Method Writing

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You’ve heard of method acting, where actors immerse themselves in a character. Sometimes, method writing can be a great way to enrich the scene I’m writing and have a little fun while I’m at it.

I once wrote a story that took place on a movie set. I interviewed a number of local actors but felt the need for more. So I took a couple of acting classes.

It was fun. And uncomfortable. And enlightening.

I began looking for classes that were outside my comfort zone. I took an all-day rock climbing class (where I pitifully clung to the side of the cliff and waited for my instructor to say I could rappel to the ground). I’ve taken cooking classes, language classes, photography classes (where I still feel a steep learning curve), and the list for the future remains long and exciting.

Writing can’t be done in a vacuum. Doing research online and in books is good. Sometimes it’s the only way we can get the experience we need for our stories. But other times? Go for it. Audition for a play. Jump out of an airplane. Music stores often have people looking to earn a little cash by teaching an instrument. I found the rock climbing school through a camping goods store. And sometimes just putting the word out can bring what you need to your doorstep.

Has it made my writing better? I like to think so. My scenes with the actors were written with more confidence—first, because I’d experienced a tiny bit of what they do and second, because I made friends in the class who were happy to answer my questions. Should I ever include a scene with rock climbing, I’ll remember how my arms felt like cooked spaghetti for days and that long climbing pants are better than capris.

A taste is all I need. Just enough to get the feeling right. The vision right. And then it’s mine to play with.

So take a chance! Sign up for a class, go on a trip, volunteer for a project that will enrich your characters. And yourself.

 

* Image courtesy of Victor Habbick / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

On Vacation? Don’t Write

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Once upon a time, I breathed dry desert air and watched dust devils rise from the ground like smoke from a campfire.

I was on vacation in Arizona, visiting friends. I absorbed new sights and smells and had a wonderful time even though a little guilt niggled at me. I should have been writing! Look at how different it was! Gardens of gravel, heat that didn’t leave me clammy, mountains I could walk up with no tree cover. This could all be fodder for a new story!

The minutes I tried to write were torturous.

Then I went home. Within two days, I wrote a short story that took place in a fictional town, using that slow, hot summer feel along with adobe-colored homes that were reluctant to stand out from the earth and yes, those dust devils. There was dark as well, because sunlight doesn’t change what people do. But that was the made-up part.

It’s fine to soak up atmosphere and write notes or phrases to remember for later. But otherwise, stop writing. Be inside the experience instead of trying to think of ways to describe it. Feel the atmosphere. Taste the food with nothing but pleasure on your tongue (unless, of course, the food creates a different, horrifying experience). Enjoy the sights and sounds that are so different from what you’re used to.

Your camera? Take pictures to enjoy looking at later. But if you’ve forgotten your camera card or your phone dies, it’s okay. Live inside the moment. Refresh. Recharge yourself. Take the time to unwind. Stop looking at every new thing with an eye to using it. You will, you just don’t need to mentally force the connection.

Have a good vacation.

 

The Fine Line of Kick-Ass Characters

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I’ve read a number of urban fantasy novels where the main character was a heroine who knew multiple languages and ten different martial arts, and had fifty different weapons packed into her vehicle and on her person.

As a reader, some of these worked and some left me cold.

It took me a while to realize why. I needed to connect to the character. If all she went through was some general angst while knocking out eight drunk vampires in a bar, I’d continue reading but would skip future books from that series.

Connection is important. It’s also a hard line to find. In fantasy, escapism is usually the reason I read the genre. I want to be away from the workplace, the bills, the supermarket. Take me to someplace that’s exciting and enthralling while I sit safely in my seat.

But make me care. Otherwise, it’s a ride on a roller coaster that lasts a moment or two and then fades away. And there are other rides to try. If you want me to keep coming back, make me feel.

That doesn’t necessarily mean I want tears and heartbreak. I’ve read fantasy that made me relate even while I giggled. A kind of “we’ve all had that happen” association. Or we know someone it happened to. Or it was just plain funny. Another kind of bond.

As a writer, the same rule applies. If I don’t care about my characters, who will?

In the novel I’m currently wrapping up, there’s magic and mayhem and even a car chase. But most importantly, what made me get up and write was wondering and worrying about the people on those pages. Were they okay? How were they going to manage?

This is what propelled me to write. Something I wanted to read.

So, write a story. If you want, give her the skills of knowing multiple languages and ten different martial arts with fifty different weapons packed into her vehicle and on her person. The characters can also be male or alien dragons who like to drive cars, it’s all fine. But make sure I care.

 

* Picture courtesy of http://www.everystockphoto.com/photo.php?imageId=2190999&searchId=43f4d8bc1df7e6ecadb296b4e95620c5&npos=13

How Much Does a Demon Bleed?

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When I asked my doctor how much blood loss results from stabbing a demon with a steak knife, I got an answer. (It was only after I repeated the story that someone asked how she knew that. Hmm.)

I once called a few official sources to inquire about gun laws in their county where demons exist. I approached them seriously, identified myself as a novelist and politely asked for their time to answer one question. I also made sure I didn’t call during a four-day week (when work is piled up) or at the end of the day when they’d like to wrap up and go home. I’ve been happy with the answers and gratified that twice I was able to make them laugh.

(In rereading the above, I realize I should clarify that as far as I know, there is no county where demons exist. Just sayin’.)

Worldbuilding is an important aspect of a fantasy novel. If our rules make sense, the reader will accept them. In urban fantasy, most of the rules for building a believable world are already in place. In my novel, it’s still illegal to make a left turn on a red light. And pizza needs oregano. (Okay, not for everyone. I’m not a militant on that. Just pass me the oregano for my slice and we’re fine.)

I’ve read dozens of vampire stories set on this planet where the rules for vampires change. Some never eat. Some do. Some can go out in daylight, others can cross water, and a few even cook with garlic. How do all these contradictions work?

It’s simple. Inside those finite pages of a story is a world that writers make logical. We set up the rules and the reader accepts and (hopefully) enjoys them. Presenting the normal along with the fantastic is what makes it work. It’s one of the reasons why urban fantasy is my genre of choice. I know how things work in New York City and what I don’t know, I can find out. If I want to add a demon or ghost to the mix, the rules and regulations for us humans are already in place. (Apologies to any nonhumans reading this.)

But the rule remains: The setting has to make sense. When I read, I want to immerse myself in that world. I will accept that bananas grow in midtown Manhattan in the winter if it’s been set up properly. If the sky in the Bronx turns from blue to red-and-green stripes with no warning and no explanation later, I’m going to put the book down.

Research. Make sure you aren’t defying the law of gravity without a good reason and that the reader understands it. Getting the information I needed on demon stabbing helped me to write a better scene. A more believable scene. Although, yes, now I’m wondering how my doctor knew that….

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