Character Auditions – WE Master Class Blog

Two weeks ago I mentioned the Writing Excuses Master Class put out a few years back. This is a free class that you can access via audio or transcript on the Writing Excuses website and I recommend it to anyone and everyone who enjoys the writing process.

Moving along in the course, I have my initial idea: a new app that can be downloaded directly into our consciousness goes horribly awry. Famous fictional characters bleed into our victim’s minds and take over, bringing new life to some of the more heinous creations in literature as well as the heroes meant to catch them.

I recognize that I’m going to be reading a lot of classics to widen my scope of literary characters I can choose from. The low-hanging fruit, in this case, would be Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty and I think I’m going to go ahead and use those two, if only as introductory players that help the narrative get moving.

The next assignment was character auditions, which is a new concept for me. Normally the character comes before the idea, and the plot grows out of what I know about them. This is an organic process that I have enjoyed over the last decade of writing, but I’m going to admit that I enjoyed doing character auditions.

The act of trying different voices helped broaden my understanding of the idea as a whole. From the surly detective who has to figure out which character is infecting which avid reader, to the dirt-poor boy who hacked his way into downloading the app, I was able to explore different ways this story could go.

In the end, I was stuck between two choices, which I will share now.

Detective Josephine Margot, first person POV. When writing out her first 500 words, I got a Blade Runner/Johnny Mnemonic feel to the narrative that I liked. She’s a cynical woman who gets called to a murder scene on a prominent college campus, which she is equal parts annoyed about and relieved to be working. Because as long as she’s on this case, she doesn’t have to be downtown at her brother’s wedding.

Makenzie Leeds, third person POV. When writing her first segment, I got a lot more humor, which I enjoyed because I always enjoy humorous voices. Also, I grabbed the low-hanging fruit and had her infected with Sherlock Holmes. In this scenario, she’d downloaded the app as part of an extra credit assignment and found herself plagued with an additional voice in her head.

I may bounce between the two before I settle, depending on what the assignments show me in the coming weeks. Until then, I’ll play around with Jo and Kenzie and see if maybe I can blend them together.

 

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August Round Robin – Creation of a Writer

When we last visited the subject about what prompted our writing careers, I mentioned an assignment from the sixth grade where the teacher read the opening of a story and then told us to write what came next.

While I still consider that assignment the launching point for my love-affair with the written word, there were other influences too. I’ve always been a dreamer, letting stories play themselves out in my head, but I didn’t always love reading.

Or at least, I didn’t love finishing a book. I liked getting started, being introduced to impossible worlds with magic and mayhem, but I didn’t always connect with the characters on the page. When that happened, my happy brain took off and made the story my own, adding characters that I enjoyed better.

I suppose that could be seen as an early form of fanfiction, but I was in grammar school so I can live with that. And really, I didn’t start writing them down until that fateful assignment in the sixth grade.

I really should track that teacher down and thank her.

Throughout high school, I kept a special notebook that held all sorts of stories in it. Mostly fragments, scenes that came to me in the middle of class that entertained me. It wasn’t a full novel, not even a short story because there was no structure to the notebook.

To look at it now, it seems a testament to my own personal attention deficit disorder. A scene begun on page five was interrupted by a series of scenes about an earthquake rattling the school, forcing me to become the hero and help lead my fellows out of the rubble.

So what got me from that chaotic fictional buffet to full novel writing?

To be honest, I think it was my mother’s electronic typewriter. And I know mentioning that archaic bit of machinery is likely to date me, but I’ll own my age for the day.

One of my earliest stories was written after we visited family in Alaska. I loved the cool air and rugged mountains and vast seascapes that we saw there and, per typical youthful exuberance, commemorated the visit in fiction. As with everything back then, I focused on the people in my life, so the main characters were none other than myself, my brother, and my cousins.

But what I remember most about writing it, was sitting at the absurdly large desk in the living room and pressing the keys on that typewriter. Something about the whirring-snap sound it made every time I hit a letter filled me with absolute glee.

There was a permanence to the story I was writing. It was there in the whirr-snap of every letter, my own personal mark in the world.

This is probably why I have a very noisy keyboard. It may not have the same whirr-snap sound of the typewriter, and I can delete things almost as quickly as I write them now, but the sense of accomplishment is still there.

Check out what my fellow authors have to say about what started their writing careers in this month’s Round Robin…

Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/
Victoria Chatham http://www.victoriachatham.com
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Judith Copek http://lynx-sis.blogspot.com/
Dr. Bob Rich https://wp.me/p3Xihq-1ke
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
A.J. Maguire  https://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/ (YOU ARE HERE)
Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/
Margaret Fieland http://margaretfieland.wordpress.com
Rhobin L Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

Master Class in Writing

A few years back Writing Excuses put out a series on their podcast that they titled their Master Class. At the time I was a single parent working full time and going to school and didn’t have the extra space in my life to fully commit to the program.

But that’s changed! And because the lovely people at Writing Excuses keeps an archive – and even an easy link to this particular series on their site – I can access this class.

For free, I might add.

Now, I am actually going through the transcripts and reading them because I learn better that way. And because this is my writing blog and I can do whatever the heck I want with it, I’m going to go ahead and keep a log on how I am progressing.

I highly recommend the Writing Excuses podcast to any author out there – both aspiring and already published. If nothing else, they help remind me that my struggles in producing readable/relatable fiction are shared by many.

Normally I get ideas and then start writing, which leads to several false starts and concepts that never bloom to full life. The first couple of lessons in this series is about playing with ideas, digging deeper, and brainstorming until you find the right fit.

The concept that helped the most was asking who the idea would help or hurt the most. For instance, if we had an app that could download books into our minds, it would help students the most. But it would probably hurt teachers and the underprivileged.

Why yes, this is the idea I’m going to play with during this class. Thanks for asking.

This led me to the question of how we can abuse this technology. Uploading too many books, for instance, might cause information bleed – where narratives mix to become something new. And there’s dirty hacking, for the underprivileged who want access, which would have glitches and consequences of their own.

Next week, I’ll post the winner of my “character audition” for this book. The assignment is to try out five different characters for the main POV of the novel and thus far it has been fun.

If you’d like to try this Master Class, it is free on the Writing Excuses website. Just scroll down until you see it in the left margin. You can’t miss it.

2018 Camp Nano Wrap-Up

Hurray! We’ve reached the end of the month! For those who participated in Camp Nano, I hope you had fun. Even if you didn’t reach your goals, writing is one of those perpetually rewarding efforts and, I daresay, an adventure all on its own.

Whether you fought ogres or flew through space (or fought space ogres), you explored the limits of your imagination, if not sleep deprivation. The great secret of any Nano project isn’t that you reach 50,000 words, but that you wrote at all. If you’ve got one paragraph or three hundred pages, you already crossed the finish line.

For me, I managed to reach the end of my editing project – The Soul Between Us – and got 3/4’s of my fantasy novel completed. It was great fun posting snippets up here, even if I did taper off toward the end of the month.

I should be finished with Castle of Three Kings in the next week or so, and then I’ll be taking a few days off to research/market/all the things other writers somehow find the time to do while still drafting their novels. You know… query letters. And synopsis writing.

Ugh, synopsis writing.

If you’re still working on your Camp Nano stuff (it’s the 31st, after all) then I am cheering you on! Have imaginary confetti! Better yet, write an inexplicable explosion of fireworks in the middle of your scene. You can edit it out later and it’ll give you a few dozen words to add to that word count.

And don’t forget to have fun!

Violence in Writing – July Round Robin

Anyone who’s read my writing can tell you that I use violence a lot in my work.

We don’t call it that, though.

We say it’s “action-packed” and full of conflict because the word violence tends to connote negative things. And really, it should.

As a parent, I find myself repeating the mantra that it is never all right to hit, that there are better ways to solve our problems. Because I don’t want to visit my son in prison one day.

But in my writing, the violence runs rampant.

My first novel, Sedition, starts with a duel in a tavernesque place. My second novel, Witch-Born, starts with an assassination attempt on the main character’s life in the middle of a crowded cafe.

Deviation begins with a hold-up in a bookstore.

Granted, those are all early works and there are a lot of things wrong with them. I really held to the “in medias res” concept and I recognize that it’s hard to care about a character being shot at if you don’t know who they are.

These days I try to focus on how the violence affects my point of view character in any given scene. While it was fun following Dorian Feverrette through the steampunk world of Magnellum as he hunted witch-assassins, I can admit that I never stopped to consider what sort of man that made him.

The truly interesting heroes are the ones who commit to violence and are then affected by that violence. We see them walk a tightrope between wanting to live in peace and needing to fight for that peace.

This tightrope holds a great deal of tension and opens up the character for deeper development. I’m still trying to find the right balance between action and the effect that action has on the character, but I hope to learn it soon.

Check out how my fellow authors work with violence in their novels.

Dr. Bob Rich https://wp.me/p3Xihq-1i2
Victoria Chatham http://www.victoriachatham.com
Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/
Anne Stenhouse  http://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com/
A.J. Maguire  https://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/ (YOU ARE HERE)
Marci Baun  http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/
Anne de Gruchy https://annedegruchy.co.uk/category/blog/
Rhobin L Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

Judith Copek, //http://lynx-sis.blogspot.com/

Week 3 Camp Nano – July 2018

As I mentioned earlier, I’m doing two projects this year for Camp Nano. The editing project – The Soul Between Us – is nearly finished. I will likely have the completed third draft by Sunday afternoon.

The first draft of Castle of Three Kings has taken a turn I did not expect. The outline has to be completely reworked (or tossed out the window) and while I believe this is a good thing, it also means I will likely not get the draft done by the end of the month.

I’m still going to try.

I mean, after Sunday I will only have the one project to work on. If I bust my butt, I should be able to do it.

As always, if you’re participating this year, then I wish you the best of luck. Keep writing! Keep drowning in caffeine. Keep snacking on unhealthy things because you don’t have time to cook.

Your family will forgive you next month.

** Snippet – The Soul Between Us **

He swept the back of the room twice with his light, finding nothing but old chairs and a cabinet. Tessa went still beside him, her light trained on the corner by the door. Cordon directed his light there too, stiffening as he took in the familiar shape of the soldier standing there.

Unease roiled in his gut. The man looked more solid this time, the shades of his uniform clearer. Desert shades, if Cordon wasn’t mistaken. He’d seen enough news reports to recognize it. There was blood on his chest that looked fresh and Cordon took a protective step in front of Tessa.

Reaching for the first words he could think of Cordon said; “We don’t want any trouble.”

“You mean you see him too?” Tessa whispered.

“Yeah, I see him,” Cordon said. “Last time he ran before I could ask him anything.”

That wasn’t quite right. The soldier hadn’t run anywhere, he’d just disappeared.

“But Cordon…”

Not liking the way the soldier continued to stare at them, unmoving in his bloody uniform, Cordon ignored Tessa and spoke again. “Are you hurt or something?”

Tessa tugged on his jacket sleeve but he wouldn’t turn away from the threat.

“Cordon, that’s Cabby.”

The name struck him in the chest and Cordon gripped his flashlight harder. “That’s not possible, Tessa. Cabby has nothing to do with this place. There’s no reason he would be here, ghost or not.”

Good God, they needed to get out of this place.

The soldier took a step forward, his movements just as unsteady as before, only now Cordon could see why. It was a limp; a staggering, uneven limp as the soldier was forced to drag his left foot forward. He reached out a burnt and gnarled hand and the wind began to pick up.

Only it was a wind coming from the doorway, from the soldier and not from the window. It howled at them, creating little dervishes in the corners and whipping up dirt to fling into their faces. Cursing, Cordon ducked his head, trying to shield his eyes from the worst of it. He could feel Tessa gripping his arm but through the haze of watery eyes and dust he couldn’t see her face. She seemed to be ducking her head as well because he thought he could make out her ear.

An ache settled in his chest and for a second he feared he was having a heart attack.

But he was only thirty. Thirty-year-old men did not have heart attacks.

There were no such things as ghosts either but when he lifted his head, intent on checking the soldier’s position, he found the man a foot away and looking far more apparition-like than before. His skin was translucent gray, like all the color had been leached out of him, and as Cordon continued to stare he could see the wall behind him. It was as if he’d been transposed in a photograph – there but not quite there – and Cordon’s chest ached all the more.

The eyes were the worst; two horrible shadowed holes with no color to speak of.

“Oh, Cabby,” Tessa’s voice managed to reach him over the wind and Cordon tensed.

There’s no such thing as ghosts. And then, because he needed to say it out loud; “There’s no such thing as ghosts.”

In response, the soldier took a jerky step forward, crowding into Cordon, arms wrapping around him as though in a grab or a hug. But instead of a solid grip, Cordon felt icy tendrils sink into his skin, burrowing down and coiling around his bones. The ache in his chest intensified and a sensation like having his veins frost over began slithering its way up his arms and over his shoulders. He heard Tessa’s voice but couldn’t make out what she was saying.

 

Camp Nano Week 2 Progress Report – July 2018

My combined word count is sitting at 38,299 words, which is awesome. I’m nearing the end of the editing project and should have it completed by the end of next week. Which is exactly where I wanted to be.

For the YA fantasy novel, I’m a chapter behind. Sort of.

Which means that I deviated from the outline and am making up for it.

The second week of Nano is “make or break” time for me. The energy from the first week tapers off and it’s pure work instead of inspiration. If I don’t kick myself in the pants and get moving, the projects get left behind and I don’t get my cookie at the end of the month.

I hope anyone else participating this year managed to push forward. You got this!

As promised, below is a snippet of one of the projects. This one is from The Soul Between Us. A romance ghost story thing.

**

Cordon stiffened beside her, bending down to peer at the camcorder image. “What was that?”

“What?” She asked, blinking at the image too. “What was what?”

“Can you rewind it?” He asked, but his attention had switched to the doorway.

Tessa flipped through functions until she could play back the last two minutes. They both watched the screen, which had a view of the open doorway and several cots. At one minute and ten seconds, a form crossed in front of the doorway and every little hair Tessa had stood on end. Roughly 5’8” and with the general form of a person, it stepped from left to right, barely illuminated by the camcorder’s light.

She lowered the camera and glanced at Cordon, who released her waist and straightened.

“Who’s there?” He asked, shining his light at the door. “Marisol?”

“That was too tall to be Marisol, don’t you think?”

“Tyler?” Cordon tried again.

When there was no answer Tessa eyed the doorway, willing whoever it was to come back and present themselves. “It’s probably one of the others trying to freak us out,” she said.

“Yeah, or a transient.”

“You think a homeless person would want to come here?”

“Homeless is homeless, Tess. And there’s a storm coming on.”

“Awesome,” Tessa said. “Remind me to punch Marisol in the face.”

“Whoever it was seems to have moved off,” he said. “And I’m tired of being here already. Let’s head back.”

“God, yes,” she said, more relieved than she wanted to let on. She didn’t have to believe in ghosts to admit that seeing the video had been creepy, and now it felt like they were being watched or something. The spot between her shoulder blades tingled and gooseflesh kept racing up her arms and neck.

Shoving the camcorder into her jacket pocket, she walked behind Cordon, who led the way out of the room. He checked both ends of the hallway with his light, but as far as they could see no one was there. Which was good because Tessa might have hit whoever it was on sight, transient or not. Trying to relax, she fell into step with Cordon as they made their way out of the critical wing and back to the stairs.