Thursday, March 27, 2008

News and Characters

First, some exciting (for me) news - Alyssa has just told me that she's sold my first novel, Faithful, as part of a 2-book deal to Puffin. Needless to say, this is thrilling - the culmination of many years of effort. And hopefully only the beginning of a career that I love, love, love. You know, it's true: if you do what you love, you'll find success, because your heart will pull you through the hard times when your head yells at you to quit.

So, back to characterization. Last time I mentioned one technique - scrapbooking. There are tons of others, but one I especially like is this: envision your character's bedroom. What's on the walls? Posters of rock stars or athletes or Einstein? What does your character have on his/her bed - a spread? Stuffed animals?

And what's in your character's closet? The stuff we hide from everyone tells a lot about us: is his closet a mess or is it neat? Are there old toys in there? A hockey stick? Does she take her laundry in to be washed or does it end up in a heap? How about old papers that she doesn't want Mom to see? Or a diary?

These are the personal details that turn a character into someone recognizable. Maybe the closet door still has a height chart that your character has long outgrown. Or maybe the closet is a trunk - because you've written a novel set in 1840.

You can use the scrapbook technique on your character's room, too - create a picture with cut-outs from magazines. These physical details will start to make your character feel more real to you, and then to your reader.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Holidays, redux - yes, it's Spring!

I'm not a blogger. Certainly not the type that gets obsessive. Of course, maybe instead of blogging it's better to be writing! I'm going to try starting a new thread here: writing about writing. That's because I've just been accepted into the Vermont MFA program for writing in children's literature. This is exciting, but it's also rejuvenating - I still feel like I have so much to learn about writing. I'd like to talk about writing in its elemental forms: starting with character, then voice, plot, pacing, and any other things I can think of.

By the way, my own personal demon is plotting/pacing. This difficulty is one reason I can't wait to get to Vermont. But here, since I feel comfortable with it, I'll start with character.

One of the most valuable workshops I've ever attended was run by the late, great Paula Danziger. She talked about building character and she combined it with her personal passion: scrapbooking. She brought materials to the workshop and we all chose a character and created a scrapbook of that character's life. I have to tell you that my scrapbook, the one I made that day, was dreadful - but then I went home and spent a week creating a new one for my character. It was a blast! I had fun finding the various materials and pictures, and I made a mini-story, with old photos and stickers, and I bound it nicely - and I think it made my character come alive in a completely new way.

For one thing, I wrote the scrapbook as if it was a journal, in first person. For the first time the voice of my character came out with a vengeance. And a couple of the secondary characters, too.

I'll continue this discussion later in the week...