Thursday, June 22, 2006

Setting as Character

Have you ever considered that the setting you choose for your novel or short story becomes one of its characters?

Think of the home where the character, Norman Bates lives, in the 1960 film, Psycho. The dark, brooding house very soon takes on a life of its own with its creaking doors and dark passage ways.

Or how the setting for the 1945 film, Brief Encounter, filmed in a real railway station during the days of the steam train, transmits a certain something, that was evocative of that era in both tone and ambiance.

In the case of the first film, who could forget that infamous shower scene?

Or how in Brief Encounter, the couple who are having an affair, rush breathlessly for their prospective trains, whilst their shadows are reflected on the walls behind them showing their embrace?

Taking my own books as examples, in IT HAPPENED ONE SUMMER, the castle where Matt and Sandy spend the night, Castell Mynydd, reflects a romantic tone, which falls into line with how both feel about one another.

In the follow up book, RETURN TO WINTER, the wine cellar at the same castle takes on an eerie, sinister feel as Stephanie is trapped down there in the dark. Even the odd cobweb frightens her to death during her temporary blindness!

Allow the setting you use to reflect the tone and mood of the situation. For example, in the case of a horror story, you are not going to want to show the forest as a beautiful, serene place, rather as somewhere sinister where anything might happen. This will be reflected in the shadow, the sounds e.g. the sound of an owl hooting, a twig breaking, the moon shining through the rustling leaves of the trees. The same forest might appear innocuous in daylight and may provide the backdrop for a romantic walk in summer.

Next time you write a story, think how the setting can reflect the tone and mood. If it’s a romance, what smells can you induce, for example, or how can you best describe your setting in the way a lover might do? If it’s a horror story, what could you use to take on a life of its own? A house? A mountain? The river?

If you have difficulty imagining how you can do this, watch a few films in your chosen genre. How has the writer/director chosen to film the shots? What tools has he or she chosen? Did they use the weather in some way to predict the mood of the characters? [Prophetic fallacy.]

You are the writer, director and producer of your own stories. Think like a collective production team and use your chosen setting as one of your characters. I promise, it works.

Great review for It Happened One Summer

I had a great review for It Happened One Summer yesterday from The Romance Studio. Here's what the reviewer said [it made my day!]:

It Happened One Summer
Lynette Rees
Romantic suspense
Available from Wings ePress
ISBN: 1-59088-521-X
May 2006

Sandy Perkins is manageress with a local charity shop where all the proceeds go to the Cancer Concern, a local charity. When Matt enters the store, her life changes considerably.

Matthew Walker is the new area manager of the charity shop and has been sent to check out the business but finds Sandy sitting down on the job. This does not sit too well with Matt as he quickly informs.

Sandy isn’t pleased when a customer enters the store giving it the once over. When he announces he is her new boss, Sandy could scream. Things certainly didn’t get off on the right footing. He knows nothing about her and shouldn’t be quickly judging. When Matt hears the reason for Sandy’s break, he is apologetic and sends her flowers. To help raise more money for the charity, Sandy decides to have a fashion show. But in the midst of everything, someone is trying to sabotage her work and it is up to Matt to help find the culprit. They have a difficult past that bothers them and are trying to understand the situation while reaching out to the other. Now they must find out who wants to hurt Sandy while trying to heal the hurt in their hearts.

It Happened One Summer is a fascinating read that immediately draws in the reader. The characters of Matt and Sandy are really genuine in all their emotions. This reader could practically feel all the feelings that were vibrant in the pages. With some touches of envy, hatred, and disloyalty this gripping story blends great creativity. Ms. Rees instills characters that leave a lasting impression with wonderful dialogue that enhances the story. The secondary characters are a welcome addition to the storyline. Ms. Rees knows how to hook the reader and fascinate in this compelling page-turner. It Happened One Summer is a phenomenal read that should not be missed.

Overall rating: [5 Hearts]
Sensuality rating: Mildly sensual

Reviewer: Linda L.
June 16, 2006

Hidden Away in Writing Never-Never Land

Do you know I feel sorry for all those fearful writers out there, the ones who are perfectly good writers, but who are afraid to let others read their work, in case they pass judgement on it.

What would happen then?

They would possibly have their beautiful creations torn to pieces perhaps? Or some well meaning person might tell them that they just don't have what it takes to become a writer.


To be a writer you have to get over the fear, and believe me there are many fears for you to overcome:

* Fear of rejection

* Fear of failure

* Fear of success

* Fear of critiques

* Fear of harsh words

* Fear of never getting published

* Fear of not completing your work

Plus much, much, more!

Rarely, have I come across a craft or occupation where there are so many fears. And rarely have I come across one where people experience so much self-doubt and self-conciousness that they often give up at the first hurdle and shove their manuscript away in the back of the drawer, never to see the light of day again!

What an absolute waste of writing time and talent!

I have learned so much by facing up to my own writing fears. Every rejection has taught me something new. Every success has made me realize that I am learning my craft as a writer. And every critique has made me face up to my writing blind spots.

There is rarely a successful author in the world who has not had his or her fair share of rejection and critical scorn thrown upon their work. What would have happened if Stephen King or J.K. Rowling had just thrown all their work into the back of the drawer? We'd never have seen any of their books published or films watched and enjoyed by so many people, that's what.

I say if you are one of those writers who fears just about everything -- then get over it! All writers have fears, even the top names in the business. The key is to face those fears and realize that success is built on the foundations of failure. Every writing failure you endure is a building block for writing success!

How to Make Your Characters Leap Off the Page!

Have you ever read a book where the characters seem so real that it's almost as if they are in the room with you?

Hopefully, you have. That's the sign of a writer who can create well rounded 3-dimensional characters.

So how do you bring your characters to life?

Well, I usually find out as much about them that I can beforehand and a little more along the way as my stories and novels are very character orientated, in so much, as they dictate the plot.
For example, in one of my books, I was determined that the characters would not go to bed with one another, but they had other ideas! So, I stopped fighting it and let them get on with it!

My reluctance in letting them do what they wanted to do was more to do with my own standards and morals and not theirs. We are not our characters, so we can let them do whatever they want to do. That can include using bad language, if it's right for that character, murder, or anything else for that matter.

Although, we are not our characters, you will find as a writer, that quite often our subconscious will come through in our work and you will find elements of yourself in every story you create.

Try interviewing your characters beforehand, and/or fill in a character profile chart for each one:

1. What’s your name?

2. Where do you live?

3. How old are you?

4. What’s the biggest problem you have in your life right now?

5. Who are the most important people in your life?

6. What are your aims and ambitions?

7. Where do you work?

8. Do you enjoy your job?

9. Where do you spend your social time?

10. Who with?

11. What food do you like?

12. What is your favorite song?

13. What is your favorite film?

14. Where do you go on holiday/vacation?

15. How much money do you have in the bank right now?

16. What are your hobbies and interests?

17. What sort of a car do you drive?

18. Who or what do you hate most?

19. Who or what do you like most?

20. What is your favorite saying/quotation?

21. What do you regret not doing?

22. What would it say on your headstone?

These are just some ideas for you to try; you can probably come up with many more.

Don't forget to show your characters as living, breathing beings by making use of all five senses and demonstrating their little quirks and habits.

Good characterization is vital in a short story or novel as character drives plot.

Writing Voice

What is writing voice?

It's the voice you use as a writer that determines the tone of an article, story, or poem, etc.

For example, a few years ago when I attended a local writer's group, I was in awe of one elderly lady who used to be a headmistress. She has such a refined voice and had won several writing competitions. I really admired her work.

One week, when I read out my story to the class, the tutor stopped me and asked me why I had written my story in that way. It did not sound like me at all. Of course, she was perfectly correct, I had tried to sound like the elderly lady.

My tutor said: "Lynette, you have such a natural sounding voice, stick to it!"

She was right and I never tried to mimic another author's voice since. That's not say that over the years I haven't been influenced by other writers. The authors I have been most influenced by have been people like: Jackie Collins, Virginia Andrews and Edna O'Brien.

Whilst I have not made any effort to copy them, I have learned a lot about pacing, characterisation and writing in first person/third person, etc.

In WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL, Donald Maass says about voice:

"You can facilitate voice by giving yourself the freedom to say things in your own unique way. You do not talk exactly like anyone else, right? Why should you write like everyone else?"

Maass is spot on there.

We are all influenced to some degree by our backgrounds: cultural differences, schooling, socially, etc. So someone born to the royal family is not going to sound like someone say from the East end of London, even though they are not a million miles away in distance, they are a world away in culture.

Be true to your own author's voice, write how you think and don't force your voice to sound like anyone else's.

You are a unique writer with a unique voice!