Tag Archives: fiction writing

Sue Harrison’s “Writing the Third Dimension” – part 3: The Boyfriend List

Welcome! Over the next many months we invite you to return here, specifically on the fourth Thursday of each month for the newest installment of Sue Harrisons teaching: Writing The Third Dimension. You can read all the segments by clicking on the page title WRITING THE THIRD DIMENSION, found under Writers’ Helps & Workshops on the drop-down menu. Please feel free to ask questions and leave comments for Sue. Now for the topic for month three:

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“Writing the Third Dimension” – part 3: The Boyfriend List

When I was twelve, I wrote a Boyfriend List. My list included all the dream qualities I considered ideal in a boyfriend. Most of it was very superficial: blue eyes, good athlete, smart, cute, and nice. Cute and nice? Ah well, I was only twelve.

Writing that list didn’t help me much during the angst years of junior high; however, it was the first indication that I would take after my maternal grandfather and become a list writer. I live on lists. Grocery lists, lists of goals, book idea lists, books I’ve read, housework to-do… I could go on, but I’ll spare you. If you are a list-maker, you’re going to like what I have to say next. If not, please give my suggestions at least a bit of consideration. I think they will be helpful for you as you write your novel.

You’ve been fostering a friendship with your main character. You’ve been carrying this brand new person in your head, having conversations with him, asking questions, getting to know her. That’s the creative Right Brain part. Now comes the Left Brain stuff. You need to write everything down. If you’re a “fly by the seat of your pants” kind of writer, you might resist doing that, but sometimes creativity has to bow to analysis. Your novel will have a much better chance to make it all the way to publication if you know your character so well that you convey his motivations and reactions so that they make sense to the reader throughout the novel. (And you also want the blue-eyed girl in the first chapter to still have blue eyes in the last chapter.) 

Most of you have done a character sketch, maybe when you were in junior high or high school. A character sketch? Yes, all this has been leading up to that old standard, the character sketch. (No histrionics, please!)

My usual character sketch includes these items: name, age, race, birth date, nationality, birthplace, hair color, eye color, skin color, facial characteristics, body type, unusual physical characteristics (tattoos, birthmarks, freckles and so on), weight, height, body language/mannerisms, voice, speech quirks (clichés, catch phrases), time period in which she/he lives, favorite food, favorite animal and television show and movie and book and music, favorite person, his/her parents, siblings, relatives, pets, jobs held, and schooling.

The list could be almost endless, and I’m sure that you’ll think of characteristics that I haven’t included. Your character sketch will vary, novel to novel. A character who lives in the 1800s will not have a favorite television show, of course, but he may have a favorite saddle. In my Alaska trilogies all characters have brown eyes and dark hair, so that was easy, but I needed to use other physical characteristics to help me – and my readers – differentiate one character from another. That was a little more complex.

You’ll need a sketch for each main character and probably for your primary villain. You may find yourself changing things in your character sketch as you progress through this novel, so an area for “additional notes” is a good idea. Don’t be afraid to throw in MORE than you probably need to know. Even though these facts may never come to light within the novel, the more you understand about your character, the better job you’ll do writing about him. Also, you never know when an unexpected twist may change the course of your novel. Characters do have a tendency to wrestle the keyboard away from the writer. That’s when I benefit from re-reading my character notes.

My character sketches get pretty messy by the end of my novel and often degenerate into layers of sticky-notes, but at least I have a reference to what I’ve done, changed, thought, and decided during the weeks and months of writing. 

What works best for me is to keep two ring binders for each novel I’m writing. One binder is for the chapters of my current draft. (You’ll need a four- or five-inch binder for this.) I use dividers between each chapter for easy reference. The other binder is for my research notes and also includes my character sketch notes and good stuff like the people to include in my author’s acknowledgements, reviewers who may want to read an ARC (advanced reader’s copy) of the novel, and maps. 

It comes down to this. You don’t need to keep all the little stuff in your head. Make lists, fill notebooks, write character sketches. That will leave room in your brain for the muse to stretch out and get comfortable!

(And as for me, it turns out that a writing a Boyfriend List was good preparation for creating novels. Who knew?)

My question for you: Are you a left-brained, analytic person or more of a seat-of-the-pants kind of writer? 

Any questions for me?

Happy Writing and Many Blessings!

Sue

*Writing the Third Dimension, copyright, 2010 Sue Harrison*

Sue HarrisonBestselling author, Sue Harrison, has written two Alaska trilogies: The Ivory Carver Trilogy and The Storyteller Trilogy, and a middle readers’ book SISU. Prior to the publication of her novels, Harrison was employed at Lake Superior State University as a writer and acting director of the Public Relations Department and as an adjunct instructor in creative writing and advanced creative writing. For more information, click here. To inquire about booking Sue for workshops or speaking engagements this year, click here.

Thanks for joining us! Please feel free to leave your questions and comments. We invite you come back April 25, 2013, for part 4.

Sue Harrison’s “Writing The Third Dimension”- part 2: Cut the Puppet Strings!

Welcome! Over the next many months we invite you to return here, specifically on the fourth Thursday of each month for the newest installment of Sue Harrison‘s teaching: Writing The Third Dimension. You can read all the segments by clicking on the page title WRITING THE THIRD DIMENSION, found under Writers’ Helps & Workshops on the drop-down menu. Please feel free to ask questions and leave comments for Sue. Now for the topic for month two:

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“Writing the Third Dimension” – part 2: Cut the Puppet Strings!

One of my little life treasures is a slip of paper from my uncle that is filled with handwritten notes about characterization. Uncle Bill was a composer, symphony conductor, and concert pianist, very eccentric and very brilliant. When I was in college, I worked up enough nerve to begin sending him some of my short stories.  He became my coach, cheerleader, and harshest critic, exactly what I needed at that time.  I finally wrote a novelette and sent that 40,000 words of drivel to him.  

Uncle Bill wrote a critique of my novelette, and, when he was at the post office to mail that critique to me, he ripped a deposit slip out of his checkbook and wrote this on the back: [his words and spelling] “Your characters must be so real they even defy the author.  They wake you up in the middle of the nite and spit right in your eye. You are not creating puppets that do what you want but live living beings that act their life right in front of you. You will do well to write it down fast enough when this happens.” In the critique, one of  his sentences reads: “I know more about the sidewalk [in your manuscript] than I do about your main character.” My manuscript had a fatal flaw. I had managed to write 40,000 words without allowing any of my characters to step off the page and assume three dimensions. I’d written a whole novelette about people who were merely puppets, and their strings were showing.

In my first “Writing the Third Dimension” post here on Polilla Writes, we talked about carrying your characters around in your head until you know them well enough to understand what will destroy them. That’s identifying the huge center of your character, but you also have to know all those quirky little things that will make your character real and loveable and irascible, those attributes that will make your character memorable to your readers.

If you are just beginning your novel, or if, in rereading your manuscript, you feel that your characters are stiff and fake, buy, beg, or scarf up a three-ring binder. Fill it with lined loose-leaf paper, or, if you’re a techie, start a file on your computer or iPad. As you carry your main character around in your head, take notes about him or her. Don’t try to get too organized about this. Right now you’re a hunter-gatherer. Hunt for the stuff and jot it down. When you’re answering the telephone, stop and think how your main character would answer the telephone. When you’re ordering pizza, decide what your main character would like on his pizza. If you’re clicking through the channels on your television, figure out what your main character would watch. What would he read? What car would she buy? Where does he like to vacation? If you’re writing about a different era than modern times, what horse would she ride? What fabric would she choose for her new dress? What did he name his spaceship? Write it all down.

Cut out photographs from magazines or eZines and save them until you have a composite picture of what your main character looks like. Here’s a huge secret about writing that I’ll tell you now and also tell you again in later posts. If your visualization of your character (or a setting or an item) is fuzzy in your mind, it will be visually fuzzy to your reader. That’s one of the few rules of writing that’s pretty much set in stone. Learn to see your character in action in your mind. How does he run? Like Harrison Ford? How does she smile? Like Julia Roberts?  Close your eyes and visualize until you see that character so clearly you could be watching her on television.

Last month, we were looking at the big picture – the center of your character’s being, his self-esteem, her reason for living. This month, we’re talking about the details, figuring out all the small stuff that makes people real. Next month? The whole picture. Remember, the stronger your characters, the better chance you’ll have to be published, which means that I’ll get to read your books. I can’t wait!

My questions for you: What color is your main character’s hair?  What does your main character love to do in his free time?

Any questions for me?  Please feel free to ask!

Blessings and Happy Writing!

Sue

*Writing the Third Dimension, copyright, 2010 Sue Harrison*

Sue HarrisonBestselling author, Sue Harrison, has written two Alaska trilogies: The Ivory Carver Trilogy and The Storyteller Trilogy, and a middle readers’ book SISU. Prior to the publication of her novels, Harrison was employed at Lake Superior State University as a writer and acting director of the Public Relations Department and as an adjunct instructor in creative writing and advanced creative writing. For more information, click here. To inquire about booking Sue for workshops or speaking engagements this year, click here.

Thanks for joining us! Please feel free to leave your questions and comments. We invite you come back March 28, 2013, for part 3.

Sue Harrison’s “Writing the Third Dimension” – part 1: Heart Breaker

Welcome, everyone! Have you ever wished you could sit in on one of Sue Harrison’s writers workshops? Now you can, a few minutes at a time. Over the next many months you are invited here for a writers workshop, the fourth Thursday of each month, for Sue Harrison‘s teaching about Writing The Third Dimension. Sue invites you to ask questions and leave comments, to which she will gladly respond. If you miss one segment, you can still have access to them all. Just mouse over Writers’ Helps & Workshops on my drop down menu, then click on Writing The Third Dimension.

When I asked her what it means to write the third dimension, Sue explained, “Basically, the concept is for writers to write their characters, scenes, and plots in such a way that they “pop” off the two-dimensional page and assume a three-dimensional presence in the reader’s mind – as if the reader had actually lived the story.”  Now we are going to learn how to do that.  🙂

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“Writing the Third Dimension” – part 1: Heart Breaker

I love the story about the elderly Athabascan woman who was asked how to make moosehide moccasins.  Her reply?  “Well, first you kill a moose.”

moose (WITD)

In other words, have a seat.  This is going to take a while.

When I’m asked, “How do you write a novel?”  My answer is, “Well, first you break a heart.”

And not just any old heart, but the heart of the main character. When an author writes a novel, his/her goal is to tell a story so compelling that the reader doesn’t want to put it down. That means the novelist must establish a strong connection between the reader and the book’s main character. The only sure way to do that is through emotions.

I might not know what it’s like to live thousands of years ago in the Aleutian Islands, but I can relate to an Aleut woman who loses the man she loves in a vicious raid. I feel the emotional connection, and I want to read her story, live her life, and discover how she finds love again. Because she and I are sisters. We both know what it is to have a broken heart. (Okay, I admit it. I’m advertising one of my own novels, Mother Earth Father Sky.)

So, if you’re a writer, how do you go about breaking that main character’s heart? You do it by knowing your main character so well that you understand what is at the center of her soul. Ask yourself these questions: What is most important thing/person/belief in her life? What is the foundation of her self-esteem? What does she love most? Once you know that, then you’ve solved your problem, and what you must do is take that most precious thing away from her. Then she’s in the fight of her life as she tries to survive and win back what she’s lost. Suddenly you have a plot; you have a story. You’ve pushed your character off the two-dimensional page and made her come alive in your reader’s mind.

Tell me about your main character. What is at the center of his or her self-esteem? What does he love the most? What will break her heart?

Blessings, Sue    *Writing the Third Dimension, copyright, 2010 Sue Harrison*

Sue HarrisonBestselling author, Sue Harrison, has written two Alaska trilogies: The Ivory Carver Trilogy and The Storyteller Trilogy, and a middle readers’ book SISU. Prior to the publication of her novels, Harrison was employed at Lake Superior State University as a writer and acting director of the Public Relations Department and as an adjunct instructor in creative writing and advanced creative writing. For more information, click here. To inquire about booking Sue for workshops or speaking engagements this year, click here.

Thanks for joining us! Please feel free to leave your questions and comments.  Next installment February 28, 2013.