Friday, July 22, 2016

Character Development Exercise For Writers

 Characterization is a big part of writing fiction, be it a novel or a short story, or even fiction for children. When you begin, you have the main characters in mind but what do you really know about each one? If you're lucky, you'll have this character really defined in your mind and will be able to transfer him/her in print so that your reader can see and know exactly what you see and know.

For most of us, however, we don't have our characters completely defined. The Character Brainstorming chart above would be a good aid in doing so. I'll list the categories below:

  • Name
  • Gender
  • Hometown
  • Age
  • Looks
  • Family
  • Favorite Food
  • Biggest Fear
  • Favorite Activity
  • Least Favorite Activity
  • Best Friend
  • Anything Else
You can jot down words or phrases next to each category, or you can write an entire paragraph or more. Let your imagination take you as far as possible.By the time you get through the entire list, you should have a pretty good idea of who this person is and  how he/she thinks or what motivates him/her.

Do this for each of the main characters in your story. When you know the characters well, you should be able to write your story easily. In fact, the characters may take hold of the story and let you know exactly how to write it. Don't laugh. It can happen that way. 

The longer your story is, or if a novel, the greater character development you'll do. In a middle grade short story, the word count maximum is often so short that the writer doesn't have time to fully develop a character, but write a book for kids of that age, and you can make your characters come alive just as an adult novelist does.

I can hear some of you saying that doing this Character Brainstorming exercise will take up too much time. You'd rather write the story and develop the character as you go. If that works for you, fine. But do give this exercise a try at least for one story or book and see if you think it worth the time and effort. 

I think that you might even use this exercise when writing a memoir piece. Sure, you already know the characters but your reader does not. Much of what you know about each character in a memoir is already-learned knowledge and you might not convey the full character to the reader. 

I would like to credit whoever designed the Character Brainstorming Chart but I found it one day without any name or other identification. I think the person who designed the exercise would be pleased that it is being used. At least, I hope so!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Movie Memories

One of my favorite theaters

I watched a clip of an old movie with Jimmy Cagney and Bob Hope dancing. What memories it brought back. You can all most likely write about your 'movie memories' which would be a great piece to include in your Family Stories book. 

What kind of theater did you go to? What kind of movies did you like? How did they influence you? Was it a family thing or only for the kids? Did you save your nickels and dimes to spend at the movie theater? Who were your favorite stars? Your favorite kind of movie? Did you go back to see any movies twice. 

Living in suburban Chicago, I had a choice of several theaters but two we could walk to were the ones my girlfriends and I frequented most often. What we loved to do on a Saturday morning was ride the 'el' train downtown so we could attend the morning showing at the Chicago Theater. They had a first run movie and a stage show after the movie with top name celebrities. What a thrill it was for teen-aged girls. We moved on from there the short walk to Marshall Field's for shopping and lunch. 

Here's a short essay I wrote about my family and movies. Maybe it will trigger some memories for you. Don't forget that movies had writers and many movies were adapted from books. 

Movies and Me
By Nancy Julien Kopp

 I grew up in pre-television days. Books and movies were our entertainment in the thirties and forties. Oddly enough, books cost more than movies at the time, so my parents chose movies over reading. They took me with them as it was cheaper than paying a babysitter. We lived in a Chicago suburb and had a choice of several theaters in the surrounding area. Later, when my brothers came along, we took turns going to the movies on Sunday afternoon. Mom and I would go while Dad stayed home with the boys, then he and the oldest boy would zip off to the next showing as soon as Mom and I
returned home. We went in stages until all of us were old enough to sit still and watch the screen together. Back home, we discussed the movies we’d seen.
 Movies were shorter in length, but the theaters generally showed two feature films, a cartoon, a newsreel, and previews of coming attractions. We didn’t have the 24/7 new coverage in those days, so the newsreels played to a very attentive audience, particularly during the WWII years. People wanted to see what the newspaper stories had told of the atrocities of war. The cartoons were not Bart Simpson look-alikes. Instead, we watched Donald Duck and Porky Pig, Sylvester and Tweety, Heckle and Jeckle, the best known crows of the day. The theaters changed programs two or three times a week, and the star-studded previews assured repeat customers.
I remember a period in the forties when polio loomed as a dreaded and rampant disease. Theaters showed a short documentary about the rehabilitative work of Sister Kenny, an Australian nurse. Scenes of polio victims in iron lungs and clutching crutches to walk touched the hearts of all. The lights came on and collection cans were passed down the rows, coins clinking as they moved to the final row. Each coin brought a vaccine one step closer. That miracle vaccine was finally discovered in the mid-fifties by Jonas Salk.
My parents loved westerns, my dad especially. John Wayne rated number one at our house, along with Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy, and Gary Cooper. When the fifties rolled around, people like Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda and Glenn Ford starred in westerns. And who can forget Alan Ladd as Shane? I remember my mother coming home disgusted after seeing Jeff Chandler play the part of Geronimo, the infamous
renegade Indian. “Geronimo didn’t have blue eyes like Jeff Chandler,” Mom said. She wanted reality in her movies.

I liked the movies of those earlier years far better than today. They were meant to entertain us, to take us away from our everyday existence for a little while. We rode along with John Wayne, sand and danced with Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, and we sighed with longing as Bette Davis and Joan Crawford offered melodrama. We attempted to help Charlie Chan solve a crime. Movies now try to frighten, to delve into the depths of psychology, mystify, or to rack up as many foul words as possible in one film along with baring every inch of he human anatomy. I’ll take a Betty Grable musical any day. Corny as they might have been, they were true entertainment.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Computer Woes For This Writer

Today's post is about a writing tool, not writing itself. The poster above pretty well fits my outlook for today. I have a sad tale to tell.

We bought a new printer last week and I had delayed getting it set up until the weekend. When I started to work on the installation, I found I needed to download some new drivers first. I fiddled and faddled with this and that and got it accomplished.

Then, I attempted the installation on Monday. I ran into a brick wall on multiple tries. Everything was good to a certain point and then an error box came up saying the file 'such and such' could not be copied. Another box popped up saying I needed permission from the owner/administrator. Well, that's me. Didn't tell me where to go to give my OK. No clue. Repeated attempts came up with the same thing.

Last night, I called HP support to ask for help. A very patient tech worked on the problem for 2 hours and 15 minutes. He ran into the same brick wall that I had. Repeatedly! Despite his doing many things in many places. Finally, he wanted to do a 4 hour scan overnight and get back to me in the morning. I agreed. But the scan would not work either. So, he suggested I call Dell support and he would also do some more research and call me this afternoon.

With all the things he tried, he restarted the computer several times. Once, he went back to the original Welcome screen. Nothing helped. After the long phone call, my head was pounding and I headed to bed. Not to sleep because I was worried about what was happening to my computer and not being able to install the printer. Slept off and on all night.

It turned out I had good reason to worry. This morning, I discovered that my email files, address book, documents and pictures have all been wiped out! I did manage to find the pictures file but haven't tried anything else with the rest. I have a back-up external hard drive but I'm not sure what all is on it.

I brought up the email window and was asked to sign in. I put in the user name and password and it would not accept it. Suggested making a new Microsoft account. I tried that and was told the app would not open. More brick walls!

It's obvious that I am not a tech guru. I can probably do more on a computer than most people my age but I reach a certain point and I'm finished.

The computer is my writing tool and I need it and all my files to function as a writer. I'm at a loss as which direction to go--Dell support or HP support. It's time to bow my head, say a prayer and weather the storm just like that little bird in the poster.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

One Important Step In Proofreading Your Work

Writers know that proofreading is ranked high on the Must-Do-Before-Submitting List. After you've written two or three drafts, it's necessary to go back over the manuscript with a fine-tooth comb. You
want to get rid of those pitiful little errors that, if left in, will make your writing look amateurish. 

There is more than one school of thought on the basics of proofreading. Some feel you should not search for those grammatical and punctuation errors until you have done revisions on the piece a number of times. Others heed the advice to fix the little stuff as you do your revisions on each succeeding draft. That's the way I approach editing and then proofreading. What's right for me may not work for you. I am always a proponent of doing what works best for you. But proofreading is important either way.

What I'd like to promote today is one step in proofreading that many, maybe most, writers omit. It might be the most important and one you do not want to skip. Read it aloud. Reading your work aloud is more beneficial than most people think. 

You can read the piece silently ten times and come to the conclusion that it's now just the way you want it. Ready for submission. Take that last step and read your work aloud from beginning to end. Don't zip through it. Take your time. You will hear problem areas that never showed up when you read the piece silently. You'll find sentences that are too long, places where commas might be needed, repetition of words and even unnecessary words. 

A word of warning:  Choose the place where you read your work aloud carefully. Sitting on a subway train on your way to work wouldn't be the best place. Nor would you want to read your work aloud while watching your child's baseball game. Forget doing it with a flashlight while in a theater. Find a place where you can be alone and (hopefully) uninterrupted. 

It's especially helpful to read your poems aloud. Trouble spots pop up when you hear the words rather than just see them

Try reading titles you have selected aloud. Occasionally, a story almost writes its own title but more often, we make a list of possible titles and then eliminate them until we settle on the right one. Hearing them could help you decide which works best. 

Work on creating a habit of reading your work aloud.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Deadlines and Achievement

Boy tying his shoes Stock Photo

This is one of my most popular posts. I hope you'll find it helpful to you. A big thank you to two new Followers who signed on last week. Welcome! 

Years ago, I told my five-year-old son he could not go to kindergarten until he learned to tie his shoes. "The teacher is too busy to do it for every boy and girl," I added for emphasis. For weeks, he struggled, gave up, and tried again and again. The day before school started, he achieved his goal. What happiness radiated from that little face when he demonstrated his new ability to me.

This little episode illustrates two universal truths. We push ourselves harder when there is a deadline and achievement is all the sweeter when we can share our success with others.

In our writers world, don't we tend to work better when there is a specified deadline? Of course we do. We think and think about writing a story or article but life tends to get in our way. We make vague promises to ourselves thinking things like Tomorrow, I'll get to it. Tomorrow arrives, the phone rings and we're off to another meeting, pick up a sick child (or grandchild) at school or.... But if a story must be sent to an editor by Thursday, we'll create time and get the job done.

That deadline looms over us, so we move it to the top of our To-Do list. The machine can answer the phone. Pizza places deliver night and day, so the family will be fed. Few of us like to dust or vacuum anyway, so that's not a problem. The library committee meeting can go on without us this time and a niece will appreciate a check for her birthday as much as a gift. We need to block out everything but the writing project. We don't want to face failure or the humiliation of telling the editor the piece is not ready.

Achievement is accomplished by setting priorities and being firm in keeping them. Get your ducks in a row might be a good illustration. If we're wishy-washy, our goals float farther and farther away.

When we receive good news from an editor, we've achieved a goal. We'd love to share the good news with someone--usually someone who means something to us. Like my son, we radiate joy when sharing news of an acceptance from a publisher. Satisfaction settles over us like a warm comforter. That, however, is not the end. Success only inspires us to continue writing and submitting. If you receive eleven rejections and one acceptance, which one do you think you'll remember longest?

That small son of mine is now a successful businessman. He learned all about deadlines and achievement before he went to kindergarten Here's hoping you did, too. If not, it's never too late to learn.

Friday, July 15, 2016

My Second Home--The Library

I go to my local library fairly often. When I see young mothers with small children there, it pleases me. I know those children will benefit greatly from having a mother who guides them through the library, teaches them how to use it and shows them the great treasures that line the shelves.

I had such a mother and I am eternally grateful. I remember the day she took me to get my own library card so clearly. I have written a personal essay about that day, the librarian I met and how libraries have affected my life.  I've probably posted it here some other time but here it is once more. I can never emphasize the importance of introducing your children to reading, books and libraries. Laura Bush gave us reason to do so in the quote above. I would also add ...the doors of pleasure.

My Second Home
by Nancy Julien Kopp

In addition to my regular residence, I have a second home. My mother
introduced this special dwelling to me when I was only six years old.  She held my hand, and we walked several blocks in warm autumn sunshine, stopping only when we approached a square brick building. Graced by trees and shrubs and a patio-like courtyard, it had a certain elegance and air of importance that I recognized, even at so young an age.

We entered the building and stepped into a cool, quiet atmosphere. The first thing to meet the eye was a large, wrap-around desk that extended across the entryway. A stout woman stood behind the desk, gray hair severely drawn back and caught in a small bun. No make-up adorned her face, and there wasn't a smile there either. I moved instinctively closer to my mother, my hand nestled in hers, until I looked up into the woman's eyes. What I saw made me smile at her. Blue eyes, the shade of cornflowers, sparkled with a smile of their own, softening her otherwise stern appearance. Soon, the smile in her eyes spread to her wide mouth.
"We've come to get a library card," my mother announced. The woman had the application card ready in a flash and passed it over to me to sign my name. I proudly printed it for her and slid the card back across the desk. Not only could I sign my name, I could read, as well. Dick and Jane and their dog, Spot had shown me the way.

"All right, Nancy," she said as she read from the form, "come with me."

She came around the desk and offered her hand, saying, “I am Miss Maze.” I grasped the hand this corseted woman in the black dress offered. My expectations were great, and I was not to be disappointed, for this kind woman led me to the Children's Department and patiently showed me all the books that stood on shelves like soldiers at attention. She spoke with wonder and awe as she explained the kinds of books that rested before us, making me eager to read every one.

It was a land of enchantment, a ticket to exotic places.  My mother and Miss Maze introduced me that day to the fascinating world of books and libraries, and thus began a love affair that continues to this day. I became a voracious reader and still am.

I was the child whose nose was always in a book. When old enough, I walked to the library alone at least weekly, sometimes more than that. I strolled past the conservatory that was home to a tropical rainforest, then on by a city park, across the railroad tracks and down a cinder path that ran behind the train platform. By the time I reached that cinder path, my pace increased, even though I carried a stack of books. I was in a hurry to reach the riches awaiting me at the library.

The grade school I attended had a separate library, which we could use when we reached fourth grade. I visited it regularly but also continued going to the public library. I felt at home in both places and felt much the same when I moved on to the high school library, then one on my college campus.  The libraries provided necessary information for all the papers I wrote during those years, as well as hours and hours of entertainment, as I read book upon book. The building I had frequented near my home during my growing up years was renamed when my old friend, the librarian, died.  The South Branch became the Adele Maze Branch Library, and every time I saw the plaque bearing her name, I thought of those cornflower blue, smiling eyes, and her kindness to me and other children through the years.  How I wish I could thank her for what she gave to so many.

During the years since I left my home community, I have made a habit of making a visit to the library one of the top priorities whenever moving to a new place. Within the first week, I have fled the packing boxes and sought out what has become a second home to me. Over 50 years of marriage, we have lived in five different towns, and, in all of them, the library has been a sanctuary and a haven.

Now, when I open the big glass door to my local library and walk through the atrium to the book-lined shelves, I feel just like I did when Miss Maze took my hand and led me to the children's books. I am happy and contented, as though loving arms have surrounded me with a great big hug. Best of all, I still feel an exciting anticipation of the unknown treasure waiting for me amongst the volumes that line the shelves in my second home.
I am so grateful that I had a mother who led me to one of the greatest treasures in my life, the public library.


Thursday, July 14, 2016

Questions Writers Get Asked

Friends and family often do not understand why you persist on your writing journey when you haven't become a raging success in the writing world.

They ask questions like Sold your book yet? How many articles have you had published this year? Don't you get tired of rejections? What makes you keep on writing? Let's look at each one.

1.  Sold your book yet? Non-writers haven't a clue as to what is involved in 'selling' a book. They would be amazed at the amount of time, effort and love that has gone into that novel you wrote. They don't know the statistics on the small percentage of novels written that actually end up published. They don't know the heartbreak each time you have a door slammed in your face.

2.  How many articles have you had published this year? I know you'd like to tell them it's none of their darned business and stalk away. Bite your tongue and then answer that you don't always keep track of the numbers, or if you know and are alright with telling, do so. It's going to be a very different number if you are a professional freelance writer as opposed to a hobbyist writer.

3.  Don't you get tired of rejections? You can most likely answere truthfully that you do get tired of rejections but that every acceptance wipes away the downside of a rejection. You can spout statistics to them about the number of acceptances and rejections according to numbers submitted but they will most likely just nod their head in agreement and then ask the same question a few weeks later.

4.  What makes you keep on writing? Here is where you can orate to your heart's content. You can tell family and friends about the passion you have for the written word, about the need to get your feelilngs written somewhere, about the desire to bring something to others. But guess what? They still won't understand. You have to walk the journey to understand it.

So, when those questions that grate get tossed at you, do your best to answer and know that the person asking will never completely understand your position. As long as you still have the desire to be a writer, keep on with your journey. You're doing this for yourself not for all those friends and family.

If you suddenly turn out to be the next bestseller author, those same people will most likely say I knew this would happen. I had faith in you all these years. You can just smile and say thank you and continue on that long journey that brought you success. I wish this for all of you.