Goodreads is for readers. It’s a place to check out favourite books and favourite authors. Readers form groups and discuss their likes and dislikes, they share information and write reviews. They can also become fans of their favourite authors and set up virtual bookshelves where they store their books they’ve read, books they’re reading and books they wish to read.
Goodreads is for writers. It’s a place they can create a virtual library of their books so fans can easily find them. They can add information about characters, plots and settings, and they can post favourite quotes from their stories. Writers can promote new books by hosting giveaways of paperbacks.
My heart leapt, and I spun around to see Harry Graham walking towards me.
“To what do I owe the pleasure of your company?” The tall man who always reminded me of Lorne Greene—except I admired the actor—smiled down at me with his corn-on-the-cob-shaped teeth. He appeared ready to dine at a fine restaurant, not tend to cows. Although I didn’t genuinely like the man’s business tactics, he was still a person respected in the community, one who had never said a mean word to me. He was just a jerk, like the guy who doesn’t show up for a date and later says he ran into a buddy and they went fishing, and expects another date just because he really didn’t do anything wrong.
I’m not a car person; I’m really not. If one drives by, I can tell you what colour it is, if it’s small or large or a convertible. That’s it. I might be able to identify it if it’s a Ford Focus wagon—that’s what I currently drive. I can also tell you that ten hay bales can be stuffed in the back and there’d still be room for one passenger.
I can distinguish between a car, a truck, a mini-van, a van and an SUV (although this seems to be getting harder each year). But I’ll be honest; I don’t take interest in details unless it’s something I’ve driven and loved.
Ah, my 1982 Ford F-150, midnight blue, 6-cylinder automatic…now, I can tell you all about that. I’ve been under the hood, on top of the engine and at the rear replacing a gas tank. I can tell you the ignition key didn’t unlock the doors or the glove compartment; you needed a second one for that. The locks were manual—you actually had to push them down, but you could also pull them up. You could unlock the vehicle from the driver’s side and the passenger side with the key!—something you can’t do in today’s vehicles.
Bronwyn Darrow is one of the main characters in Shadows in the Stone. Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking to him. This interview takes place in the same time frame as the opening scene of the fantasy novel. It provides a peek into Bronwyn’s world before the action gets underway.
Diane: Welcome to my farm, Bronwyn. I hope you don’t mind sitting here in the barn to talk; I don’t want to miss this beautiful day.
Bronwyn: No, I don’t mind. I love being outside. (pulls up a hay bale, sits and leans against a stall gate)
Diane (grabs her own hay bale, plops it against the opposite side of the six-foot aisle running through the barn and sits): Great because I also love the smell of this place.
Bronwyn (grins): Me, too. I love being around horses. It makes me feel free. (tosses his chin toward the pasture where our pony grazes beside the miniature donkey). What breed is that? I don’t think we have that type in Ath-o’Lea.
Diane: It’s a Haflinger.
Bronwyn: He’s a stalky creature. Gelding?
Diane: Yup, about five years old. The breeds supposed to be sure-footed, great for mountain trails.
Bronwyn (flashes his dark brown eyes at me): Can I ride ‘em when we’re done?
Diane: Sure, as long as you don’t take him on the road. He’s not wearing shoes.
Bronwyn (his face lights up): Promise, I won’t. He looks like he loves to run.
Diane: Do you ride a lot in your position at Aruam Castle?
Bronwyn: I do. Learning to ride well is part of a soldier’s training. We spend at least two hours a day working with horses.
Diane: How long have you been serving the castle?
Bronwyn: I’ve been a soldier in the reserve for about two years.
Diane: So you’re not a castle guard? (He shakes his head). What’s the difference?
Bronwyn: The soldiers are a reserve for the castle guard. When a guard retires, dies or is injured to the point he can’t fulfil his duties, his position is filled by a soldier. This means the castle guard is always working at full capacity with well-trained men.
Characters are the essence in a story as corned beef is the heart in Jiggs Dinner. But just like the beef, characters can have no flavour and instead of enticing you to eat read more, you pass on seconds put the book down.
Like corned beef, good characters take time to create. I’ve cured my characters in Shadows of the Stone for several years. Now, they’re almost read to be served (think May 6th). I love my characters, the good, the bad and the ugly. None of them are perfect because perfect characters are boring. Even The Good Guys Must Be Flawed. You can read my thoughts about this in a guest post at Thea Atkinson’s blog.
I met Argon when I was thirteen. Back then I was a naive thief, a wee hauflin traipsing through the forest acting like I knew how to pick a lock faster than any other thief. I was pretty handy with a sword, better with a dagger, and possessed a silver tongue that could talk me out of a fickle.
While lost in the Caverns of Confusion with my travel-mates, we stumbled upon a young dwarf who turned out to be an explorer from Aruam Castle. He was fairly handsome and I thought, if only he was fifty years younger, I’d give him a whirl. But then again, he was an honourable man and wouldn’t be interested in a common thief.
You’ve heard the old expression, To really know someone, you must walk in their shoes.
This expression reminds us to not judge people before we get to know them and to not assume we know what they’re thinking and feeling. This expression holds true for the people in our life as well as the characters in our stories.
Writing about someone without knowing them first makes them flat, uninteresting and possible unreliable. When I begin a new story with new characters, I often stumble my way along, wondering if my character will go this way or that. If they are faced with a challenge, what will they do? Turn and run? Or stand and fight?
Names. Our characters need them, but where do we find them? I’ve searched dozens of sources looking for perfect names, ones readers will remember easily and relate with. Often times I do find unique ones that suit the characters, but not always.
Sometimes my adult brain gets in the way of finding a great name. Perhaps I should start letting my kids pick them. They seem to have a knack for discovering the perfect name that describes a character, is unique and memorable. Their names – which are mostly gender neutral – for their pets stand out and make visitors smile.
Imagine stepping between enormous ferns and entering a world filled with horse-size elephants, rats the size of dogs and ten-foot-long dragons. As you make your way through the gigantic flora, you stumble upon a massive turtle basking in a ray of sunshine. To your left, a strange, colourful bird cries out and takes flight. It sails over a small pool fed by a crystal clear spring and surrounded by blue and pink hydrangea and wild flowers of vibrant colours.
In the distance, you see a caldera atop an inactive volcano. You imagine it is filled with water. High peeks on the horizon sharply contrast the deep valley in which you stand. Sniffing the air, you smell the unmistakable odour of sulfur. There must be a hot spring nearby.
Movement to the right catches your eye, but what had caused the leaves to shake has gone deeper into the shadows. You approach cautiously. What was it? A child?
A great man said people watched movies because they believed in heroes. Decades ago when that same man lit up the screen with his signature walk and no-nonsense talk, he was one to me and many like me.
When I was around ten years old, I had an accident. It wasn’t a big one; it didn’t involve a vehicle or a trip to the Emergency or stitches. It involved a bicycle, lots of blood and an old rag stained with paint.
Some days I feel cursed. Other days, I can’t believe I’m this lucky. As the tenth of eleven children raised by parents both born in the 1920s, I was exposed to many different genres of music. As a result, on my MP3 player, you’ll find John Denver snuggled beside Bonnie Tyler, Loverboy and Rod Stewart squished between Donna Fargo and Buddy Wasisname, and Anne Murray rubbing shoulders with Helix and Andy Stewart.
Music has always influenced me in one way or another. It can enhance or change my mood depending on the day and the attention I give it. The melody of a song can set a mood, but it’s the words that can make me laugh, dance or shed a tear. The degrees of these emotions depend on whether I’m listening to the song or singing along.
But let’s get this out of the way first: I don’t sing well. However, I sing often.
Hearing someone sing their heart out may not tug on your aorta, but that may change if you put their words in your mouth. Personally, I can sit and listen to Son Run to the Spring by Cal Smith and ignore the story within the melody, but I can’t sing it with a dry eye. I become that boy who must run to the spring for water while my mother spares me from witnessing her silent death due to a long term illness.
Feeling the music can only be accomplished by putting yourself in the shoes of the song’s character. That’s not to say you’re Dean Brody, standing on stage in front of thousands of fans. You are the boy who must watch your older brother go off to war and wait for him to return (Brothers) and the young man who wonders about the lives of his high school girlfriend, his college friends and the girl who gave him up for adoption (Trail of Life).
Of course, you get the good parts, too. You’re basking in the sun on the Santa Maria (Trooper) and bragging about Who Wouldn’t Wanna be Me (Keith Urban).
Sure, you can just sit and listen, but you won’t feel the full effects of getting into character unless you sing those words.
Breathing life into the words you’ve written is done exactly the same way.
Before I submit anything, I always read it aloud. It doesn’t matter if it’s a 400-word blog or a 100,000-word novel, reading every word is the last step in editing. Actually, if I get stuck on a section of writing, I read it aloud. Often, it is all that’s needed to find that perfect word or the next sentence.
When I read, I take on the characteristics of the character. If I’m angry, I speak with anger. If I’m stumbling over my dialogue, then I stutter. Sometimes, I’ll use a Scottish or English accent, just to hear the story with fresh ears. It doesn’t matter if I get the accent right; the point is to make it different than how I usually speak.
Reading it aloud will point out problems in rhythm, uncover those words that sound too much alike and find words that have been accidentally left out.
In my novel, Mystery Light in Cranberry Cove, two of the main characters were Ellis and Alice. On paper, these names are easily distinguished. However, when you read them out loud in a sentence, they sound very similar – too similar for characters who will spend a lot of time together in a novel. In the end, I changed Alice’s name to Shona.
If reading your words doesn’t create the emotions you want to convey, then consider making changes. You don’t want to giggle in the middle of a tragedy and you don’t want readers to think a character is angry when he’s really trying to sweet talk his lover.
If you’ve never read your work aloud, give it a shot. Feel those words, make them yours. Guaranteed you’ll hear things from a new prospective – your character’s.