Archive for the ‘Character’ Category

Dating Your Character

Saturday, September 24th, 2016

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Producer, teacher, and personal manager Marilyn Atlas will conduct a three-hour breakfast workshop on “Dating Your Character” at the next meeting of the Mt. Diablo Branch of the California Writers Club (CWC) on Saturday, October 8, 2016 at Zio Fraedo’s Restaurant, 611 Gregory Lane, Pleasant Hill.

Ms. Atlas will offer insights and guidance in a hands-on workshop on creating character. She will discuss what makes a character three-dimensional, creating conflict, a powerful subtext, and how to get into a character’s head.

She produced the award-winning Real Women Have Curves for HBO The Choking Game for Lifetime, numerous films and plays. Her co-authored book Dating Your Character (Stairway Press) was released August 30, 2016.

Sign-in at 8:30 am, full breakfast from 9 to 9:30 am. Workshop from 9:30-12:30. The cost is $40 for CWC members, $50 for guests.

Reservations are required, and must be received no later than noon on Wednesday, October 5, 2016. Contact Robin at cwcrobin.gigoux@yahoo.com, or phone 925-933-9670. To sign up via PayPal, click “Buy now” on the Mt. Diablo branch website, http://cwcmtdiablowriters.wordpress.com/next-program/. Add $2 transaction fee.

Of Wishes, Rain, and People We Miss

Wednesday, June 10th, 2015

It’s raining!  I can’t believe it.  Zoie Dog is getting plenty of “good sniffs” as she sleeps and wanders in front of our screened deck door.  When faced with lack of water, we appreciate how valuable it is.  Its gentle pitter patter reminds me of the gentleness of my dad.  Dad’s quiet sense of humor seemed magnified when he moved out to California after my mom died.  My dad’s hugs, spiritual reverence, and avid love of all things sports were contagious.  Even I, no sports fiend, still feel his excitement when the Giants or Packers win. In moments like those, I talk to my dad, knowing deep in my soul he hears me. Elmer Koehler 1948   My mom and I were even closer, talking about religion, politics, recipes and more.  I miss her sense of humor and empathy most.   She and Dad lived in Wisconsin while I was in California.  Phone conversations did well at bridging the gap, but I did wish they’d move out near us.  Many times I find myself wishing I could call to ask her opinion or share a special moment.  What would Mom do?   I ask myself.   So I think my thoughts to her, feeling she too, listens. Helen Harnik 1940's I love the moments when Mom and Dad visit me in dreams.  These are vivid images, where my sense of smell is sharpened. When Mom brought me flowers in one dream, their scent followed me through my day.  When they hug me, I feel them after I wake.  At first I thought my imagination provided these scenes, but when they predict the future and it comes true, I feel their reality. While Dad was alive, Mom would begin an action and thought in Dad’s dream and finish it in mine.  The universe is connected.  I’m comforted by that thought as I listen to the peaceful rain, a small miracle in our drought-ridden land. Writing Prompts:

  1.  Write a scene where you or your character interacts with weather.   Show the protagonist’s thoughts and values through internal and external dialogue and action.
  2. Dig back into your past.  Write a scene where you were impacted by weather in some way.
  3. Do any of your characters need to deal with loss?  How do they show their emotions?
  4. Write about a loss you have faced.
  5. Loss inspires good actions.  How have you seen this to be true?

Meet Zeus!

Friday, May 1st, 2015

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Meet Zeus.   He’s about 7 months old, according to a local German Shepard Rescue group.  My neighbor, Hilde, is fostering him.  Last week she discovered a hard lump near his shoulder.  On Tuesday, Zeus had surgery where the vet found yet another tumor behind the first one.  We talked to the doctor when we came to pick up Zeus.

“I removed the tumors, but it doesn’t look good,” the vet said.

“What’s the percentage chance that it’s cancer?” Hilde asked.

“Five percent that it isn’t,” he replied.

Tears filled her eyes.

“We don’t know for sure,” I said.  “Let’s wait to see what the biopsy says.”

A loopy but still loving Zeus met us and we guided him into the van.  Back in Hilde’s driveway, she and my husband, Bob carried him into the house.

The next morning, still on painkillers, Zeus greeted me with romps and kisses.

“Wow, he’s amazing,” I told Hilde.

“It’s hard to realize he’s sick,” she said.

Today I answered the phone in my office.

“Liz,” said Hilde.  “He doesn’t have cancer.”

“He doesn’t?!”

“He doesn’t,” she said.  “All that worry for nothing.”

We were silent, each thinking about the doctor’s sobering –and incorrect—prediction.

“How could he have said that to me?” she said.

“I know.  Remember Bob’s doctor?” I reminded her.

Years ago, my husband’s constant coughing sent him to his physician who administered an x-ray.  It showed a huge growth in his right lung.  “Cancer,” the doctor said.

We saw an oncologist, who seconded the bad news, pointing out the ugliness on the films.  It seemed to take over Bob’s right lung, as it seemed to take over our lives.

The doctor called a few days before Christmas.  He said we’d have to wait until January to see a lung specialist who would perform an MRI.  Surgery and chemo was sure to follow.

“What if it’s something contagious?” I asked Bob’s doctor.  Maybe it’s TB or an infection?  If he’s contagious, maybe we should cancel our Christmas party?”

The doctor sighed.   “He’s not contagious.  Live your life.  Enjoy your holidays.”

Enjoy?

A few weeks later, the lung doctor questioned us thoroughly.  “I think you have an infection,” he said to Bob.  “Let’s try antibiotics first.”

You can guess what happened.  The drugs cleared up the “tumor.”  Bob’s coughing stopped.

Now when I begin to worry about something out of my control, I try and pre-empt myself.  Do I know beyond a doubt it’s true?

Writing Prompts:

  1. How do your characters face conflicts and tragedy in their lives?  Do they roll easily with life’s ups and downs?  Deny them?  Face them with humor, emotional resiliency, or abject horror?  Write a few scenes with scenarios that could happen to your protagonist.
  2. Write the outcomes of these scenes.  Try different resolutions.  Which one feels right?
  3. Choose a scenario to read to your writing group.  Make sure you ask the write questions as to how to improve your scenes.
  4. Don’t worry.  Over time, your writing does improve!    20150421_164719
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How can YOU write comedy?

Wednesday, March 11th, 2015

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“Comedy is simply a funny way of being serious.”  Peter Ustinov

Who doesn’t love humor?  Readers, editors, and audience members yearn for it.  How would we get through the serious business of everyday life without it?  Bennett Cerf once said, “If writers want the sure road to success, for heaven’s sake, write something that will make people laugh.”

How can you make sure it’s actually funny?

According to Norman Lear in his memoir, Even This I Get to Experience, he says, “Laughter lacks depth if it isn’t involved with other emotions.  An audience is entertained when it’s involved to the point of laughter or tears—ideally both.”

Have you ever set out to write a humor scene and gone blank?  No one said comedy is easy.  A Shakespearean actor, on his deathbed said, “Dying is easy.  Comedy is hard.”

Amy Poehler from, Yes, Please, suggests, “Get out of your head.”

John Cleese discovered in So, Anyway, “an important creative principle: the more anxious you feel, the less creative you are.  Your mind ceases to play and be expansive.  Fear causes your thinking to contract, to play safe, and this forces you into stereotypical thinking. “

So exactly how do you write humor naturally?  Find your zone of creativity.  Relax.   Knowing your character, the setting and the situation will help you develop comedy intrinsically.  Ask yourself what’s weird about your topic.  Scary?  Hard?  Stupid?  Brainstorm.

Humor works when there is a setup and a payoff.  It’s what we expect to happen and what really happens.   Techniques include exaggeration, understatement, word play, satire, and parody.

Finally, remember to read what you write out loud.  Humor is all about beats and rhythm.  You should feel your comedy.   Timing is everything.

Writing Prompts:

1.  Where is humor in your life?  Everyone has funny anecdote in their lives.  Write a scene with one of your experiences.

2.  Keep a humor journal.  See something funny on the street?  Your favorite funny line in a movie or book?  What makes it funny?  Funny characters around you?  Funny things YOU do?

3.  Having a tough day?  Pretend you’re Dave Barry.  How would he turn this into a funny essay?  Write it.

4.  Use humor in your artistic projects.  Especially in the serious ones.

5.  Read humor to write humor.  And most of all, have fun!

Aussie Makes Me Cry: Saying Goodbye & Writing with Heart

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015

Sad Aussie

Today we visited our local animal shelter to donate clean rugs and towels.   My husband and I could feel the sadness as we walked inside.  People held or stood near their beloved dogs.  All were cloaked in an aura of grief.

What were their stories?  The dogs weren’t puppies.  These owners weren’t dropping off a holiday pup just because they didn’t want to go through the bother of house training.  As we walked passed the cages, dogs made eye contact with me, their tails wagging, as if crying out, “Hey, look at me! See how cute I am! Take me home!”

“I’m so sorry,” I whispered.  “We can’t.”  Zoie, our nearly eighteen-year-old Yorkie, wouldn’t put up with it.  And we’re having our hands full giving her what she needs as she copes with her dementia, loss of hearing, sight, and other health issues. We must wait.

These dogs can’t.

On the way out of the yips, barks, and crying, I see an Australian shepherd sitting next to two men.   I knew the answer to my question before I asked it.  “Are you adopting?”

They shook their heads no.  I bent down and scratched the dog, who repaid me with kisses.

“My sister is on dialysis, and can no longer keep him.  There’s been a lot of sobbing and goodbyes.  It’s breaking our hearts,” said the man holding the leash, slumped toward the dog.  His anguish spilled out.

“I’m so sorry,” I said.

Before I could say another word, an official came over.  “It’s time.”  He grabbed the leash, and the shepherd knew.  He pulled back, alarmed with fear.

With tears in my eyes, I beat a hasty retreat.

Writing Prompts

  1. Saying goodbye to animals, people and even places may be emotional and heartbreaking.  Do any of the characters in your writing say goodbye?  In your own life?  Write a story with a character or yourself in this situation.
  2. I know it won’t be long now before I must say goodbye to Zoie.  Although I’m trying to brace myself, I know I’ll be bereft when it happens.  I’ve lost friends, relatives, and my parents. Each experience filled me with grief, but later, with time, became moments of memories.  Write a scene showing those moments of joy and memories.
  3. How does the loss affect you today?  Create a poem, song, story, or another genre of art which expresses you.
  4. Living through tough times may be helped by keeping a journal.  Write about what you and your loved ones are going through helps you survive, appreciate the special moments of joy, and be creative.

 

Six Essential New Year Resolutions for Writers

Saturday, January 3rd, 2015

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How to be the Most Productive and Inspired!

  1. Create a haven for which to write.  It might be in the middle of a busy coffee shop.  It could be in a library or on the subway.  Where do you write best?  Try out various settings.  I know one author who wrote in a closet for fifteen minutes before work.  She wrote several books this way!
  2. Set aside fifteen minutes a day to calm your mind and write.  Tune out list-making procedures and tune in to your intuition.  The best moments to get creative are when you daydream, awake from sleep, or are so relaxed you reach your most inspired moments. Wonder about a character, story, or idea.  Play what if . . .
  3. Notice one new sensory detail each day.  You can be at your desk, in a classroom, on a bus, or lounging in your favorite chair.
  4. Play a simile/metaphor game often. What do you see which reminds you of something else?  Find similarities between two random things.
  5. Read good writing.  Read more than you ever have before.  Keep a reading journal.  Jot down a wonderful word, image, phrase, or character you love from what you’ve read.
  6. Finally, don’t forget to PLAY!  Play in the snow, the sand, and the leaves.  Build with blocks.  Create a puzzle.  Act out charades.  Let go and have fun!

What impresses readers? Analyze your Squirrel!

Sunday, July 20th, 2014

Hawk Vs. SquirrelConflict in nature, as shown by this hawk and squirrel behind our house, keeps life dangerous, emotionally driven and exciting. The squirrel hid inside his hole, but used the element of surprise to his advantage.

The hawk waited . . . . waited . . . and . . .

Pop!

The squirrel’s head burst out of his hole!  The hawk jumped backwards.

Yes, if we had captured a video of this, people would laugh.

Isn’t this what we desire of a good book? Capture readers emotionally, add an element of danger and surprise to create an exciting and humorous story.

 Writing Prompts:

  1. Where in your current writing project or art can you add the element of surprise for humor or shock value . . . or both? Remember, it’s all in the timing. Wait, wait, and boom!
  2. How can you engage your readers emotionally? Build your character’s needs and desires so they are real. Empathy for your squirrel increases the impact.
  3. Develop your antagonist so we see more than a cardboard evil character. What are her needs and desires? Why does this character act the way she does? Add this depth for a well-rounded story.

 

Enhance Your Writing with Humor: Dogs and Cats, Oh My!

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

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According to the Humane Society of the United States, pet ownership has grown dramatically since the 1970s.  Three times as many homes have pets today than forty years ago.  With the proliferation of pets in our lives, owners spend big bucks taking care of them.  Americans spent more than $50 billion on them in 2012, claim the American Pet Products Association. 

Which is why books, stories and articles about dogs and cats sell well. 

Author Bennett Cerf once said, “If writers want the sure road to success, for heaven’s sake, write something that will make people laugh.”

Combine sought-after humor with pets  and imagine the popularity! Humor’s basic premisses are contrast and surprise.  Placing two unlike things together create a funny juxtaposition. Employing the idea of opposites — two unlike characters interacting, laughs abound. 

Writing Prompts:

1.  Watch the video and let it inspire you to write about these animals together.  Write a scene from the dog’s point of view and then the cat’s.  Next, get into the owner’s head.   

2.  Write an announcer’s narration for this video.

3.  Choose another method of creativity to communicate the result of your #1 writing prompt. 

4.  If you’re a pet owner, pick up your camera and discover humorous moments with your animals.  Allow them to excite  you to for creating other works of art.

Make a Scene with Jordan Rosenfeld

Monday, April 14th, 2014

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How can you write a scene with emotional impact, reader involvement, and suspense? 

Author Jordan Rosenfeld spoke to the California Writers Club, Mt. Diablo Branch and shared valuable tips for writers of all genres.  

 With every scene you create, ask yourself, what is the point of the scene?  Does it move your story forward, or is it just a block of setting description?  In showing setting, make your character interact with her surroundings

Great advice!  I critiqued manuscripts at one conference where a writer created a lovely Victorian Christmas which dominated the first chapter.  I suggested she weave in the setting elements as the character acted and reacted, foreshadowing the mystery ahead. 

She said, “Great idea!  But this house doesn’t play a role in the rest of my story at all.”  So why include it?  Once she began writing with her plot and character in mind, her character acted, reacted, and experienced the setting through sensory images.  It wasn’t overblown this time, and she created a reason for her scene to be there: she introduced characters and hinted at the mystery coming.

Rosenfeld advised writers create tension through emotional complexity.  Characters can experience more than one feeling at a time.  The uncertainty can be showed through their thoughts and dialogue, the writer’s word choice, how a word sounds, and imagery

For more information, read her book, Make Scenes, published through Writer’s Digest, and visit her website:  www.jordanrosenfeld.net  

Writing Prompts:

  1. It’s your turn!  Create a scene by involving your character in the setting shown through the elements above.  Make sure your scene moves the story’s plot forward.  Ask yourself:  Why must it be here?
  2. Tony Serra, attorney for Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Cow, at a federal court appearance said, “Law enforcement is supposed to investigate crime and criminal activity.  In this case, they created crime and criminal activity.”  (Source:  Heather Knight, San Francisco Chronicle.)  Use this quote to create a scene employing Rosenfeld’s advice. 
  3. Write an article, nonfiction piece, or essay with a scene focusing on the tips above.

 

How YOU Can Create Memorable Characters!

Monday, March 10th, 2014

Hollywood Producer/Agent Marilyn Atlas led an excellent writing workshop where focused on character.  She gave a multitude of terrific writing tips and I’ll share one of them.  She discussed three reasons characters resonate with readers or viewers.

The characters are:
1. fascinating or
2. mysterious or
3. relatable 

Writing Prompts:

1. Study a memorable character in literature or film.  Is this person fascinating?  If so, how?  Mysterious?  Explain.  Can you relate with her/him?  What makes him/her relatable?
2. What about the piece you are composing now?  If your protagonist isn’t fascinating, mysterious or relatable, invent back story and layers so he/she will be compelling. 
3. Before you write your project, spend time crafting your characters.  Draft scenes of conflict.  Every page should have tension, which can be done in subtext.
4. What is subtext?  Express characters through dialogue about one thing, while under their words remain an underlying meaning.