Category Archives: Characterization

Sunday Funday: My Tribe of Princesses (No Pink Allowed, Unless You Are A Pink Lady)

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Sunday Funday: My Tribe of Princesses (No Pink Allowed, Unless You Are A Pink Lady)

I totally refuse to buy anything pink or Disney Princess for my niece or any of my children’s friends. I’m SICK of pink everything and I’m sick of Disney princesses.  Like Candy Crush Saga and scary horror books, pink and princesses are fine in moderation (all four make it difficult to sleep).  Given it’s #maythe4thbewithyou and Star Wars was a huge part of my childhood, I’ve been thinking a lot about which fictional women influence my writing. I’m not going to say anything literary here, nothing related to my English or creative writing degree, so flee now if you are waiting for a Shakespeare shout out.  If you’re a fan of pop culture,  here are five fictional women who have somehow influenced my writing and have helped shape Marina Konyeshna, the main character in my trilogy. Heck, they have all inspired me personally, too:

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5. Stephanie Zinone.  The gum-smacking, cigarette-smoking, pants-hiding, motorcycle-loving star of Grease 2 was my idol growing up.  She wanted a Cool Rider AND went bowling.   Hey, I was on a bowling team!  So that made me halfway cool, right? I would have given up my  Sunday morning cartoons to be a Pink Lady.  Stephanie learned her lesson that she was missing out on love by having narrow expectations and she got the cute, Australian boy, too.

4. Julie McCoy from The Love BoatJulie McCoy from The Love Boat???? Are you wondering if I took too much Allegra today?  Come on, Julie was the problem-solver of the ship, had sensible hair, wore sensible shoes, and was the princess of everyone’s heart on that ship. I wanted her job – she got to go to Puerto Vallarta and meet Charo!  She was a career gal, traveling the world.  My friends voted her the actress most likely to play me in a Peace Corps Western Russia Six movie because I was the event planner for our group. What an honor! Julie worked with purpose and always had a smile in the stickiest of situations.

3. Wonder Woman. She wore an awesome headpiece, had magic bracelets, and flew a plane, an INVISIBLE plane, nonetheless (How about all of the birds that flew into that one? What a mess. Did WW even have a crew to clean that up?).  She was a butt-kicking brunette in a world of bleached blondes.  Now that I’m older, I am in awe of the garment architecture that kept the girls up and her tummy in.  I  even wore a Wonder Woman bathing suit during my first trip to Disney World.  Take that, princesses. Didn’t need you then, either.

2. Batgirl. Forget tea parties with my stuffed animals. I’d put on my mom’s leather, high-heeled boots and re-enact the scene where Batgirl had to fend of her attackers with her hands tied behind her back.  With my own arms held behind my back with an invisible rope, I clipped, clopped, and scuffed my way around the linoleum floor in the dining room, kicking invisible Bad Guy hiney.  Until my mom told me to put her darn boots back in the closet already.

1. Princess Leia.The swing set in the backyard wasn’t just a swing set, it was the Millennium Falcon. And when it was time to play Star Wars, I made sure I always got to be Leia (Sorry, cousin Bonnie. Yes, I was a brat. This apology is about 35 years late).  Leia was a multifaceted bad-ass.  The was the  shrewd princess in her “Help Me Obi Wan Kanobi, You’re My Only Hope” hologram.  She was the gun-slinging warrior in this.  A hottie in this (Yes, she was a slave here. I get it. My feminist side is hitting me upside with a light saber as I write this.  But she owns it somehow.).  And the gracious, elegant diplomat here.  She had it all going on.  Leia was goal-oriented, surrounded herself with great friends, and was well-spoken. It wasn’t her fault she made out with her brother – family secrets stink.  To this day, I hope I channel some of her intelligence and strategic thinking as I make my way through this crazy life as a writer and teacher.  The most important thing I take from her is that we can’t do it alone.  We all need our tribes, our Hans, our Lukes, our R2s, our C3POs and our Wookies.  In HOPE YOU GUESS MY NAME, Marina can’t get through the geocaching competition without the different skills offered by Gilly, Kendra, and Arman.  Without our tribes, ladies, we are nothing.

I’m so grateful these five fictional women were a bigger part of my influences than the warbling princesses looking for a Prince Charming.  There’s room for all of these versions of what it means to be a girl/woman but let’s get our girls caring more about strength, purpose, and fierceness rather than being pretty princesses.

Who are your Sheroes? Tell us in the comments below:

Guest DJ: Finding Literary Inspiration Just Outside Your Door by Chris Campion

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Guest DJ: Finding Literary Inspiration Just Outside Your Door by Chris Campion

Next up on the turntable is the classic Kung-Fu Fighting, in honor of our guest DJ’s new novel.  Let’s hear what Chris Campion has to say about getting ideas for our writing.

1396691_10101874766804173_195418875_nChris Campion earned an M.A. in creative writing from Wilkes University. His fiction can be read on Fiction365.com and East Meets West: American Writers Journal. His debut novel, THE JIU-JUTSU BUM, was recently published by Northampton House Press, LLC.

Right Under Your Nose: Finding Literary Inspiration Just Outside Your Door by Chris Campion

My first short story was based on a guy who walked down an alley every day with a pit bull cur that ran amok all over the neighborhood. The dog would drag its twenty foot leash behind it because the fat ass who walked it never held the leash. Instead, he’d wattle after it with a cigarette stuck in his mouth like a lollipop. I’ll let you read the rest, but it doesn’t end well, if you couldn’t have anticipated that.

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I couldn’t make this guy up. So where did I find him? Right in front of my house. I’d take a break from writing my novel and wander outside for a bit to review the day’s chapter in my head. Soon enough, he’d make his way down the alley and we’d talk. Ergo, his presence and routine gave me the idea for a short story, and the rest is history.

What I’m trying to say is that you don’t have to go very far to find literary inspiration, should you find yourself in need of some fresh material. Your hometown—your current lot in life—and its characters will do fine. My blog is filled with its findings.

Let’s go back to my front yard: I see the old, scruffy dude who pushes a lawnmower all day long because he can’t find a real job to feed his grandson. I see my friend, Mike, who tells me his life story of being in and out of jail, driving cars until the tires fall off and sparks stream across the pavement while being chased by cops, then getting arrested for looking like a terrorist because of his beard. I see barflies with more wisdom than philosophy doctoral students. And in my opinion, characters such as these with just as much backstory and personality are constantly used as characters in literature and even screenplays.

In short, I try and find what’s interesting about the people, places, and things in my immediate disposal. And a side note: keep a journal for when you return home with a treasure trove of new material. You will not remember it that night.

It’s funny, but I swear the universe starts giving you more and more content when you ask for it. It’s as if it really hears your cry and comes through. Also, very importantly, get inside yourself more, because what’s inside of you will bring out the voice, the mood, the tone, the POV, and the overall vision and purpose of the story. Don’t believe me? Read Raymond Carver, Charles Bukowski, or John Updike and see how uncomplicated or simple the characters, settings, and conflicts are, yet, they write about them in such an original, refreshing, and beautiful way. They found the jewels around them—the stories, the literary sweet stuff that we writers live for. I hope my little rant will too.

You can contact Chris Campion via Twitter: @Campion23. “Like” his novel’s FB page at www.facebook.com/thejiujitsubum to stay up to date on author appearances, free excerpts, short stories, interviews, and more. Follow his wacky blog at campionsmind.blogspot.com

If you have something to say about writing and would like to be a Guest DJ,  please contact me here.

Show Us, Don’t Tell Us: Writing Dialogue

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Dialogue Exchange #1

“Leave me alone!” Jodie screamed loudly.

“Fine!” yelled Manny.

“Whatever! I hate you!” Jodie hissed.

“Good!”  Manny bellowed intensely.

Dialogue Exchange #2

“Leave me alone!”  Jodie said as she grabbed her keys from the end table and yanked her purse over her shoulder.  She was sure Mrs. Lenitsky could hear them through the walls and she wondered if there would be another note in their mailbox.

Manny’s face flushed as he crossed his arms over his chest and anchored himself in the recliner. “Fine!”  Their cat twitched her ears and opened her eyes as her nap was interrupted again by another fight. 

“Whatever! I hate you!”  Jodie’s voice was a hiss.  She heard her brother say “Good!” as she slammed the front door.

***

Many teachers use Exchange #1 – screamed, yelled. hissed, bellowed.   I teach middle school and start teaching dialogue by instructing  my students to use attributes like that when writing dialogue. They’re beginning writers, so that’s OK.  I’m thrilled they know what verbs are in the first place, to be honest.

Strong verb attributions are a good place to start, but then it’s time to extend that skill.  I’m a fan of Exchange #2.

I try to always use said as an attribute.  In her fabulous guide to the craft of writing called HOW I WRITE: SECRETS OF A BEST-SELLING AUTHOR Janet Evanovich writes, “Said is preferable to words like remarkeduttereddeclaredarticulatedmurmured, or chortled. Descriptive words such as these can stop the flow of a sentence. Don’t be concerned that there will be too many saids in your book. Readers never really notice it. ”

The information supporting a piece of dialogue is called a tag or a beat.  This is where you should get creative.  So what can you do?  Like Exchange #2, paint a picture of what’s going on while the characters are speaking. SHOW instead of tell:

  • What does the person look like? (“Manny’s face flushed…”)
  • What is the person doing? (“She grabbed her keys from the end table and yanked her purse over her shoulder”)
  • How does another character respond? (“Their cat twitched her ears and opened her eyes as her nap was interrupted again by another fight.”)
  • Gestures? (“…he crossed his arms over his chest and anchored himself in the recliner.”)
  • Reactions? (“She heard her brother say “Good!” as she slammed the front door.”)

The combination of these elements show anger and discord rather than simply telling it.  Don’t slow your writing by using all of these all of the time; this was just to show you the gist.

Finally,  there are scenes that will require fast dialogue.  Roddy Doyle is an example of a writer who can pack a punch with using just pure dialogue with out a single attribution or tag. He’s one of my all-time favorite writers and instilled in me a love of using conversations to create characters and conflict. Don’t get caught up in showing and telling when the pace of the scene matters more.

So, take a piece of your writing, change those flowery attributions to said and try some showing instead of telling.  Please post your before and after below, because sharing is caring.

Lights and Shadows: How Archetype Cards Can Strengthen Characterization and Conflict

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Lights and Shadows:  How Archetype Cards Can Strengthen Characterization and Conflict

 ImageIn my novel, HOPE YOU GUESS MY NAME, I knew who my characters were, and, thanks to the sage advice from a graduate school instructor, even knew what their feet looked like.  When the array of choices my characters could make were daunting, I looked for help in a deck of Caroline Myss’ Archetype Cards.

Several years earlier, a friend told me she had used the cards to understand her personality traits and how she could harness her archetypes for her benefit. Intrigued, I asked her to teach me about them. My friend opened the heavy, red  box and spread the cards across her glass coffee table. Each card was titled with an archetype name, the light attributes, a bold and beautiful drawing of the archetype, and the shadow attributes.

I sifted through the cards and she explained how to use them.  Basically, we all supposedly possess certain archetypes (Child, Victim, Prostitute, Saboteur) in some capacity, but have to suss out what other archetypes resonate with us. In the cards’ guide, Myss writes, “Keep in mind that your attraction may be positive or negative – that is, an archetype may represent qualities that are important to you as well as some that you wish you had in greater abundance, or qualities you would rather not have.” My friend would then spend time at night sorting the cards that fit and didn’t her life.

By now, you might be thinking this is a bunch of New Age flim-flam hoo-ha, but stay with me. I pinky promise there’s cool stuff here for you.

I bought my own set the next day and began my personal archetype journey.  Some resonated immediately (Student, Teacher).  Others, like Destroyer, shocked me.  It explained my love of rearranging rooms and having no fear about joining the Peace Corps (light attribute) and sometimes abandoning projects or relationships when I shouldn’t have (shadow attribute).  I now work on the shadow attribute, which has prevented me from saying, “Whatever! Forget about it!” many times.

Whatever my archetypes were, I was determining how the light and shadow attributes manifested themselves in my life and how to learn from them. One of my favorite new ways to understand myself and other people is, “Our light is our shadow.”  For example, I’m by nature and through the example of my mother, a giving person.  This is gratifying most of the time, but there have been times in my life when, to quote a line from Gone Girl, I “Giving-Treed myself out of existence.” Light, meet shadow.

If understanding these light and shadow attributes could help me as a person, I was curious to see how they could help me with my novel; so, I spread them out on the floor and started sorting.  The archetype exercise was a guide, not an instruction manual.  It also helped pinpoint my characters’ main motivations and fine-tune plot issues that had been clanking around my brain.  They helped shape my thinking but were not the definitive guide to Marina Koneyesha’s world.

I made color copies of the cards I felt best fit each character. Here’s what I thought were Gilly’s main archetypes:

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Gilly is smart, informed and dependable. His work as a civil rights/education lawyer has him advocating for those who need it most. He’s also hiding a big secret from his parents. Liberator is consistent with what Gilly wants to be and what he wants to do; but Companion affirms his loyalty to friends and family, with the shadow attribute of “loss of personal identity” hurting him since he feels he can’t come out yet.  Narrowing one of his archetypes to Companion helped me shape Gilly’s decisions and actions in his misadventures with Marina.

The shadow attributes were especially helpful in creating conflict and planning for the sequel.  For example, there will be a huge disagreement between two Slaves and a Healer because their light and shadow attributes will clash.  I inherently knew about these conflicts, but looking at them through an archetype lens was fun and gave me more direction.  I don’t know about you, but I’m always looking for fun and direction.  Pick up a box and see what happens for you and your story.

Please add comments with your ideas about conflict and characterization: