Writer, READ!

Photo: NPR.org
Photo: NPR.org

Every writer knows the importance of reading and the impact it has on our own skills. Because I write literary fiction and poetry, I gravitate towards the same in my reading choices. However, I’ve discovered that it’s critical to pay attention to what is going on in life at the moment and plunge into different genres to achieve some sort of balance.

Here’s an example. A few years ago, I began to read the novel “Still Alice,” by Lisa Genova. Beautifully written and intense, it’s the fictional story of a brilliant woman’s descent into dementia. The reading group I attend here in the desert was to discuss it at its next meeting. However,I knew I didn’t have the psychic energy to continue. Although I had worked with dementia my entire nursing career and have,myself, written a flash fiction piece from the first person point of view of a woman with dementia, I was at the time immersed in dealing with a loved one with Alzheimer’s–my now 93-year-old mother. I simply couldn’t bear the sadness.

Since then, I have read the book two times; I took it to my Reno book club and led the discussion. I recommend it to many since it puts you in the mind of the person who has dementia as she progresses through the disease. (The author is a neuroscientist with keen insight into the subject.)

Now I enjoy reading the classics,trying to uncover what it is that makes them so timeless. In between, I’ll download something mindless–a good mystery or, rarely, a romance. It’s important to read great writing to enhance our own skills, but even when it’s less than stellar–isn’t it fun to critique?

One of the downsides of writing has, indeed, become the tendency to evaluate writing instead of simply enjoying the experience. But, read on, take note of style winners and losers and learn!

Happy writing. Enjoy the process.

© 2014, poem, Victoria C.Slotto, All rights reserved

2940013445222_p0_v1_s260x42034ff816cd604d91d26b52d7daf7e8417VICTORIA C. SLOTTO (Victoria C. Slotto, Author: Fiction, Poetry and Writing Prompts) ~ is an accomplished writer and poet. Winter is Past, published by Lucky Bat Books in 2012, is Victoria’s first novel. A second novel is in process. On Amazon and hot-off-the-press nonfiction is Beating the Odds: Support for Persons with Early Stage Dementia. Victoria’s ebooks (poetry and nonfiction) are free to Amazon Prime Members. Link HERE for Victoria’s Amazon page.

Editorial note: Congratulations, Victoria, on that the long awaited publication of print copies of Jacaranda Rain, Collected Poems, 2012, Beautifully done.

Writers’ Fourth Wednesday is hosted by Victoria from January through October. Tomorrow Victoria’s Fourth Wednesday writers’ prompt will post at 12:01 a.m. PST. Please join us. Mister Linky will remain open for seventy-two hours so that you can link your response to this blog. Victoria and Jamie will read and comment and we hope you will read one-anothers’ work as well, comment and encourage. 

WRITERS’ FOURTH WEDNESDAY: Character Development in Fiction

Photo Credit: Pinterest
Photo Credit: Pinterest

A while back, I attended a writer’s conference session about character development. The speaker suggested using astrological signs as a means to create believable, consistent characters. My knowledge of astrology is scant, but I tried to apply it to the characters in my first novel, Winter is Past. The results weren’t what I’d hoped for.

When I worked in the area of nursing education, human resources and spirituality, I had the opportunity to delve into Myers-Briggs…a personality evaluation tool that assesses behavior based on four areas of response: Introversion versus extraversion, Intuitive versus sensate, Thinking versus Feeling and Perceptive versus Judgmental. The latter may not be so self-explanatory but I use the example of my parents: my dad would be ready to go somewhere 20 minutes ahead of time, while my mother would change her mind a few more times about what she wanted to wear. Think: structured versus easy-going.

I returned to my draft manuscript, and applied the Myers-Briggs, using this tool to help me re-create the major characters with the result of more consistent, believable players. For my second novel The Sin of His Father, I wrote out character profiles before I even began to write, again using the Myers-Briggs. It has made it so much easier.

Photo Credit: vivalamanosphere.com
Photo Credit: vivalamanosphere.com

There is an old book called Please Understand Me that explains all the possible profile combinations and how they play out in real life. If you can find it, it’s been a godsend.

I’m addicted to The Learning Company‘s Great Courses, university level programs presented by the highest quality professors. One of the courses, The Art of Reading is taught by Professor Timothy Spurgin of Lawrence University. The lectures are well-organized, clearly presented and as applicable to writers as to readers.

An important point from the lecture on characters addresses developing round characters. The concept of a round character, as opposed to a flat one, was presented by E. M. Forster in his book, Aspects of the Novel. Simply put, a round character is one who will capture the reader’s interest because of his unpredictability, his complexity and the changes he undergoes during the course of the story. And this is key: “The test of a round character is whether it is capable of surprising in a convincing way.” (Forster)

While a protagonist needs to draw the sympathy of the reader, he should have some character flaws. Inversely, your antagonist should have something that makes him, if not attractive, at least capable of being understood. Just like us–no one is all good or all bad.

As you write, reflect upon your own reaction to the key characters in your manuscript. Are you able to identify with them to some degree? Are there things that, if you were that person, you might be ashamed of or want to change? Are there events or reactions which are surprising without being totally out-of-character (unconvincing)? Is your character someone you would want to know, or avoid?

One thing I find helpful when writing fiction is to base my characters on a composite of people I know or with whom I have been acquainted. You can even take someone who is in the public eye. I try not to use one person because I would never want anyone to say to me, “That’s me, isn’t it?” My mother once thought a character was her because I set a scene in a room in her house! And this secondary character was not, initially, a nice person.

I hope this brief reflection on characters will be helpful to those of you who have an interest in writing fiction. In a future post, I’ll share a character development worksheet that I prepared for  a character in novel #2 to give you something to hang your words on!

We’d like to invite you to share a brief paragraph or poem of your own presenting a character you’ve created or known somewhere along the road. There are two ways you can do it:

  • Preferably, post your description on your own blog or website, then copy and paste the direct URL into the Mr. Linky, which is included at below at the end of this post.  He will also ask you to include your name or another identifier.
  • If you prefer, add your character sketch to the comments section.
  • It’s nice, though not required to read others and leave a like or comment. I will visit all of them.

Happy writing; enjoy the process!

– Victoria

EDITOR’S NOTE: Mr. Linky is below Victoria’s bio ~

Victoria at the Palm Springs Writer's Expo March 2012
Victoria at the Palm Springs Writer’s Expo March 2012

jr-cover-2VICTORIA C. SLOTTO (Victoria C. Slotto, Author: Fiction, Poetry and Writing Prompts) ~  is an accomplished writer and poet. Winter is Past, published by Lucky Bat Books in 2012is Victoria’s first novel.  A second novel is in process.  Jacaranda Rain — Collected poems, 2012 is available on Amazon, as is the hot-off-the-press nonfiction, Beating the Odds: Support for Persons with Early Stage Dementia. Victoria’s poetry collection and non-fiction book are free to Amazon Prime Members.  Link HERE for Victoria’s Amazon page.