writing craft

Where Do Characters Come From? + Giveaway!

>I’m thrilled to have a very special virtual author friend here today!  Many of you already know Elisabeth Spann Craig as the fab author who scours thousands of websites and blogs and tweets the plethora of amazing writing-related links she finds to quality articles. If you don’t already follow Elizabeth on Twitter, you are missing out on a major cache of information! (@elizabethcraig).

Yesterday, Elizabeth released the third book in her Memphis Barbeque mystery series for Penguin/Berkley w/a Riley Adams.  If you haven’t read one of Elizabeth’s books, I recommend you pick one up.  She is a fabulous writer with fun storylines, twisting plots and quirky, real characters.

She’s talking about where those characters come from today and we’re giving away 3 copies of Elizabeth’s new release HICKORY SMOKED HOMICIDE and 5 custom handmade bookmarks!  Just leave a comment to enter.


HICKORY SMOKED HOMICIDE

BBQ-joint owner Lulu Taylor knows pretty much everyone in Memphis who lives ribs. But one person she’d rather not know is Tristan Pembroke, a snooty pageant couch with a mean streak. When she finds Tristan’s dead body stuffed in a closet at a party, the police are suspicious- especially since Lulu’s developed a taste for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Caught in a situation stickier than molasses, Lulu must clear her name, or risk getting fried… 

Where Characters Come From by Elizabeth Span Craig

Writers are frequently asked, “Where do your ideas come from?”

I think most writers have a stock answer to this question. We’ll claim brainstorming or muses, or just random inspiration out of the blue.

Those are all true. But sometimes, ideas come after us. And frequently, they’re in the form of characters. We can actually build a whole book around a great character. For me, and I’m sure it’s the same for many writers, characters are sometimes inspired in unusual ways:

Strangers:

There are tons of characters around us every day. Sometimes I’ll actively go looking for interesting people. Fairgrounds and amusement parks and malls are great for this purpose. It’s amazing how many different types of people you’ll see. Stiff and grim, young and bubbly, odd and self-conscious.


Sometimes these people will even come up and talk to me. Even if I’m not looking for characters, I’ll frequently have strangers come over to tell me the most remarkable things at the grocery store, drugstore, or post office. I think writers are magnets for these folks somehow—and they don’t even realize that’s what we are. The cool thing is that writers can take bits of one person (maybe their appearance) and bits of another person (their unusual gestures or diction or humor) and create a character that’s an amalgam of the two.

Acquaintances who don’t realize they’re characters:

Sometimes characters appear at the least expected times. There was another mother at my son’s soccer game once. She was scheduling me on the team snack calendar. I was smiling and nodding, but I didn’t hear a word she said because I was thinking how perfect she’d be as a character in the book I was writing. Even better that I didn’t know anything about her and that she was a stranger—in this case, it was her appearance that was so great. She was perfect for a particular bit part. But I missed my date to bring snacks and had to leave the game to grab some when my week came up. 🙂

Characters who create themselves:

Then, sometimes, you have characters who are too big for their britches. They hop into your head with confidence and they’re not like anyone you’ve ever met. Although they’re supposed to have a bit part in your book, they aren’t content with the role. Next thing you know, they’re taking over your book! They’re scene stealers—they have the best punch lines and shine in the spotlight. These are characters who don’t know their place…you really have to watch them. It’s how my supporting character Cherry ended up with a sidekick role in the Memphis Barbeque series.

Friends who give us insight into our characters:

Sometimes, the opposite problem happens—you have characters who really don’t know their role in your book. They listlessly bumble through their lines and you’re wondering what on earth they’re doing in your story at all. You’re just about to fire them for poor performance when there’s a breakthrough. I wasn’t really getting a handle on one of my beauty pageant characters for my new book, Hickory Smoked Homicide. Beauty pageants can be a big deal in the South, but they were something that I wasn’t personally involved with and was always happening on the periphery of where I was—maybe there was a Miss Anderson waving from a car in a Christmas parade I was watching, etc., but that was about the extent of my involvement. I was aiming for a spoofy, fun look at the pageant world, but I kept hitting a wall.

I was a third of the way through the book and about to scrap the whole concept and start over when I picked up my daughter from a playdate. The mom there asked me politely how my book was going. I’d been struggling with it the whole time my daughter was playing at her house, so I admitted, “You know, I’ve got a big problem with the book.” I told her my concept and the trouble I was having with this character. She said, “Come on inside and have a cup of coffee with me. I’ll give you the dirt on the pageant world.” And she did! There was plenty of motivation for murder there, she assured me. And she gave me a fascinating perspective from someone who’d been involved in small-town pageants.

What we’re all looking for, both readers and writers, is a good character—someone to love, someone to root for, someone to hate. And inspiration comes in unusual ways, sometimes.

Who are some of your favorite characters? Did they come to life for you? Comment to enter to win 1 of 3 copies of Elizabeth’s new release HICKORY SMOKED HOMICIDE or 1 of 5 custom handmade bookmarks!
Books (US Shipping)
Bookmarks (International shipping)
**MUST** provide contact email to WIN!

Elizabeth’s latest book Hickory Smoked Homicide released November 1. Elizabeth writes the Memphis Barbeque series for Penguin/Berkley (as Riley Adams), the Southern Quilting mysteries (2012) for Penguin/NAL, and the Myrtle Clover series for Midnight Ink. She blogs daily at Mystery Writing is Murder, which was named by Writer’s Digest as one of the 101 Best Websites for Writers for 2010 and 2011.

Writer’s Knowledge Base–the Search Engine for Writers
Twitter: @elizabethscraig

>Where Do Characters Come From? + Giveaway!

>I’m thrilled to have a very special virtual author friend here today!  Many of you already know Elisabeth Spann Craig as the fab author who scours thousands of websites and blogs and tweets the plethora of amazing writing-related links she finds to quality articles. If you don’t already follow Elizabeth on Twitter, you are missing out on a major cache of information! (@elizabethcraig).

Yesterday, Elizabeth released the third book in her Memphis Barbeque mystery series for Penguin/Berkley w/a Riley Adams.  If you haven’t read one of Elizabeth’s books, I recommend you pick one up.  She is a fabulous writer with fun storylines, twisting plots and quirky, real characters.

She’s talking about where those characters come from today and we’re giving away 3 copies of Elizabeth’s new release HICKORY SMOKED HOMICIDE and 5 custom handmade bookmarks!  Just leave a comment to enter.


HICKORY SMOKED HOMICIDE

BBQ-joint owner Lulu Taylor knows pretty much everyone in Memphis who lives ribs. But one person she’d rather not know is Tristan Pembroke, a snooty pageant couch with a mean streak. When she finds Tristan’s dead body stuffed in a closet at a party, the police are suspicious- especially since Lulu’s developed a taste for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Caught in a situation stickier than molasses, Lulu must clear her name, or risk getting fried… 

Where Characters Come From by Elizabeth Span Craig

Writers are frequently asked, “Where do your ideas come from?”

I think most writers have a stock answer to this question. We’ll claim brainstorming or muses, or just random inspiration out of the blue.

Those are all true. But sometimes, ideas come after us. And frequently, they’re in the form of characters. We can actually build a whole book around a great character. For me, and I’m sure it’s the same for many writers, characters are sometimes inspired in unusual ways:

Strangers:

There are tons of characters around us every day. Sometimes I’ll actively go looking for interesting people. Fairgrounds and amusement parks and malls are great for this purpose. It’s amazing how many different types of people you’ll see. Stiff and grim, young and bubbly, odd and self-conscious.


Sometimes these people will even come up and talk to me. Even if I’m not looking for characters, I’ll frequently have strangers come over to tell me the most remarkable things at the grocery store, drugstore, or post office. I think writers are magnets for these folks somehow—and they don’t even realize that’s what we are. The cool thing is that writers can take bits of one person (maybe their appearance) and bits of another person (their unusual gestures or diction or humor) and create a character that’s an amalgam of the two.

Acquaintances who don’t realize they’re characters:

Sometimes characters appear at the least expected times. There was another mother at my son’s soccer game once. She was scheduling me on the team snack calendar. I was smiling and nodding, but I didn’t hear a word she said because I was thinking how perfect she’d be as a character in the book I was writing. Even better that I didn’t know anything about her and that she was a stranger—in this case, it was her appearance that was so great. She was perfect for a particular bit part. But I missed my date to bring snacks and had to leave the game to grab some when my week came up. 🙂

Characters who create themselves:

Then, sometimes, you have characters who are too big for their britches. They hop into your head with confidence and they’re not like anyone you’ve ever met. Although they’re supposed to have a bit part in your book, they aren’t content with the role. Next thing you know, they’re taking over your book! They’re scene stealers—they have the best punch lines and shine in the spotlight. These are characters who don’t know their place…you really have to watch them. It’s how my supporting character Cherry ended up with a sidekick role in the Memphis Barbeque series.

Friends who give us insight into our characters:

Sometimes, the opposite problem happens—you have characters who really don’t know their role in your book. They listlessly bumble through their lines and you’re wondering what on earth they’re doing in your story at all. You’re just about to fire them for poor performance when there’s a breakthrough. I wasn’t really getting a handle on one of my beauty pageant characters for my new book, Hickory Smoked Homicide. Beauty pageants can be a big deal in the South, but they were something that I wasn’t personally involved with and was always happening on the periphery of where I was—maybe there was a Miss Anderson waving from a car in a Christmas parade I was watching, etc., but that was about the extent of my involvement. I was aiming for a spoofy, fun look at the pageant world, but I kept hitting a wall.

I was a third of the way through the book and about to scrap the whole concept and start over when I picked up my daughter from a playdate. The mom there asked me politely how my book was going. I’d been struggling with it the whole time my daughter was playing at her house, so I admitted, “You know, I’ve got a big problem with the book.” I told her my concept and the trouble I was having with this character. She said, “Come on inside and have a cup of coffee with me. I’ll give you the dirt on the pageant world.” And she did! There was plenty of motivation for murder there, she assured me. And she gave me a fascinating perspective from someone who’d been involved in small-town pageants.

What we’re all looking for, both readers and writers, is a good character—someone to love, someone to root for, someone to hate. And inspiration comes in unusual ways, sometimes.

Who are some of your favorite characters? Did they come to life for you? Comment to enter to win 1 of 3 copies of Elizabeth’s new release HICKORY SMOKED HOMICIDE or 1 of 5 custom handmade bookmarks!
Books (US Shipping)
Bookmarks (International shipping)
**MUST** provide contact email to WIN!

Elizabeth’s latest book Hickory Smoked Homicide released November 1. Elizabeth writes the Memphis Barbeque series for Penguin/Berkley (as Riley Adams), the Southern Quilting mysteries (2012) for Penguin/NAL, and the Myrtle Clover series for Midnight Ink. She blogs daily at Mystery Writing is Murder, which was named by Writer’s Digest as one of the 101 Best Websites for Writers for 2010 and 2011.

Writer’s Knowledge Base–the Search Engine for Writers
Twitter: @elizabethscraig

Conflict & Structure with Author Stephanie Rowe

>As a four-time RITA® Award nominee, a Golden Heart® Award winner and a nationally bestselling author of more than twenty books, Stephanie Rowe knows a thing or ten about writing.  So when I created interview questions for her appearance here, I thought craft would be a topic both writers and readers would enjoy.  I know I was intrigued with Stephanie’s answers and can’t wait for my copy of her July release, TOUCH IF YOU DARE, coming in the mail.  Yes, I won one early!  And you can too!

Comment on any of Stephanie’s answers or ask a question of your own and you’ll be entered to win one of the following 7 prizes! (U.S. & Canada Shipping Only)

  • A print copy of TOUCH IF YOU DARE
  • A print copy of KISS AT YOUR OWN RISK
    Stephanie’s prior release
  • 1 of 5 custom bookmarks

Welcome, Stephanie!

How long does it typically take you to write a book from concept to polish?

It totally depends on the book. Last year, it took me almost six months to TOUCH IF YOU DARE, my July release, and that didn’t even include pre-work or editing. This spring, I wrote my latest book in 17 days! That one just came alive for me, and it was the coolest experience. From idea to polished book, that one took me just under two months. I wish they were all that easy! Over the last five years or so, I’ve focused on educating myself about how other writers prepare for writing a book, and I’ve created an extensive system of 10 or 12 documents that I go through as I brainstorm. They are cumulative, building upon each other as I learn more about the story and the characters and can dig deeper into everything. By the time I finish, I’ve got a 10 or 12 page very tight document that tells me exactly what I need to know to write, and not a bit more. It’s been working really well for me and I continue to refine it as I learn more and evolve as a writer.

You write in several romance genres: paranormal, suspense and contemporary.  What do you love to write the most?

I really enjoy the freedom of writing in different areas. Each one taps into different strengths and has different challenges and opportunities, so writing in the different genres helps to keep me fresh and it keeps me growing as a writer. I am usually most interested in whatever genre my current work-in-progress is in, which is good, since that’s what I’m immersed in all day!

What is your philosophy on conflict in a novel?

There are two kinds of conflict: external (e.g. bad guy) and internal (the character’s personal baggage). I believe that the most powerful conflict has to come from the soul, and it has to be the kind of conflict that can’t be overcome by a simple conversation or illuminating moment. A book without a powerful internal conflict will often lack that compelling element, while a book without a powerful external conflict can often be riveting. So, when I write, I always focus on the internal conflict and I allow the external conflict to arise from that.


How do you go about building your novel’s conflict?

My first step is to get to know my two main characters in their souls. I don’t bother with their favorite kind of ice cream. I need to sink myself deep into the emotions that drive them, and peel back the layers to expose their greatest fears, their greatest hopes, and their greatest joys. I find out what drives them, and I find out what terrifies them beyond belief, and then I create a story that forces them to defeat their innermost terrors in order to get that which their soul burns for. Sometimes those obstacles can be external, tapping into their inner traumas, and sometimes those obstacles can be internal, but every obstacle and every event and every relationship stems from that darkest place in their soul that is yearning for hope, for love and for light.

Do you plan out the structure of your novel? What model do you use?

From a structural perspective, I have created my own model based primarily on Blake Snyder’s SAVE THE CAT screenwriter’s book, and the hero’s journey as described in Mary Buckham’s brilliant lecture, Plotting with Mythic Structure (I highly recommend going to her website, www.marybuckham.com, and buying her lectures. They are absolutely invaluable). I’ve taken those plot points and created a chart in word that I fill in with assorted ideas for events. I’ve created assorted brainstorming documents that I use, and as I proceed through them and come up with plot points, I write them into my chart. By the time I finish going through my brainstorming documents, my chart is usually rich with events to challenge my characters. I usually don’t have to do any more work, and I’m ready to write at that point.


Great tips for writers! Fun insight for readers! Hope you have enjoyed.

Comment on any of Stephanie’s answers or ask a question of your own and you’ll be entered to win one of the following 7 prizes! (U.S. & Canada Shipping Only)

* Must leave a contact email *

  • A print copy of TOUCH IF YOU DARE
  • A print copy of KISS AT YOUR OWN RISK
    Stephanie’s prior release
  • 1 of 5 custom bookmarks

>Conflict & Structure with Author Stephanie Rowe

>As a four-time RITA® Award nominee, a Golden Heart® Award winner and a nationally bestselling author of more than twenty books, Stephanie Rowe knows a thing or ten about writing.  So when I created interview questions for her appearance here, I thought craft would be a topic both writers and readers would enjoy.  I know I was intrigued with Stephanie’s answers and can’t wait for my copy of her July release, TOUCH IF YOU DARE, coming in the mail.  Yes, I won one early!  And you can too!

Comment on any of Stephanie’s answers or ask a question of your own and you’ll be entered to win one of the following 7 prizes! (U.S. & Canada Shipping Only)

  • A print copy of TOUCH IF YOU DARE
  • A print copy of KISS AT YOUR OWN RISK
    Stephanie’s prior release
  • 1 of 5 custom bookmarks

Welcome, Stephanie!

How long does it typically take you to write a book from concept to polish?

It totally depends on the book. Last year, it took me almost six months to TOUCH IF YOU DARE, my July release, and that didn’t even include pre-work or editing. This spring, I wrote my latest book in 17 days! That one just came alive for me, and it was the coolest experience. From idea to polished book, that one took me just under two months. I wish they were all that easy! Over the last five years or so, I’ve focused on educating myself about how other writers prepare for writing a book, and I’ve created an extensive system of 10 or 12 documents that I go through as I brainstorm. They are cumulative, building upon each other as I learn more about the story and the characters and can dig deeper into everything. By the time I finish, I’ve got a 10 or 12 page very tight document that tells me exactly what I need to know to write, and not a bit more. It’s been working really well for me and I continue to refine it as I learn more and evolve as a writer.

You write in several romance genres: paranormal, suspense and contemporary.  What do you love to write the most?

I really enjoy the freedom of writing in different areas. Each one taps into different strengths and has different challenges and opportunities, so writing in the different genres helps to keep me fresh and it keeps me growing as a writer. I am usually most interested in whatever genre my current work-in-progress is in, which is good, since that’s what I’m immersed in all day!

What is your philosophy on conflict in a novel?

There are two kinds of conflict: external (e.g. bad guy) and internal (the character’s personal baggage). I believe that the most powerful conflict has to come from the soul, and it has to be the kind of conflict that can’t be overcome by a simple conversation or illuminating moment. A book without a powerful internal conflict will often lack that compelling element, while a book without a powerful external conflict can often be riveting. So, when I write, I always focus on the internal conflict and I allow the external conflict to arise from that.


How do you go about building your novel’s conflict?

My first step is to get to know my two main characters in their souls. I don’t bother with their favorite kind of ice cream. I need to sink myself deep into the emotions that drive them, and peel back the layers to expose their greatest fears, their greatest hopes, and their greatest joys. I find out what drives them, and I find out what terrifies them beyond belief, and then I create a story that forces them to defeat their innermost terrors in order to get that which their soul burns for. Sometimes those obstacles can be external, tapping into their inner traumas, and sometimes those obstacles can be internal, but every obstacle and every event and every relationship stems from that darkest place in their soul that is yearning for hope, for love and for light.

Do you plan out the structure of your novel? What model do you use?

From a structural perspective, I have created my own model based primarily on Blake Snyder’s SAVE THE CAT screenwriter’s book, and the hero’s journey as described in Mary Buckham’s brilliant lecture, Plotting with Mythic Structure (I highly recommend going to her website, www.marybuckham.com, and buying her lectures. They are absolutely invaluable). I’ve taken those plot points and created a chart in word that I fill in with assorted ideas for events. I’ve created assorted brainstorming documents that I use, and as I proceed through them and come up with plot points, I write them into my chart. By the time I finish going through my brainstorming documents, my chart is usually rich with events to challenge my characters. I usually don’t have to do any more work, and I’m ready to write at that point.


Great tips for writers! Fun insight for readers! Hope you have enjoyed.

Comment on any of Stephanie’s answers or ask a question of your own and you’ll be entered to win one of the following 7 prizes! (U.S. & Canada Shipping Only)

* Must leave a contact email *

  • A print copy of TOUCH IF YOU DARE
  • A print copy of KISS AT YOUR OWN RISK
    Stephanie’s prior release
  • 1 of 5 custom bookmarks

>February Fresh

>January has been both exciting and exhausting.

Together with the fabulous authors showcased here on the blog last month, we gave away 34 books!!  But beyond the books themselves, I’m even more thrilled about introducing so many readers to amazing authors they hadn’t before heard of or read.

February will be a month of fresh new posts, focusing on the positive–ways to keep yourself positive in writing and in life.  I’ll be posting material from my own hypnotherapist and work that I have done to get past writing blocks–which could also be used to get past blocks in everyday life.

I will also have tips and tools to aid in your writing.

Another exciting development this month is my new column with Savvy Authors, PRACTICED MASTERY.  The column will post on the first Wednesday of each month with a review of a new fiction novel from an author’s perspective.  There, I will showcase the stellar use of craft elements in each novel and highlight them to use as teaching points for other writers.

I hope you’ll come back often and share your thoughts, maybe sign up for the giveaways I can’t seem to keep myself from offering. 🙂

Thanks for following for the last month and meeting all my author buddies!

If there is something particular you’d like to talk about on the blog, a book you thought was stellar that you’d like me to review for craft, let me know in the comments.

February Fresh

January has been both exciting and exhausting.

Together with the fabulous authors showcased here on the blog last month, we gave away 34 books!!  But beyond the books themselves, I’m even more thrilled about introducing so many readers to amazing authors they hadn’t before heard of or read.

February will be a month of fresh new posts, focusing on the positive–ways to keep yourself positive in writing and in life.  I’ll be posting material from my own hypnotherapist and work that I have done to get past writing blocks–which could also be used to get past blocks in everyday life.

I will also have tips and tools to aid in your writing.

Another exciting development this month is my new column with Savvy Authors, PRACTICED MASTERY.  The column will post on the first Wednesday of each month with a review of a new fiction novel from an author’s perspective.  There, I will showcase the stellar use of craft elements in each novel and highlight them to use as teaching points for other writers.

I hope you’ll come back often and share your thoughts, maybe sign up for the giveaways I can’t seem to keep myself from offering. 🙂

Thanks for following for the last month and meeting all my author buddies!

If there is something particular you’d like to talk about on the blog, a book you thought was stellar that you’d like me to review for craft, let me know in the comments.