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JAN: Today I am sharing an interview with Alison Lohans. Besides being an accomplished author of more than 26 books, Alison is a lovely person I’ve had the privilege to meet a number of times. Alison, how long have you been writing and how did you come to it?

ALISON: I’ve been making up stories since early childhood. The first time, I recall, was at age 5, telling myself stories to entertain myself while lying in bed. I remember my first case of writer’s block at age 6 when I didn’t know how to spell “squirrel” for a story I was writing at school, and was too shy to ask the teacher.

My mother definitely was a strong encouraging person as she had hopes of writing for children herself, and found ways to open my way throughout, including a trip to the library when I was 10 to check out a copy of Writer’s Market, suggesting that I try submitting my short stories to children’s magazines. She also encouraged me to attend a community college creative writing class with her (I was 14 at the time, and had already published two short stories).

JAN: Wow, what an amazing mom to encourage you in such practical ways. What’s your preferred genre?

ALISON: For decades I’ve written for young people—a variety of works ranging from picture books, early reader chapter books, middle-grade novels, and books for younger and older teens. The age/genre within the spectrum of work for young people hinges upon the nature of the question that triggers a story—and since we are all complex beings, with multi-layered interests, thoughts and concerns, my work gravitates toward a specific age niche accordingly.

One genre I’ve always found a lot of fun to write is the chapter book for early readers, with its concrete, often humorous, stance—but the market is very limited these days. The picture book is the most challenging to write, as a complete story, with all its ingredients, needs to be fit into a package of under a thousand words, executed in tight, beautiful language. The YA novel provides an ideal avenue for digging into deep, complex issues. Since the 1980s I’ve also been interested in writing romance novels and, at last, have a novel in that genre approaching completion.

Picturing Alyssa by Alison Lohans

JAN: How and where do you write? Are you a plotter or a pantser?

ALISON: The “how” is kind of tricky to answer as I’ve slowed down considerably during the past few years, in part due to confusing changes in the marketplace. One publisher (of seven of my books) closed up shop; my agent was laid off because the agency was closed; and another publisher changed hands and orphaned all of their YA fantasy titles (that included two of my books, which had literally taken 30 years to develop, from riveting idea to published book). In many ways it’s like having to start all over again, with fewer open doors and very different submissions practices.

All of this said, I migrate between two laptops in different rooms (partly for postural reasons). These days I “get into it” most quickly during pre-arranged joint writing times—i.e., sitting down at the same table with other writer friends, our common objective being to work. I also enjoy writing retreats very much. While there’s a cost involved, I love the collegiality of being immersed in silent writing times, with others, away from home…and find these retreats enormously productive.

I’m a dyed-in-the-wool pantser. I “live” my books through my protagonists, both in the pre-writing stages and during the writing. I get stuck when I don’t know my characters well enough.

JAN: You’ve experienced a number of setbacks due mostly to marketplace changes, and I thank you for sharing them with us. It helps to know these things happen to others too. What do you like most / least about writing?

ALISON: Most: To “live” and puzzle out interesting life questions through my protagonist, and in the process, to hone my craft to create evocative, precise, efficient and beautiful language that invites the reader in with vivid, living images.

Least: It took a few decades to reach this point, but there’s that aspect of slamming oneself against the wall repeatedly, with works I utterly believe in that might receive one glowing rejection after another—OR—which fall in a black hole after they’re published. And the monetary aspect? It simply doesn’t do to think about that in terms of the massive amount of work and soul that go into a book—sometimes decades for various stages of the completion process. We need to have a really thick skin, and sometimes that gets incredibly disheartening.

JAN: Very true. What are your favorite / most effective social media?

ALISON: Facebook has always worked better for me than any other social medium. It’s great for getting word out about new releases, and sometimes has garnered a few sales in places where readers would have almost no access to my work. I use both my regular profile page, and my author page, to highlight my work. I have a website, but really am not sure how effective it is, other than for occasional queries from readers far away (primarily New Zealand) who are studying my New Zealand-published books for class assignments.   https://alisonlohans.wordpress.com/

JAN: How do you balance professional time with personal time?

ALISON: I used to write all the time, and gems from my personal time slipped into my creative time. These days my life is primarily personal time, with my writing always there on the side, to dip into. Having less intrinsic motivation than I once did, I find that social time with other writers always gives me a welcome “kick” back into my writing.

JAN: What are you currently reading? Do you prefer digital or print?

ALISON: I’m reading Little Sister by Barbara Gowdy, which I happened upon thanks to a review in the paper. Its quirky premise and unpredictable humour quickly drew me in.

In terms of preferred reading mode, print always wins. I don’t read digital unless I have to.

JAN: What are some of your favorite things?

ALISON: My favourite non-writing activities include my love of music, which has always been a twin passion throughout my life. At the moment I play cello, cornet and recorder in quite a few local amateur groups, and also sing in choirs. These music activities plunge me into the midst of creating something beautiful with other great people who share the same love of music. That rewarding social realm nurtures me in ways that solitary writing cannot. On occasion, I’m able to work music into my fiction and I love the synergy when that happens.

Another favourite activity is international travel, which is an incredible privilege that’s opened up during the past 15+ years. I really love seeing other parts of the world, catching glimpses of how people live there, with their different mind-sets. More and more, travel has been nurturing my fiction. Some books and short stories couldn’t have even been conceived, if not for the travel. My nearly-completed novel, an experiment in the romance genre, is set on a tour of Egypt much like the one I took five years ago. And my first visit to Scotland yielded a riveting idea that still needs to find its right shape and approach.

JAN: Ooh, sounds intriguing. How is your faith reflected in your writing?

ALISON: Aspects of my faith sometimes work themselves into my YA novels, through characters’ inherent beliefs. Additionally, in my two orphaned YA novels being re-released this coming December as a single novel, Timefall, the spirituality of the primitive society a thousand years in our future reflects some of my deeply-held beliefs.

JAN: Do you have some advice for beginning writers?

ALISON: I used to have lots of handy advice for beginners, but with so many changes in the commercial marketplace, advice is harder to come by. However, five things still jump out:

(1) READ exhaustivelyin the genres that pique your interest! Read not only for enjoyment, but also to study how these writers have handled their craft.

(2) Give yourself permission to write that sloppy copy, rather than trying to get it right the first time around. By staying loose we are more open to additional nuances that might not have immediately occurred to us. Likewise, by expecting perfection the first time, we also cramp ourselves into a space where the story may not be able to breathe.

(3) REVISE! It’s through coming back again and again that we find the rhythms and images that work best together. Try reading your work aloud—the way words fall off the tongue can be a better editor than simply using our eyes.

(4) Write about things you truly feel passionate about. That energy will creep into your work and make it come alive in ways that can’t happen if you give yourself an assignment to write about something that you think would fit well in the marketplace.

(5) Keep the flame alive by finding  joy in what you’re doing—that sense of discovery that can happen not only when characters confront a dilemma, but also the self-discovery that can happen when you’re writing. It’s all about growth, and sometimes when working through characters’ challenges in this craft, we end up slightly changed as people, through having written a book.

JAN: Excellent thoughts, Alison. Thanks again for sharing with us today; you’ve informed and inspired me. I wish you joy as you travel, make and share music, and write.

For more information about Alison, check out her website, her Facebook page and the Amazon book list page. You can also connect with her on LinkedIn and Goodreads. Alison is also a member of CANSCAIP: The Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performers.

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This book caught me off-guard. I was expecting a historical tale about a family that lived on the Mississippi River. What I discovered was the devastating story of Georgia Tann’s Tennessee Children’s Home Society and the baby/child trafficking that was so long hidden from the public.

The part about Georgia Tann and her baby business is true. The story itself is a riveting revelation of the terror and helplessness these children could have gone through as they were betrayed into Georgia Tann’s clutches.

The story of the family at the center of the book moves from freedom and happiness to fear, horror and separation. It’s a page-turner in a dark world, and to me, the realization that similar horrors happened to hundreds of children, made it even darker.

I followed up this audio book with an internet search of Georgia Tann and her infamous life, and was stunned by the facts. Some evils take a long time to be uncovered and stopped.

Kudos to Lisa Wingate for finding this story, digging up the facts, and passing them along to fiction readers. A chilling but fascinating read.

Lisa Wingate

 

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“The good news about self-publishing

is you get to do everything yourself.

The bad thing about self-publishing

is you get to do everything yourself.”

Lori Lesko

I suppose it’s the price of freedom, this doing everything yourself. I’m still happy to be independent, but the weight of responsibility is heavy on my shoulders and I wake up at night worrying about it. But it also results in frequent and fervent prayers for help from the God who knows all, even technology.

Enough about theory. What happened this past month that furthered my indie career?

The first step in my personal plan was to acquire a logo and a tagline. Something to use on my book spines and inside page. I worked on this in November and December of 2015. After trying about fifteen million ideas for a press name, all of which were already in use, I began to believe techy spyders had invaded my brain.

I finally settled on one that was truly original, and hired a designer from a far country to create the logo through an online company called Fiverr. It was relatively painless, and turned out okay. What was supposed to cost $5 (hence, Fiverr, Seven-oh-fiverr if you’re Canadian), actually came to $80 USD, but it was done. I then managed to design a simple business card with the various formats I’d paid for. It’s not perfect, but it serves the purpose and I can print as needed.

writerjan_2

Real Time Addition: I had scheduled this post several weeks ago, but decided to have another look at it before it goes live. So much has happened in the past few weeks, and I want to keep you up to date…

I found out from talking with various author friends, and from researching, that I needed to register my logo and tagline. It is essentially my business name. I spent more time than I had anticipated, but have now requested a search of this name, then reserved the name for a maximum of three months, in which time it needs to be registered.

I did that too, for a reasonable fee of just over $50 CDN. This  registers my business name for three years, and I will be notified when renewal comes due. Please note that I live in Saskatchewan, Canada. Provinces differ in their systems, as do countries.

Next step: the cover(s). I am not a visual artist by any stretch of the imagination, but I bravely tried a free design-it-yourself site and created a so-so cover in about five minutes. Then I remembered that covers sell books, and decided to explore another option.

I tried Fiverr next, but the designers were so diverse and many lacked proficiency in the English language. How would I effectively describe my expectations? I followed through with one, with unacceptable results. I think I prefer my own feeble attempt to what I received from him. That unfortunate venture cost me another $50 or so CDN. Lesson learned? I’m not sure.

Meanwhile, the God who uses ink (if I may borrow a phrase from the original Word Guild), intervened. I had queried about my covers to a designer I know who lives nearby and has both skill and experience. We emailed and I knew I did not have the funds to hire his design services. I have about eight covers queued up, and my book funds are insufficient for the lot. That’s when I jumped ahead on my own and tackled Fiverr, with previously stated results.

The following week the local designer contacted me and offered a deal I couldn’t resist. In short, it is a miracle. We met in person on Friday and shared ideas and expectations. I’m very excited. My word to you is this: if you are a Christian author, pray. God hears, He knows when we are pitifully inadequate for the task, He sends ideas and options, and sometimes He works miracles for us. Thank you, Lord.

Now there’s nothing to keep me awake at nights…except formatting. Sigh. My next report will be up March 8. Until then, keep pressing on, and praying.

P.S. I forgot to mention that I called a camera-proficient neighbor to update my author photo. It’s about time, after more than a dozen years. She offered her services pro-bono, but there are always ways of thanking people and thus acknowledging their skills.

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CASE STUDY #1

Geoffrey Deschambeau* is the author of a recently published children’s book that the teacher of a dance class discovered and used to encourage and inspire her young students. However, when parents asked where they could buy the book, no one knew. They couldn’t trace the author or the book title.

CASE STUDY #2

Rebeka McElroy* has written a riveting historical novel set during World War II. It’s titled The Cost of Courage*. Apparently, it’s a great read and well-written. But how would you know that if I hadn’t told you, or if you didn’t believe me?

(*names have been changed)

Case in point: if we want people to read our books, we must make them available through whatever means of promotion are within our reach.

How can we do this?

My short answer: through social media.

newer twitter

 

facebook_linklinkedin

 

 

Yes, there may be a steep learning curve involved. If you’re tempted to skip this blog because you don’t want to put the effort into learning social media, please don’t. My expertise is also limited, but I can learn. My age might well be against me, but I can learn. And if I can learn and benefit from social media, so can you.

Step One — Who Are You?

* Create an author bio –where you were born/lived, early writing inspiration, education/professional experience, publishing credits if any, genre, etc. Write it in third person.

– Begin with a longer version, about 250 words (for website, interviews, social media profiles)

– Whittle it down to 30-50 words (for back cover book bio)

– Edit out everything but the essential facts, to 140 characters (for Twitter)

Step Two — What do you have?

* What is your book about? Write a summary (this is not a synopsis) in three lengths (short, medium, long) for various posting purposes. Check back covers of other books, especially those in the same genre as yours. Try the template in Appendix B of Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell if you need a more structured approach.

Step Three — Where Are You?

You must be traceable. How can people find you?

* Join writing groups, both locally and online

* Attend writing workshops, conferences, readings, launches

* Network with other writers and readers whenever possible

* Create an online presence for you and your books. This is what Social Media is for.

Step Four — Website, etc.

* Ask for help from friends who already have an online presence. Google to learn more.

* Create a website using WordPress or Blogger (my preferences). They provide easy-to-use templates for setting up a simple website. If you have the extra cash, you can hire someone to do this for you.

* Create accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Amazon Author Page, and any others you hear about. Take it one step at a time and practice using each site before moving to another

* Use the book summaries and author bios you prepared earlier for your profile on these sites. Here’s an example from the back cover of my most recent novel:

back cover copy

 

CASE STUDIES

In CASE STUDY #1, Deschambeau’s book found an extremely limited audience willing to buy if the buying was simple. However, at the time of this writing, the author has no website, and the book has not found a home on any social media sites. If we don’t know about it, we can’t buy it.

In CASE STUDY #2, I’m happy to say the author did her legwork and sent out emails, Facebook ads and tweets. She also hosted a book launch to spread the word of her newly released novel. She requested, received and posted positive reviews that followed the book’s appearance on the major bookselling sites. I believe it’s selling well and the actual title and author are Threaten to Undo Us by Rose Seiler Scott.

To conclude, our writing careers require balance. We must be traceable. Our product must be available for purchase. BUT, if we spend all our time on social media, we won’t have time to write. Many prolific authors have people to tend their social media sites, but those of us who can’t afford that must maximize our online time. The matter of greatest importance is to keep producing quality fiction. Otherwise, we will have nothing to promote.

I recently discovered an article online that offers a strong note of caution regarding social media book promotion. I will leave it to you to read and consider HERE. Go for balance.

 

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Wildwood Creek

Wildwood Creek

Wildwood Creek is a cross between a contemporary story—Allie Kirkland finds employment setting up for a historical re-enactment of a mysterious happening, and ends up cast in one of the leading roles—and the actual lives of the people who lived in Wildwood in 1861.

As Allie struggles to adapt to a primitive way of life, she learns more about the character she is portraying. Bonnie Rose and her younger sister traveled to Wildwood to escape their hideous past, only to meet more challenges, suspicion and threats. The more Allie discovers about Bonnie, the more she wants to know. Her information stems from an unexpected source, and a stranger on the set shows more than a passing interest in Allie as she deals with her own past and perceptions of life.

Besides looking inside herself for answers, Allie also tries to understand what happened to the people who disappeared from Wildwood in 1861. Will this remain a mystery or will the rest of Bonnie Rose’s story be unearthed before the summer crew packs up and heads back to civilization?

The switches in time periods are managed well in this novel, not always chapter for chapter, but clearly specified. Readers discover historic details through set design, clothing, traditional vocations, and the struggles of modern day people to adapt to this new way of life. An ingenious method of conveying historical facts.

I liked the wide range of characters in both time periods and how they worked together to create a fascinating story of mystery, desperation, love and determination.

A worthwhile and memorable read by Lisa Wingate.

Author Lisa Wingate

Author Lisa Wingate

THE OFFICIAL BIO: Lisa Wingate is a former journalist, inspirational speaker, and the author of over twenty mainstream fiction novels, including the national bestseller, Tending Roses, now in its nineteenth printing. She is a seven-time ACFW Carol award nominee, a Christy Award nominee, an Oklahoma Book Award finalist, and a two-time Carol Award winner. Her novels are known for taking on gritty subjects while offering redemptive and uplifting themes. Recently, the group Americans for More Civility, a kindness watchdog organization, selected Lisa along with Bill Ford, Camille Cosby, and six others, as recipients of the National Civies Award, which celebrates public figures who work to promote greater kindness and civility in American life. More information about Lisa’s novels can be found at www.Lisawingate.com or on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/LisaWingateAuthorPage?fref=ts.

 

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Hi Murray. Welcome to my blog. Thanks for taking time from your busy schedule to answer a few questions for my readers and me.

Murray Pura image

Murray Pura was born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, just north of the Dakotas and Minnesota. His first novel was released in Toronto in 1988 and was a finalist for the Dartmouth Book Award. Since that time he has published ten more novels, two collections of short stories, and several nonfiction titles including the Zondervan books Rooted and Streams and the Baker devotional Majestic & Wild. He has been a finalist for several awards in the U.S. and Canada and in 2012 won the Word Award of Toronto for Best Historical Novel. Murray lives and writes in southwestern Alberta and is currently published by Barbour, Baker, Harper One, Zondervan, and Harvest House as well as several other publishing houses – he works with publishers in Canada, America, the UK, and Holland. His releases for 2013 include the novels: Ashton Park, The Rose of Lancaster County, A Road Called Love, Seven Oaks, The Painted Sky, Whispers of a New Dawn, Beneath the Dover Sky, The Name of the Hawk, and An Amish Family Christmas. His diverse writing spans many genres including: historical fiction, contemporary fiction, literary fiction, romance, adventure, western, suspense, fantasy, Amish, and inspirational. Most of his work is available in ebook format for Kindle, Kobo, and Nook as well as in paperback.

Janice:  Murray, when did you first realize you wanted to be a writer? What inspired you?
MURRAY: Quite truthfully I wrote my first stories when I was about nine, made covers for them after I stapled the index cards together, and gave them to Mom to read. And I kept doing this right through my teen years, writing my first 100 page novel called The Quiet Man when I was 13 and my first 200 page novel Bravest of the Brave when I was 14. I remember writing a parody of our teachers in high school which went the rounds through all the classes, smuggled under jackets and in lunch bags and backpacks – that I’m alive today and wasn’t expelled or executed is a tribute to the espionage skills of boys and girls between the ages of 15 and 18. I was writing before I became a Christian and then I gave it all to God and he has continued to develop that passion in me. I guess just the telling of stories inspired and excited me.

Janice: Did you have a mentor who motivated you to keep working at it?
MURRAY: No, not at all. It was something I felt compelled to do from very early on. I just sat down and began to write. Perhaps favorite authors and ports motivated me the most.

Janice: What genres do you write and why?
MURRAY: I like romance because the love between a man and a woman is one of the most beautiful gifts God has given us. I like historical fiction because I like to go back in the past and tell stories set in different eras and centered around dramatic historical events – I like to ask the reader, “If you had been there then what would you have done?” I like contemporary fiction because I like to tell stories about who we are right now. I like to write inspirational fiction because I believe God and faith enter into everything even if sometimes we don’t see it clearly.

Janice: Where do your ideas come from?
MURRAY: Everyday life, the things you see and experience, travel, relationships, the books you read and the shows you watch, all things feed into the imagination.

Janice: How do you write? Do you have a specific place, time, method? Do you outline your stories?
MURRAY: I write anywhere and anytime using my laptop. I do have a preferred location by a large picture window that looks out over the trees and sky and creek but I can write in other locations. Any time of day works though it’s best to get started in the morning. There is a general outline, things that need to happen, places I need to go, people that need to be around. But I’m well aware that everything can change after you write that first page. Characters do different things than you imagined they would, new characters pop up, some plot ideas don’t work after a while so you jettison them. There’s a kind of ultimate destiny over everything that you plan for, and that’s supposed to rule, but the free will of the characters always brings in new scenes and new plot developments you didn’t count on. That’s when you feel like the story is writing itself and you’re simply the first writer that’s handy to pour itself through onto a WORD doc.

Janice: You’ve written both stand alones and series. Which do you prefer and why?
MURRAY: Series allow you to develop the characters much more and they allow you to tell a story in far more depth, that’s why I prefer series.

Janice:  I assume with so many projects on the go, you must work on multiple stories at the same time. How do you mentally move from one to the next?
MURRAY: You clear the decks between them, leave one where it is and go on to the next without bringing any baggage from the first with you. Generally having a short break between projects helps but once I’m into the new story that’s where my head space is and nowhere else. Giving each project a week to itself also helps.

Janice: What is the most difficult aspect of writing for you? And the most enjoyable?
MURRAY: Hardest: Tell yourself to sit down and get started each day. Most enjoyable: Love scenes.

Janice: Do you edit your own writing or do you have someone else do that?
MURRAY: I edit my own until the editor gets ahold of it at the publisher and starts to cut and paste.

Janice: Social Media have become a fact of life for writers. What kinds do you use and which do you find most effective?
MURRAY: Facebook and Goodreads and interviews on blog sites are the most effective for me. Especially when coupled with regular giveaways.

Janice: I’m sure you do a lot of research for your stories, in all genres. How do you research and how do you know you can trust the accuracy of your sources?
MURRAY: I use my extensive library and online sources. The only way to trust your sources is to choose reputable ones with reputable authors and researchers. In addition you must reference different sources against one another and see how similar the information is. A reference point of three different sources of information on a topic is an absolute minimum.

Janice: Have you ever collaborated on a writing project and if so, what tips do you have from that experience?
MURRAY: On one project my daughter wrote the poetry and I wrote the narrative for the story. It would have been much more challenging if we were working on the narrative simultaneously.

Janice: As busy as you are, how do you balance your writing life with your personal life?
MURRAY: Each day must have its rhythm. Exercise, prayer, spiritual reading, recreational reading, human interaction and relationships, meals. And the writing has to be treated as a job with a set goal of, say, 2000 words a day, 8 to 4 or 9 to 5, something established like that. It’s not a dreamy thing to write. It’s hard work like anything else that matters.

Janice: What are you currently reading? How do you choose books to read? Favorite authors?
MURRAY: I am reading several books at once: Stand Proud by Elmer Kelton; Penguin’s History of the World; The Man Born to be King by Dorothy Sayers; Fighting the Flying Circus by Eddie Rickenbacker. I enjoy diversity and a mix of genres so long as the writing is good. Browsing stores or online helps me find new books. Favorite authors include poets like Robert Frost, Dylan Thomas, and John Milton; novelists like Ernest Hemingway and Alan Paton; spiritual writing by C.S. Lewis, N.T. Wright, and Eugene Peterson.

Janice: What interesting facts did you learn while writing your latest book?
MURRAY: How quickly the legal profession, medical profession, and the universities caved to the Nazi government in Germany from 1933 on. They had virtually no backbone at all. The churches fought back much harder. Yes, a number of them compromised their faith, but quite a number didn’t. They withstood the threats and intimidation much better than most other organized groups.

Janice: Do you have some tips for beginning / emerging writers?
MURRAY: Take every opportunity that comes your way to write. All the time I see people not writing because there’s not enough money in it, they think they don’t have the time, they say they can’t come up with ideas. You should start off by writing for the pleasure of writing. If you can’t find the time or ideas then change vocations. You need to make the time and coax those ideas out of the depths of your mind or you’ll never succeed as a writer.

Janice: Thanks very much for talking with us today. Blessings on your future writing.

Readers, check back next week for an overview of some of Murray Pura’s works.

Check out these sites to learn more about Murray and his writing (his website and Goodreads include extensive information about his titles):
Facebook Author Page:
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Murray-PuraWriting/125082457581805?ref=hl
Website:  www.murraypura.com
Goodreads Author Page:  https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4120927.Murray_Pura
Pinterest:  http://www.pinterest.com/myrrhh/

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There are many methods for creating fictional characters. We’ll look at how to:

* create characters from our imaginations

* use people we know and alter them to be unrecognizable

* create conglomerates using characteristics from a number of people

* use actual people

In order to create a character, we need to know what we expect from that individual. Allow me to use some examples from my historical series. In my first book, I wanted two main characters for their specific perspectives of the events of the time and for contrast:  one male and one female, one rich and one middle-class. Certain attributes for Katarina Hildebrandt came from me, from my mother, from other women I knew, to be formed into a woman who was shy but inwardly stronger than she realized.

It’s important to make sure all our characters don’t resemble us. We need to make them unique, choosing paths we might never take.  Book One

Katarina’s male counterpart, Johann Sudermann, took on some of the traits of my maternal grandfather but also developed some unexpected ways of his own. I was able to give him a few of the experiences of my grandfather in his Red Cross service during World War I. We are free to incorporate real events and experiences and fit them into the lives of our characters in order to make them more realistic and credible.

For color and a completely different perspective, I introduced Paul Gregorovich Tekanin. He was strictly a product of my imagination, a minor character included to portray the conflict between the Mennonites and the Russian peasants. However, Paul Gregorovich refused to go away, becoming an integral part of all three books in the series and adding conflict and fascinating information I had not previously been aware of. We may be surprised when we allow our creations to act according to their wishes, within limits.

A character from my second book, Wilhelm Enns, is based largely on my paternal grandfather Book Twoin looks and backstory. He was a lean, handsome, moustached widower, with three young children who needed a mother. It was easy to describe him as I held his photo in my hand.

Heinrich Hildebrandt, Katarina’s father, was based almost completely on what I could discover about my husband’s great-grandfather, a wealthy philanthropist and dedicated pacifist.

Besides these character creations, we can also use real people in our novels. Including actual historical or living persons in our work is trickier than creating our own characters in that we must portray them as accurately as possible.Book three

For example, the name Nestor Machno, when mentioned to a couple of elderly gentlemen who had experienced the revolution in Russia, caused shudders even after all those years. There are many resources for whatever we are writing, and sometimes they don’t agree. What if two sources disagree on a character’s motivation? In my case, I weighed the odds, considering what I knew of the man and chose the most probable course. We do the best we can, always remembering that history is written by the victors.

A question that might come up when using real people in our fiction is, what if their lives are less than exemplary? Anne Lamott says,

“If people wanted us to write nice things about them, they should have behaved better.”

Great quip, but perhaps less than conscientious on our part as writers. We must carefully think through the responses our actions may bring forth.

I have in my library a great resource for characterization, a book called Turning Life into Turning Life into FictionFiction by Robin Hemley. He offers helpful ideas for altering or disguising the people we use in our stories.

A few ideas for learning to know our characters is to apply personality tests. These are available online at such sites as: http://www.humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/jtypes2.asp. These kinds of checks can help us keep our characters true to themselves. There’s also a great downloadable resource from Jeff Gerke called How to Find Your Story at http://www.marcherlordpress.com/bookstore/writers-helps/how-to-find-your-story-by-jeff-gerke/. Also available is Character Creation for the Plot-First Novelist at http://www.marcherlordpress.com/bookstore/product/character-creation-for-plot-first-novelist-by-jeff-gerke/.

The better we know our characters, the better they will be able to tell the story. We must also remember that every main character must change over the course of the story. These changes can be plotted on a character arc.

When we develop unique, three-dimensional characters, they will become part of us, sometimes more real than the people around us.

Stay tuned next month for a closely connected element: dialogue.

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