For Writers

Baggage—not the kind we take on vacation; but then again, maybe we do. And everywhere else, too.

Land ho—mates! Clear days ahead! One can hope, right?
I’m not complaining. It’s just that this weekend I lost an hour of my life and with another season quickly approaching, I paused to wonder why the draggy steps when usually I adore spring.
But there’s a nagging feeling something’s off. So…being a writer, I decided to use this blah mood to my advantage and make an article out of it.

I’ll call it Baggage. Every well developed character should have some. Maybe not traumatic enough to require white coats and meds, but characters need issues to make them believable. Behind every curtain and locked door are the events that shaped their lives. Don't hesitate to look under your character’s skin for the scars, bruises and ribbons. Because the things that make us cry, also make us care.

Let’s visit the places our characters have been. For a few moments we'll ‘walk a mile in their shoes.’

A great place to look for baggage is in biography books. I’ve discovered fascinating facts regarding some of my most beloved characters this way.

Did you know although the search for Scarlett O'Hara included many hopeful actresses, David Selznick still hadn't found her when the burning of Atlanta scene took place. He gave the signal and the set began to blaze. One guest arrived on the arm of Laurence Olivier, a vibrant, attractive Vivien Leigh. Selznick watched as the dying flames lit up the pale green eyes Margaret Mitchell had described so vividly in her novel and knew without a doubt he had found his Scarlett.

But go a little farther and uncover the juicer material. This is a great way to find traits to sprinkle on the characters in your own story. (I say sprinkle because you take a snip here and a tag there.

Suppose you need a really demented individual for a story and in searching the archives hit upon someone like Ed Gein. His outward appearance seemed as normal as any other man living in rural Wisconsin and farming in the 1950’s.

His mother, Augusta, described as a demanding and overbearing woman who, after her alcoholic husband died, suffered a stroke one year later. Confined to her bed, her shrill voice unknowingly created a monster as she repeated the phrase to her son that he could never survive without her. So often, in fact, that Ed prayed his mother would never die. And when she did...well. Gein’s arrest made headline news and snagged the attention of Alfred Hitchcock, who recognized the value of such outlandish evil and used this trait to create Norman Bates in Psycho.

Or maybe you need a different type of character. Someone gentle, tender but pretends otherwise. My favorite kind. Like Mickey Rourke who played a detective in Angel Heart.

And many other great movies. After watching him in "The Wrestler" I was compelled to dig around a little bit and learn more. This passage I found in the biography titled "Mickey Rourke- wrestling with demons" written by Sandra Monetti.
The book reveals Mickey’s parents divorced when he was boy and he would be a grown man before he saw his father again, leaving Rourke only a worn photograph of his father flexing his muscle. The two are reunited and despite the years, Mickey used every opportunity to apply the word Dad.

'“Dad, would you pass the salt?” and “Dad, shall we get another drink?” so his father would know he still thought of him “Dad.” In another emotional moment, he touched his dad’s upper arm just like he used to do when he was a kid- but this time there was no muscle there, the skin was just soft. Mickey felt his stomach lurch. He couldn’t believe this was the same powerfully built man whose picture he had been carrying around for the last seventeen years.'

Can you feel the sadness and disappointment? The baggage left over from empty promises, missed birthdays and lonely weekends without a father’s love and approval. It adds a whole other dimension to the person I didn’t know before. * Notice I dropped the word character and added the word person. Because now he’s become more than a character, but a real person. And of course, although he is, (real, rather than fictitious) when we build our story characters, the moment they start to feel and act like real people is the greatest feeling. When it happens, you know you’re on.

Let's mix this up a bit. Snip and add. Our character is a young girl whose family has split but her father comes every Saturday for the first two years. He gives her a watch so she can count the time until his next visit. Abruptly weekends pass and he doesn't show. No word or explanation. Just gone. Now lets up the ante. Secretly, the mom is jealous of all the attention lavished on the child and sells the watch, claiming they need the money for bills. Taking from the child the last remaining tie.
This is what transpires....

The man I always longed for
was difficult to find.
I searched for him high and low, and found him drunk on wine.
He looked at me through blurry eyes and tearfully he said, "I hate for you to see me, darlin'. I wish that I were dead."
The mattress that he lay upon was matted down and gray. I reached for rags and covered him. And then he passed away.
I kissed his dirty whiskered face. And held his wrinkled hand.
He was the one that I loved most. My father was the man.

Baggage. It's what characters are made of. Have fun with it!

Golden Rules for Success

I came across some rules on the website of Robert J. Sawyer to help obtain this goal of writing success and I would like to share them with you. They may not guarantee that you will become a published author this year, but I hope they will give you inspiration to in the months ahead.

There are countless rules for writing success, but the late Robert A. Heinlein narrowed them down to five. He had no qualms giving away these rules, even knowing you could become his competitor because he felt almost no one would follow his advice.

Here are the five rules, plus one added by Robert J. Sawyer. These are definitely words to live by; or should I say, to pen by:

Heinlein warned, "If you start off with a hundred people who claim they want to be writers, you lose half after each rule-

Rule One
- You must write
Sounds extremely obvious, right? You can't just talk about wanting to be a writer.
Neither should you take endless courses, or read everything on the process, or daydream about getting around to it. The only way to become a writer is to plant yourself in front of your keyboard and do it.

(Out of our hundred aspirant writers, half will never get around to writing anything. That
leaves us with fifty.)

Rule Two- Finish what you start
You can't learn how to write without seeing a piece through to its conclusion. Yes, the first few pages might be weak and you may be tempted to toss them out. Don't. Press on until you've finished. Once you have a draft, with a beginning, middle, and end, you'll be amazed at how easy it is to see what works and what doesn't. But you'll never master
such things as plot, suspense, or character growth unless you actually construct the entire piece.
(Of our fifty remaining potential writers, half will never finish anything- leaving just
twenty-five still in the running.)

Rule Three- You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.
Perhaps a more appropriate wording would be: 'don't tinker endlessly with your story.' You can spend forever modifying, revising and polishing. And although many beginners don't believe it, if your story is close to publishable, editors will tell you what you have to do to make it salable.
(Of our remaining twenty-five writers, twelve will fiddle endlessly.)

Rule Four- You must put your story on the market.
This is the hardest rule for all beginners. You can't simply declare yourself to be a professional writer. It is a title that must be bestowed upon you by those willing to pay money for your words. Develop a backbone to find out whether or not your prose is salable. Don't be a coward, send it out.
(Of our twelve writers left, half of them won't work up the nerve to make a submission,
leaving just six.)

Rule Five- You must keep it on the market until it has sold.
It's a fact; work gets rejected all the time. Almost certainly your first submission will be rejected. Don't let that stop you from obtaining your goal, to be a writer. If the rejection note contains advice you think is good, revise the story and send it out again.
(Still, of our six remaining writers, three will be so discouraged by that first rejection that they will give up writing for good. But three more will keep at it.)

Rule Six- Start working on something else.
Too many beginning writers labor for years over a single story. As soon as you've finished one piece, start on another. Don't wait to hear back on the first story; get to work on your next project.

(Of our original hundred wannabe writers, only one or two will follow all six rules. The question is ... will you be one of them? I hope so, because if you have at least a modicum
of talent and if you live by these rules, you will make it.)

These golden rules were found on the website of Robert 1. Sawyer, science/fiction writer

Confessions of a How-To-Write-Romance Junkie
by Tereasa Bellew

Pssst. I’ve got a confession. I’ve had a life-long affair with pens and paper, books and…well, men.
So the day I combined them was like emerging from a fog. I remember the moment when the desire to become a writer first hit me. No, it wasn’t during a snowstorm, but a rather dull, quiet time in my life. A time when the voices in my head grew louder and refused to be ignored.
Imagine my relief when I discovered I wasn’t psychotic at all. Nor were the men I dreamed about a subconscious sign of an unhappy marriage.
Sharing the characters that lived in my imagination however, required a lot more nerve. These were fictionalized people that I’d conceived in my head and painstakingly attempted to paint on paper.
Not soon after submitting, the rejections started to fill my mailbox and with them came a growing uncertainty. Maybe I couldn’t write after all, at least not well enough to interest outsiders. So I turned to books, but not for pleasure. This time I was searching for power, for kernels of knowledge, guidance I could use to spin that golden yarn.
Anyone who’s ever searched this topic knows there are literally hundreds of books available on how to write a romance. Intense classes are taught everyday on ways to create three dimensional story people. ‘Dig deeper’ became a common phrase. Find the bones. Give your characters flaws. Develop personalities and conflicts that tug at a reader’s heart strings.
I explored hundreds of blog universities and websites all dedicated to the aspiring writer. I discovered- not mastered, mind you- how to write a strong opening and the importance of ending every chapter with a hook. I became pretty good at identifying POV and whose voice I should be listening to in any given scene. Notes covered my computer screen, ‘less is more’ and ‘use strong verbs’ ‘patrol for repeat offenders’ and ‘cliché alert!’
The first three to five years into this journey I devoured one ‘How-To’ book after another. Every time I’d hear someone recommend the easiest way to plot your novel, or how to revise and edit the current one, I’d get fidgety. I just knew my manuscript would sell if only I learned what such & such was demonstrating.
But all this research took time. Not to mention the number it did to my self esteem realizing there was still so much I didn’t know. Ten years and I was no closer to learning how to write than when I started. Rarely did I send manuscripts out anymore. I critically judged every line. The word count wasn’t exact, the characters were too edgy. Or worse, the requesting editor was no longer there.
The sands of time were piling up and sadly, my fire of writing for publication had started to fade. I knew a manuscript needed to be fresh…original, capable of blowing some unsuspecting editor away with a WOW! A novel needed to grab the throat of a reader in the first paragraph, better - in the first sentence.
All of this left me feeling very small. My manuscript was far from perfect, not to mention in line with many established authors all competing for a contract. I felt defeated before even starting. In essence, I had become an old horse simply standing on the mark.
So what exactly was this article about and how does it relate to the title? Well, only that I’ve come to believe sometimes we can use research or the pretense of fine tuning our craft as an excuse not to fail. And it occurred to me…has anyone ever learned to swim without getting in the water? You simply have to get wet. Why didn’t I realize that before now?

The novella, Night Bird, is scheduled to be released in May 2012 by The Wild Rose Press under the pen name Teresa Blue.