me know first, second and third choice and I'll see what I can do!), I'll get your jewelry out to you as soon as possible.
And I wanted to link everybody to this beautiful blog entry by Anne Nesbet, Out of the Blue: Embracing the Unexpected, in Writing and in Life. It's worth reading for all sorts of reasons, for anybody, but as a writer, one of my very favorite bits in it was:
I think that one of the most important things we can do, as writers of children’s books, is to hold out our hands to kids and say, “Yes! You’re right! Life is hard and it’s amazing! You are not alone.” Every book is a hand held out to a child, welcoming them as fellow human beings, for whom life is so hard and so amazing.
Good books help us all through. They tell us we’re not alone. They give us ways to imagine things being Otherwise, when ordinary life seems just way, way too hard. They connect us to other people who understand how things are, even if some of those other people are spiders (Charlotte’s Web! James and the Giant Peach!) or dragons or guinea-pigs or hobbits...</a>
But really, you should just read the whole blog entry. :)
The first copies of INVISIBLE have *just* arrived and I couldn't wait to share them with you! Behold the first box of them in all their shiny glory--isn't the new cover gorgeous?!?
I admit, I was a little worried about the direction they'd take with the title of the next book, "Invisible," but I think they nailed it!
Imagine my surprise when I went to my local bookstore and saw that Invisible was already in stock! So since I was already there, I offered to sign a stack of fresh books for the store and they let me grab a chair and get to work. You'd think it would be hard, but I came prepared--I brought my newest pen with invisible ink! But we did have a little trouble with where to place the "Autographed Copy" stickers...
Okay, so it was a slightly larger stack than I'd anticipated, but I'm game! There were too many to fit on the table, so we switched to the floor. It made quite a scene and boy, are my hands tired!
And this little side project made us all laugh!
Can you see my smiling face through the window? My husband thought it'd be funny to make an "invisible house" around me as I worked. That peaked roof and turrets took more than a few tries and I was laughing so hard, I kept knocking down the gazebo.
And, last but not least, a smiling, happy author taking a picture with her latest book: this is what we strive and sweat and pray for--a beautiful book! (Just goes to show it's not all for nothing.)
And, no, that's not Ink waving behind me, silly. He's fictional.
This TOTALLY made my day! What a great way to start April, 1st!