Saturday, April 25, 2015

Story Development Process: A picture is worth...

Story Development Process:  A picture is worth…

As people who work with words writers often ignore the direct impact of images when developing their story.  Images are a great way to fix an idea in your mind.

A small camera is all you need to fix images while doing your research.  Just the way the notebook works to record details of conversation or body movements, the camera works to recall details of place.

When it comes to scene settings, images help with the detailed description of a room, a building, a street, a countryside.  Image searches and recording of research forays are especially helpful for historical settings when you travel and are unable to return easily.

Likewise, while you develop the background for each character getting a grasp on their motivations, history, tastes and preferences as well as their physical description an image can help as an aide memoir when you start writing your story.  A glance at the image brings back the details you wrote in the long exploration of the character.

You can search images online with through search engines to find the face or body, hair, etc. that is an attribute of your character.  Is your protagonist more like Roberto Saviano or Bruce Willis or your neighbor across the street?  You aren’t going to be publishing these images, they are for your use only, so copyright issues won’t develop.

I am surprised that the use of images in the story development process is not mentioned more often.

Zara Altair

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Character development: Cross-pollinating the fertile fields

Insects collecting nectar unintentionally tran... Image via Wikipedia

Character development: Cross-pollinating the fertile fields

After you have identified your characters and given them roles the next step is to develop their individual details.  Going back to Red, The Wolf, Granny and The Woodsman, now is the time to flesh them out both in appearance and…well…character.

Who is this person? You need as many details as you can muster to make your characters come alive.  The end result is that your story is rich. 

What is the character’s goal—his stated objective? 
What is her need—what she really needs in life? 
What is his present status?  
What are his ambitions? 
What is her background?  

You need to understand your character even if 90% of the details you create are not used in the story. 

What are this character’s particular talents and skills? 
What kind of personality does she have? 
What are his tastes and preferences? 

As you start answering these questions for each of the main characters you will also come up with ideas for settings.  

Does your protagonist love to cook?
What does her kitchen look like?  
Modern and sleek?  
Just the basics?  
What colors predominate? 

As you work through the process going deeper into details, you'll find you have not only a good sense of your character, but details that you can turn into plot pivots.

Make separate files for Characters, Scenes, Settings, so that as a detail sparks another idea you can quickly go to the appropriate file and add the new idea.  The process is long and involved, but when you start writing the story you know that character.

Like a bee buzzing from flower to flower, one idea cross-pollinates another.  Your story details become rich.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Research and Writing

Cassiodorus Letters, writing research, research details for writing, the used virgin

Research and Story

The Letters of Cassiodorus prompted a short story.  Among the many letters Cassiodorus wrote for the Ostrogoth king, Theodoric, was a punishment that did not make sense. 

Idea Prompt

Originally I read the letters as background research for a novel. When I came across the letter banishing a man for six months which has prompted scholars to ponder, I had an idea. Who better to solve this mystery than the hero of the novel? 

Build the Story

The idea was born. I placed the character in time two years before the novel begins, 512 C.E. Populated the world with people, from our hero to the self-absorbed and venal governor. Created minor characters. Enlarged the setting of the governor's villa. Gave him a penchant for being a wine snob. 

Format the Story Structure

The beginning and the middle lead to the punishment mentioned in the letter. Along the way, our hero practices reading Greek, the governor's treachery is revealed, a teenaged girl is used as a foil, a thunderstorm triggers a fall from a horse, a rooster attacks our hero, big guys start a fight, the caldarium of the bath soothes wounds and spirits. 

The End

That is today's project.

Zara Altair

Sunday, April 5, 2015


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Character Confusion

In a long or complicated story, it's easy to lose track of the details about minor characters. When the character traits are fuzzy, you can bring back the focus with a character file.

This tweet arrived on twitter: I hate it when I forget what some of my side characters look like and I have to hunt through 150 pages or so to find it. There is a way to avoid this time-wasting activity when you want to get on with the story.

Steps to Keep Track

  • Create a character file. 
  • Use a word processing program and index each character in your story. 
  • Number the pages. 
  • Add characters by name alphabetically. 
  • Each time you add a new character mark the name for indexing.
  • Create an index at the end of your character list.
  • Create an index at the end of your character list. 
  • When you add a character or add new information about a character re-index. 

 Yes, it takes time to set this up.  But, once it is set up it take seconds to find out which of the three construction workers had the blond ponytail.

Character Index 

All you have to do is go to the index, find the page for the character and then go there to recall details. For each character list name, age, distinguishing physicalities.  For the main characters, you can add personal history and all the details, favorites, things that tick them off, etc.

As your story progresses it is easy to add a character  And quite simple to check details as you work along, even 150 pages later.

Zara Altair

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Tool Kit: Where Do You Put All The Notes?

Tools of the Trade

3" x 5" Card 

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Before you begin your research and character development, now is a good time to develop some ways to store and easily retrieve your information.  Later, when you are matching up setting with character with character relationships, etc. you will be very glad you took the time to set up your system.

Basic Tools 

Basic tools can be very traditional:  The notebook and file cards.  I find 3" x 5” cards ideal for tucking in a pocket or my purse (yep, I’m a girl) to make notes as they strike—just like that first idea—in the grocery store, at the movies, talking to Aunt Susie, or wherever the moment hits. 

I use the notebook while waiting at the doctor’s office, waiting for a friend to show up at the cafĂ©, dining out, etc. to make scene notes. 

Technology Aids

For my novel Felix Ravenna I had to populate a palace, a city and two important political centers.  I used Freemind to list the characters, place them in the appropriate geographical setting, and draw arrows (different colors) to show alignments and antagonisms.   If you work with visual cues this is a great tool. 

 I printed out the results and tacked them up on the storyboard.  

For making comments while you are out doing research an audio recorder is great for on-the-spot ideas.  I use a voice recorder attachment for my iPod.  I just slip it in a pocket and talk as needed. This also works to capture interviews with experts as you do your research. Later, you can transcribe these notes and then place them in the appropriate file on your computer or in file folders. 

If you plan on telephone interviews you may want a phone recorder as well. 

The technical suggestions are useful but not necessary.  For centuries, people wrote without computers, without voice recording technology or software programs. 

If you love sitting in front of your computer, there are software programs that make “note cards” which you can rearrange in the program.  

I am a visual and tactile person.  Somehow handling my 3x5 cards, pinning them up, and rearranging them as needed helps solidify the story for me.  That’s just me and how I work. The important part of this implementation step toward producing a marketable, professional story is having a place to store your information.  The bits of information will grow exponentially as you do your research and start expanding your characters.

Zara Altair