Write It–Know Your Genres

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Blame it on Meg Ryan.  Okay, so I leaned towards romantic comedy long before I became infatuated with Meg Ryan movies, but certainly watching French Kiss or When Harry Met Sally taught me about sharp and snappy dialogue.  Oddly, I didn’t watch the first movie mentioned until I had written three novels and referred only to French Kiss when I rewrote my similar novel Agnes and Yves.

Around the same time I watched Hollywood and international romantic comedies, I delved more deeply into magic realism, especially Isabel Allende’s early novels, Eva Luna and House of Spirits. And with my next two novels, (just completed Love Quadrangle and plan on writing a multidimensional novel in the near future), I’m blending magic realism with romantic comedy.  Though I’m not including my usual snappy dialogue and slapstick humor.  Those qualities didn’t fit well with my green (sustainable lifestyle) and metaphysical themes. As the world shifts its focus, so must the author.  Soul mate quests shine most brightly on the radar at this time and anything to do with angels and other dimensions.

Before Meg Ryan showed up on my radar, I watched old Katherine Hepburn movies and romantic comedies from the 1940s through 1960s.  Talk about sharp dialogue.  Both Meg and Katherine I noticed played journalists, which appeals to me.  There’s even that hilarious scene when Billy Crystal asks Meg Ryan’s character if she’s still a gymnast and she corrects him and says, “I’m a journalist.”  I get a lot of mileage out of that movie conversation.

So here’s my question to authors.  What’s your genre? How did you discover this genre? What most fascinates you about this genre and finally, how does humanity benefit from your work in that genre?

Another reason I write comedy and romantic comedy in particular, is because laughter provides medicine that boost the immune system.  When I say comedy, I’m not referring to dark humor, vulgarity or anything involving violence.  I’m talking about comedy with a feel-good ending or at least an open ending that leaves us with hope for the future.  My mission on the planet in all the work I do is to raise people’s vibration so that synchronicity brings them opportunities that lead them to fulfillment.  I have no plans to thrill or frighten anyone, which raise cortisol levels that leads to autoimmune disease.

And speaking of comedy, remember the movie, Patch Adam? Now, there’s a movie that has us laughing and crying at the same time, ditto for Dead Poets’ Society. Talk about cathartic release! But if I was stranded on a deserted island (hopefully without Gilligan and his friends), I prefer to watch the Meg Ryan movies.

Originally published on Bonjour Bellingham

Write It–Interviewing Characters

I’m re-posting this article that was originally on my other blog, Bonjour Bellingham. I wrote this as a promotion piece for a self-published novel, Agnes & Yves (which is no longer available since I would like to publish the novel through the traditional route).

Kate Hepburn

I knew that I could use my years as a journalist in fiction writing.  True, fiction and journalism have things in common such as doing the research and giving the facts (who, what, when, where and how), but have you ever thought of interviewing your characters?

That’s right, treat your characters like real people and invite them for an interview. Think of all the dirt you could get from a character’s confession.  Think of all the juicy back story details you could get from probing your character like Barbara Walters does with those investigative interviews.  Dig, baby, dig for information that will enrich your short fiction and novels.

I’m not a fan of including huge chunks of back story in novels (yawn), however, only the author needs to know the back story and you do need it to create subtext.  I know that there are real flesh and blood humans who shout out their back stories to anyone who will stand by and listen, but please don’t create characters like that.

Imagine going on a date when your object of affection goes through a re-birthing process over an expensive dinner.  You probably won’t date that person a second time. It’s the same for characters, your readers won’t have the patience to delve into the deep subconscious of your characters unless they practice psychotherapy as a profession or have are a triple Scorpio with a cluster of planets in their 8th house.

Dole out back story a little at a time and dole out the pieces you gleaned from interviewing your character bits at a time. Use this information to flesh out your character, to create motivations, subterfuge, and escape mechanisms (we all have those).  Use this information to create your characters’ usual mode of operation and to build conflict with other drawn-out characters.  But even with all this baggage don’t create unlikable characters.  Give even your “evil” characters some redeeming qualities.

I know that coming up with interview questions proves challenging at times.  So here are a few to get you started.

  • Where and when were you born?
  • What is your astrological sign? (You can make up charts for your characters)
  • Who are your parents?
  • What is your relationship like with your parents, siblings, cousins?
  • Where did you go to school? What was that like?
  • What’s your life ambition or cause?
  • What’s your favorite color, food, music, movie, etc…? What’s your least favorite?
  • Pet peeves?
  • What type of people do you date and why?
  • What are your biggest life challenges?
  • If you could be anyone who would you be?
  • What is your most painful memory?
  • What is your most joyful moment?

This list will help you to know your characters inside out.  Once you know your characters, you can create the conflicts and the plot.  You can use this information while working on your various drafts too.  You’ll know what is believable for your characters and anything that won’t ring true.

By the time you complete a novel, you will know your characters anyway and they will feel like real people.  So why not start the process before you even write the first word or cast a literary spell over your readers?

You can interview any character from space alien to zombie, to vampire, to animal or human.  This process works for any genre.  So get out your notebook and your tape recorder and get to work.

I’m an author of several unpublished books, a creativity coach, and a practicing astrologer. If you would like to learn from my triumphs and mistakes, sign up for a session through Metaphysics 4 Everyday Living or Whole Astrology.

Tricks for ReWriting a Novel

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photo by Patricia Herlevi

If you aren’t fortunate in having a spouse or best literary friend to beta read your drafts as you write a best-selling novel, here are some tips. I have never rewritten an entire novel starting at a blank page. Instead, I chose a much safer route–safer that is, for my ego.

I usually edit or proofread as I go along. So each day I begin my writing process by going over the previous day’s work. I don’t catch every error this way, but I’m able to stay on top of the story and strengthen my prose, which gets stronger with every chapter. Often times I find out that my ending is spectacular but the beginning of the novel pales in comparison.

If I run across this situation, then I might rewrite the entire first chapter or at least, cut the fat of unneeded dialogue, long sentences, and paragraphs that don’t go anywhere. I also whittle down the description by combining verbs with nouns, something I learned as a journalist years ago. I enjoy sharpening sentences and making them bounce off the page, but when I sharpen sentences then I find I must also sharpen paragraphs.

I look for sentences that clunk along and I either rewrite those sentences or I toss them if they don’t propel the story forward. In fact, any words or sentences that impede the story’s flow ends up in the desktop recycle bin. Next, I look for on-the-nose dialogue and delete it. I clean up phrases that seem redundant when combined with dialogue such as, he shouted, “Darn those Yankees!” Obviously if I’ve used an exclamation mark for punctuation, we already know that the person is shouting.

I then look at sentence structure since good sentences flow into each other and should delight the reader. So if every sentence begins with a noun or pronoun, then I go in and rewrite the sentences adding, “however,” “meanwhile,” “as,” or “Looking in the opposite direction, he scanned the horizon…” In other words, I look for more creative sentence starters beyond the simplistic noun-verb-preposition formula. However, if you are trying to create a staccato effect, then the noun-verb could work when in the right hands.

Next I look at character descriptions to make sure that they are congruent throughout the story so a character doesn’t start out with blonde hair and blue eyes and then six chapters later, she’s a brown-eyed brunette. I’ve actually caught such errors and end up chuckling to myself. This type of problem doesn’t occur if you storyboard your characters ahead of time and you nailed down their physical attributes down to the types of clothing they wear. One man I spoke with about character descriptions told me to cut photographs out of magazines and place them on a board so that I could keep track of my crowd of characters. I love this idea.

Obviously, if you have a chamber or small cast of characters, then you’ll not run into this problem. I write multiple narrative novels often so I confuse characters with each other. I also recommend storyboards for the plot, timeline, and main events in the story so that you don’t run into story descrepencies down the road. You don’t want the reader scratching her head saying,” Wait a minute, I thought this character was captured in chapter four so how is she captured again in chapter six when she’s already in jail?” It happens.

Last but not least, end every chapter with a page-turner also known as a cliffhanger. I learned this trick when I posted my stories on Authonomy many years ago. This involves cleaning up the last paragraph, often deleting it from each chapter. You can end with dialogue as long as the character asks a question or you can end with, “then she heard a knock at the door, but when she went to answer the door, it wasn’t who she expected.” (Or something to that effect). Basically, your job as an author is to tease the reader and get them to continue to the next chapter.

So start a novel strong and end it on a powerful note. Don’t drop the ball along the way and know your characters and story lines inside out. You’ll know you’ve done this when you can whittle your story down to a single sentence description or to a five minute elevator pitch. And actually, you require a good grasp of your story when you write the synopsis and the shorter pitch. I learned this when I wrote screenplays and it’s not something we learn overnight–takes practice and the help from editors or writing colleagues. (I’ll get to writing pitches in a future post).

Resources that prove helpful during the rewriting process include back issues of writing magazines such as Writer’s Digest or The Writer which you can find at your local library. And speaking of libraries, ask your librarian where they keep writing craft books, which may or may not prove helpful. Some authors prefer freedom from writing dogma and rules. I have found myself rebelling at times.

The more you write (I recommend writing every day, even Sunday), the stronger your writing muscle becomes and you also hone your intuition that serves you in the writing process. After all, a good author goes with the flow.

I am an intuitive coach who specializes in motivating and inspiring artists and other creative types. Sign up for a session at Metaphysics 4 Everyday Living or e-mail me at wholemusicexp at gmail