Don’t Look Back

The back story is important to who a character is and why they are who they are. I like to think carefully about how people behave and how their parents raised them. Just because someone is a good standing citizen doesn’t mean their children inherently are. The same goes for anything. Sometimes the apple stays close to the trunk sometimes it falls off, rolls down a hill, plops into a stream and makes it out to the ocean. In this case, I don’t want to lay out the back story I want to show it, give the reader the reins to imagine what it was within the guidelines I lay out.  A look back without looking back.

Giving characters this sort of history can allow my reader to become more in-tune or sympathize with them. If it’s necessary for a story line I make sure to let the readers know where a character comes from without having to use flashbacks or reminiscent conversation. I sometimes like to give that view in real-time without saying much or anything directly about their past experiences.

It’s been a while since I’ve visited Anne for an example so I thought I’d use her.

Hank paused with his fork halfway to his mouth. “A nurse?”
A look and tone Tony was used to.
“But you’re so handsome.” Tianne pouted at her daughter’s boyfriend. Hanks’ eyes slid quickly to his wife as she continued. “Did you mean you play a nurse on TV or something?”
“Ti, dear it doesn’t take a genius to know that not everyone good-looking is on TV.”
Anne held her breath as her parents went back and forth passively aggressively insulting the other. When Hank finished his drink in one gulp Anne realized he lied and was drinking anyway.
“Dad you promised.” She whispered.
“I’ll do as I damned well please little lady.” Hank’s voice rose and he looked at Tianne. “Deal with your daughter.” He stormed out to refresh his drink without offering anyone else.
Tianne narrowed her eyes at her daughter. “Anne don’t antagonize your father. It’s not his fault your flaunting your lack of morals.”
Tony put his hand over Anne’s under the table as Hank came back in.
“Oh no, not in my house.” He gestured at their hands. “Bad enough you’re like your mother, don’t start that here.”
“Dad!”
“Hank love, we have company. Please watch what you say.”
“Watch your own mouth Ti.” Hank gulped down his second drink.
Tony clenched his jaw as Anne slammed her napkin on her plate and stormed off to find privacy. It was bad of her to leave Tony to them, but she couldn’t stop herself.

Anne chewed her bottom lip fighting back tears and closed her eyes at the soft knock on the bathroom door.
“It’s me, open up.” Tony’s gentle voice came through muffled.  With a sigh, she opened the door and turned her back to him.
“Hey.” Tony turned her around and pulled her into a hug. “So things got a little weird.” He chuckled softly into her hair. “That’s what parents are supposed to do.”
“Yeah, but he promised he wouldn’t drink and she swore she wouldn’t insult me. I just wanted…”
Tony put his hand under her chin and made her look up at him. “Wait till you meet mine. I don’t care what they do or say, Anne. You are nothing like your mother.”
She sucked her breath in at the extreme compliment. She looked like her and had her temper, or lack of, but that’s where it ended.
“I’ll be honest, I was surprised, she looks so young and your dad…”
Anne nodded. “She had me when she was barely sixteen. He’s twice her age and twice as mean.” She sighed heavily and shook her head. They were hard on her but not her because of their own mistake, which happens to be her. “Let’s go get this over with, if they keep it up we’ll leave.”
“Sounds like a plan.” Tony followed her down the stairs to the dining room. The second her mom started in on her he had a flashback to the bar when Neil called her names and she took it. It wasn’t because she wasn’t strong, she was used to it.

Giving insight into a character through others can be fun. It can also be intimidating. This is why I always keep track of family as well as characters, of how they influence or interact. Anne might be friendly and tease one friend but then argue or nit-pick another. It’s a good idea to keep those interactions documented so she can stay steady in her interactions.

I find it’s easiest to use conflicting characters such as parents, a boss, long time friends, or siblings even relatives like an aunt or uncle to help show the history of a character without actually showing it or getting too abstract.

My advice about showing the past in real-time.
It’s worth a try especially if you want to avoid flashback or reminiscent dialogue. I do recommend that you keep track of who is who and how they interact like suggested in my previous post “who’s who in the grand scheme of things”.

-Sheryl

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Who’s who in the grand scheme of things

Copyright © 2017 All rights reserved

 Abstract

Dating Temptation

There are things that can date my writing faster than a blink of an eye. Trends. Objects, clothes, hairstyles, jewelry makeup, music, technology and more. The list can go on. The point is that historically speaking certain things are associated with certain time-periods.

My book takes place in modern day with a slight futuristic hint. If I were writing a historical piece or something set to a specific era I would perhaps use some jargon, sayings or events to set the time and setting. When doing that I would research and take the time to make sure I’m not talking about websites before they were invented or hashtags before the term was coined. Clumsy writing without facts or research will cause the story to stumble and fall. If I were writing to a specific point in time I would also be cautious about using repeated trends such as bell-bottoms and crimped hair.

However, for me and the purpose of this post I’m talking about keeping it vague and casual so that no specific time other than now is perceived. Sure it will be dated eventually, but if I can manage to keep out anything trendy now like hipsters, skinny jeans and the latest app. That’s not to say I don’t include dated objects or events. I’ll mention them as a reference and maybe a comment about “Hey that’s like…” or “Do you remember when … that was cool?” Major world events are safe to use as reference but I’ll keep the amount of time between then and what is written.

I’ve been asked why I do this. Simple, I was taught to and I like it. It makes sense to me since I’m not writing a historical story. I took a course that explained in detail the importance of keeping current trends out of my writing to keep it from becoming dated or ‘lame’ in younger readers minds. Now again if I want it to be dated (which I don’t) plopping pop up trends is the way to go. This is after all how cult favorites are born.  So, I don’t bring up specific events such as an election or terrorist attack, nor would I mention disasters or Olympics. Things that are time specific.

Technology is tricky it changes and evolves so fast that to mention something specific is risky. I do mention laptops and tablets, because they have been around long enough and are likely to be around a while longer that I don’t consider them pop up trends. Things like I-pod’s, cd-players, VHS, Tamagotchi, Sega-Genesis are definitely dated. Personal computer’s have been around long enough they are safe to use, I generally just use a generic term like computer and leave the brand out. So Mac or PC is not mentioned.  However I might say Gaming-console or even PlayStation or X-box, they have been around a while and will likely be, however I would leave out what generation the systems are.

Dating temptation is the strong urge(or instinct) to use dated branded items. The desire to use them is strong because they are familiar and easy to reach for. If I need a branded item and can’t do without, I look to the longest and still strongest survivors like Pepsi, Coke, Sprite and 7up. If not I would say Cola, pop or soda depending on the situation or character. (Different countries call the same things by different names.  In Canada stackable powdery candy are called rockets, in the US they call them Smarties, while Canadians call a candy coated orbital spheroid chocolate, Smarties.

My advice about trendy or familiar things.
If you’re writing and want to avoid sticking your story in a specific date then avoid dated objects, events and fashions. Also, beware of culture differences ie, candies. Apparently, they don’t have Crunchie bars in the us?

-Sheryl

Other interesting posts

What’s her name?

Show and tell

Copyright © 2016 All rights reserved

 Clumsy

Who’s who in the grand scheme of things

When I create a character such as Sasha, I build them up from the bottom to the top. It’s called backstory From their childhood and any traumas or lack of, all the way through life experiences to their present day. They need moments that define who they are, incidences good, bad and mediocre to sculpt their persona. Coworkers, strangers and friends that come and go or stick around are important. Family however are the most important. Whether they have none or too many members needs to be established. Family shapes who we are and should play a part in my characters life as well.

I create family trees for everyone. How important they are depends on how deep, the roots and branches go. The mains and prominent villains get the biggest trees or the ones with the most details. Each family member has a small bio whether it’s used or not. A vague reference to Uncle William being the family drunken mess could play a big part on my character Sasha’s views and behavior toward drinking. Perhaps he scarred her with a particularly bad episode so is leery of ever getting drunk enough to lose control. Maybe Grandma Jillian was a remarkable woman who struggled through one adversity after another and solidified Sasha’s strength and determination in life. Was it her great uncle, who threw her high in the air scaring her and missing once that caused her fear of falling? It’s important to know who they are and what role they play.

Is it always black and white or set in stone? No, I’ve changed family members to fit the story to led a moment or two to influence Sasha. My point is that without a history, without friends and family influence or lack of a person is empty of life experience. She had a family but her friend Anne didn’t, she grew up alone bouncing from obscure relatives to foster homes. She has issues and they show in her interaction with Sasha. Are they in your face, holy crap she’s damaged interactions? No that’s not realistic. People brood and often hide their feelings only letting shreds out. Mystery is tantalizing and even if its small it will foster the readers interest in the character.

How far do I go back? Usually one generation beyond use(I’ve even gone forward one preparing for the future). If she only ever mentions her Grandparents then I’ll go back to the great grandparents and their children. Not all branches are full or finished if its completely unnecessary. If Sasha’s grandma mentions she had two siblings but I talk about a third that might be noticed. That is why I use family trees. Even for the bad-guys especially if they come in to play even a little. Mine are created in an excel spreadsheet, each member has a description. Height, age, birthday, build, eyes, hair and skin color. Ethnicity and languages they speak and job. A brief bio on their history if necessary. I add to this and edit all the time. Maybe it wasn’t uncle William but Uncle Paul instead. It really depends on how I want to progress the story.

Each tree is important, for each book I have a small forest of trees big and small. For BiaAtlas I have three main family trees and I’m careful to maintain accuracy.

My advice about family trees.
Don’t look at it as a chore. It is the opportunity to build depth into your story and characters. It may or may not be needed but it helps me keep who’s who sorted out and provides a wonderful source for potential drama or character growth.

-Sheryl

Related posts

 What’s her name?

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Copyright © 2016 All rights reserved
Tree

Hahaha oops.

I may not have all the official or correct terminology when I talk about writing, but that’s just how it is. One word that I know I have correct is foreshadowing. I will never ever forget that one, it was burned into my brain by embarrassment. Grade nine English class – Some time ago, I wont say how long 😉  On an test I wrote down foreplay instead of foreshadow.  Hahaha oops. The teacher thought it was hilarious and told me it was a common mistake.  Uh huh of course it is I knew the right word, but wrote down the wrong one and was glad the teacher didn’t bring it up to the class.

Foreshadowing while less fun than my test error, is the simple art of showing or indicating beforehand.

There varying degrees/styles/types of foreshadows that I use.

The obvious set up foreshadow: The one that makes the reader go “hmmm” Then later, “I knew it.” These keep the story moving along toward the conclusion.

The tricky sneaky foreshadow: The one that once the reader gets to the conclusion they stop and think back to the set up and are impressed.

The subtle next story set up foreshadow: Drop a situation or conversation eluding to the next books theme or plot. This one is fun to do especially if it’s a random character that drops into play momentarily or if something happens somewhat out of place but possibly related.  Yup, I’ll have a bad guy or situation come up within the context of the main plot. I do this to elude to or direct the readers mind to wonder by the end of the book if that’s what’s going to happen in the next book. Sometimes this might not be subtle I might just make it an obvious set up.

The hidden Easter egg foreshadow.  Tricky and for the die-hard readers. Plunking in a hint or nudge into a story that may not come to fruition for many books to come. I’ll drop these into each book so that anyone who paid attention will be thrilled to have figured it out. This only works if you have written a series before perfecting the first or if you have the outlines clearly constructed for future books. I’ve done this with a couple things, I dropped a name in a random conversation that is not part of the story nor addressed again. It will be… And hey if I don’t end up using them it doesn’t matter.

Character change foreshadows:  The slight or not so slight indication that a shift in personality or persona is about to occur, maybe not immediately but the feeling is set for the reader.

The mystery statement foreshadow:  When a character states something that goes unresolved. Something potentially important, interesting or exciting.  He looked down at Tory’s lifeless body. “I cant figure out what Tory was after? Why bother with setting the fire then call it in herself?” ooh a secret or explanation someone else might divulge or explain later.

I’m sure there are more types, and I’m sure there are proper terms for them, but these are just the ones that come to mind for me now. I will be honest, I had most of the foreshadows for BiaAtlas planned out, but (and I totally do this) I’ve gone back and added some, changed others and boy oh boy is that fun to do. I know what’s going on but the reader doesn’t, not yet.

Every book has a beginning middle and end, somewhere along the way I introduce (indicate) the next book. Like prepping the reader for what’s to come, exciting them and making them want more.  Maybe foreplay and foreshadowing have something in common after all.  😉

My advice about Foreshadows.
While foreshadowing might not be as fun as foreplay, if done right you can tantalize the reader and keep them on the edge of their seat with anticipation. Plan them out and be flexible. If you’re writing a series, think ahead then go back to set it up.
 

 -Sheryl

Some funny posts

That is disgusting

It’s funny you said that…

Oops! What did I just say?

 

Copyright © 2016 All rights reserved

 

Ghosts that write stories

Ghosts that write stories

When people think of ghosts, they think of apparitions or the spirit of the dead. They possibly they conjure the image of something slight that floats around haunting or interfering with life.

The verb ghostwriting means to write on behalf of another. Doesn’t that make us all ghostwriters in a way? We write on behalf of the characters in our creations. We control every aspect of everyone and everything. From the colour of their eyes to whether or not they pick their noses. From the colour of the carpet to the rain that suddenly falls and soaks their new suit before an interview.

I decide if the people I invent are happy, sad, angry or in love. I choose if they are nice, mean or selfish people. It’s partly why I (maybe even other writers) love to write; to control the entirety of the world just created and it’s a lot of power and responsibility.

Yesterday I saw a fellow blogger post a graph. One similar to the one I use to chart out my characters and their progression. Alongside that, I have an excel sheet for each character with every possible thing about them on it. Including things not ever mentioned in the book. This way Joe’s eyes are always ice blue and I can look back to see why he’s secretly angry at women in general and mean to them on the sly. His entire history is there from when his father died from an overdose of heroin to when his mother started yelling at the dog that never existed.

Keeping track is extremely important. People need to have quirks, bad habits, sayings overused and speaking and behaviour patterns. I have many characters, some minor, some major and others only appear to sweep a floor. They all have bios and backgrounds. That way when the Data collection officer is overly friendly and speaks in honeyed tones to the new woman. I know it’s because he’s been passed up for promotion six times, and is now outranked by said woman who is half his age and only been with the company for three months. Is that important to spell out in the book? No. However, if I want to use this later on as part of a plot turn then I need to make sure he’s always overly friendly to her and perhaps she or someone else catches a glimpse of pure unadulterated hatred in his eyes as she walks away.

My advice.
Whether you put an actual ghost in your story or not, keep track. You don’t have to use a graph, chart or the excel program. (I love spreadsheets for some weird reason) You can use a word document, or a notebook or even stick them up on your wall in flowchart form. Whatever you do remember they depend on you not to magically change their height or their dog’s name.

Every story ever written and every character created has a Ghost . We are that ghost to them.

-Sheryl

Copyright © 2016 All rights reserved