Category: News

Character Studies

While in the middle of writing my novel, I took a writing course that encouraged writers to know their characters. Really know each one, not just the heroes and heroines, but all those that came in contact with them. I took pen to paper and wrote until I had a strong sense of each personality, a little of their history, and their vision for the future. These character studies enhanced my understanding and sense of what each would do in any given situation. It also helped fine tune the voices in my head.

It’s been nearly a month since the launch of my novel, and I’ve noticed that one of my secondary characters is a standout for readers and reviewers: Gweneveera Bankhead, or Veera, for short. Veera is one of my favorite characters to write because her voice speaks loudly in my head. Veera wrote her own bio. I’d like to share it with you:

My name is Veera. I lived with my dad in Long Beach and went to Long Beach State. It took me six years to graduate, but I did it. When I was a teenager, one of my heroes was Queen Latifah. It seems like there ain’t nothing she can’t do. I want to be like that. A lot of folks tell me I look like her. We’re both tall, chocolate, cute, have a positive attitude and lots of bubbly personality. It’s hard for people not to like us. I don’t know for a fact, but she seems like she’s got brains. I’ve got smarts too, though I can’t sing a note and don’t dance too good. I always wanted to be in a position where I could get respect and help people. I thought about law enforcement, but I don’t want to go shooting anybody. I’ve been thinking I should be some kind of negotiator. You know, the types that talks folks out of blowin’ up a bank or killin’ innocent people. But I wasn’t sure how to get that kind of job so I decided to go to law school instead and work security during the day. I picked Newport Beach ‘cause it’s kind of a glamorous place and I like glam. Plus, I want to hang out with a different kind of people than I was used to growing up. Smarter people. I figure most rich people are smart. Plus, one of my dad’s friends offered me the job. It was either that or be a bouncer at Bobo’s in Santa Ana. That wasn’t happening.

I didn’t know that Veera lived with her dad in Long Beach or that she had high ambitions…until she told me so.

The Importance of Focusing on the Reader

Renowned stupidity expert, Walter B. Pitkin, author of A Short Introduction to the History of Human Stupidity (Simon & Schuster, 1932), estimated that four out of five people are not very bright when it comes to common sense and ordinary living (that’’s over four billion people today). I’d like to say I’m a bit more optimistic. I’d like to, but I can’t. As Mr. Pitkin asked and replied, “Can we find as many intelligent acts as stupid ones in any given period or region? No.”

I’m afraid I’ve fallen into that “four out of five” category. But my bouts thankfully affected no one but myself. For instance, I visited the local college student store to buy books for a friend. I noticed students milling about, wearing lost and frustrated expressions, miserably unable to find what they searched for. I, genius that I am, immediately located what I needed and made my way to the cashier. I climbed up two flights of stairs to purchase the books, while contemplating my brilliance.

“It’s wonderful to be smart!” I announced to no one in particular. I reached one arm over the opposite shoulder and proceeded to pat myself resoundingly on the back. As I patted away, I looked down and admired my very chic sandals; I picked up speed, taking two steps at a time. I felt exceptionally nimble and athletic while I sucked in my stomach. (Insert theme from Chariots of Fire here). All was splendid. Then …I fell flat…on my face, onto the hard concrete stairs. What is the likelihood of falling while walking up the stairs? 100% when thinking and acting like an idiot.

I can’t write when stuck in that moronic frame of mind because I grow blind. I lose sight of the reader, of the story, and the big picture, and think only of myself. “This scene will work because I say it will. Plus, look how beautifully it’s written.”

I take moments out when writing to ask, “Who am I writing this for?” It’s okay to write for myself, but so much better to think of others. The writing road is already a lonely one. It’s like baking a lemon meringue pie and eating it all yourself. Boring. And fattening. But when it’s shared and enjoyed by all, it’s like a party, fun and less predictable. Plus, you’re more apt to eat just the right amount. Once I took myself out of the picture, writing became more enjoyable, more creative, I hope, in the quest to tell a story that someone else would want to be a part of. Isn’t that why we write?

Writing What You Know

The first draft of MURDER AND OTHER UNNATURAL DISASTERS was really terrible. And it had a terrible title. And it was terribly dull. Why all the terribleness? Because all I did was spit out background information…on my life as a new lawyer with a new job in the only movie studio in Orange County, CA. I dozed off several times during the writing, but I kept saying, to no one in particular since most of my writing time is spent alone, “This is important stuff. I lived it, so it must have been.” NOT.

I shuffled the background material around a bit and gave it a new title and sent the manuscript out to literary agents. I was either ignored or rejected by all, but one generously provided a comment. Big name New York agent said that the only thing he liked about the manuscript was the title. Naturally, that put me into a deep funk and I swore off writing forever. After all, I wrote what I knew, and isn’t that what writers should write, even in fiction?

Two weeks later, I was rarin’ to go. The need to write can be overpowering, quashing the ego and the primal urge to vacuum the house and paint door jams, which sometimes pops up when one must write, but one feels slightly unsure. And most especially, I now knew that I needed to keep background material to the bare minimum. I had to write something that made me constantly ask, “What comes next?” I confessed (to myself) that my own legal life was not the stuff that dreams are made of and that no one was interested, not even myself. But I could possibly create a legal life that would be far more fascinating (or so I hoped) than anything I’d experienced. To do so, I asked myself the constant question, “What would I never do?” And hence, my heroine was born.

About one hundred drafts later, I was done. How did I know I was done? I sat behind the keyboard and discovered there was little-to-nothing to change in the manuscript. I’d started in March 2012 (this was the draft riddled with background information) and ended in November 2014. Along the way, I learned and re-learned and wrote and re-wrote. It was one of the most wonderful, hair raising, tantrum inducing, yet exhilarating experiences. There’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears that goes into that first manuscript. But it was worth it.