Maureen pic from booksigningIt is poignantly fitting that National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month occurs in the same month as one of our most memorable holidays – Thanksgiving Day. Alzheimer’s is a disease that robs people of their memories. Thanksgiving Day is an occasion when people gather to celebrate, give thanks, and weave conversation from past to present to future memories. Photos, videos, and audio recordings will be made during the festivities. And some of these will make their way sometime in the future into the lap of someone who once participated and remembered, but now needs to be gently coaxed to even recognize the people, frozen in time, smiling up at them from a photo album.

As authors, we use our memories all the time. Even if the stories we write have nothing to do with what we’ve experienced in the past, we call upon certain elements of our lives to flesh out and inform our work. And it is here that my CAN blog for this month focuses. How do you capture things and people, places and events as you experience them? How do you recall them? Are they now as they were then? Or, has time colored them differently or your experience from then to now given you fresh perspective.

One example of the fragility of memory came, for me, rather unexpectedly (and humorously). Years ago, when sack lunches were PB&J and chips, there were those cupcakes. Ah, you know what I mean. Those chocolate cake, chocolate frosting-with-a-swirl-of white cupcakes that made sitting through boring classes worthwhile.

When news came months ago that those cupcakes would disappear from store shelves, many were devastated. But, they returned – to great fanfare and acclaim. So it was that I found myself scouting store shelves for those cakey, sweet treats of “yesteryear.” And, I found them!  But were they the same as before? Alas, no.

Or, perhaps they were the same, but I had changed. Adult now, and very conscious of eating healthfully, instead of ripping open the package and digging in, the first thing I did was locate the label – calories, sugars, carbs…yup. Then, I secured a napkin and contemplated a fork, not eager to make a mess on the placemats I’d just laundered. Only then did I nibble on the cake. The taste was there, and the delicious combination of frosting, creamy center, and cake. But I have to say that my inner grown up had squelched a bit of the inner child by approaching the grand moment as I did.

We might do the same thing when we re-read our journals, revisit old pictures, or try to get a sense of an historic venue or person. That is, what we remember might change a little, twist and bend a little, because we are approaching the memory not with the eyes of fresh experience, but with the years – and events – that have washed like waves on the sand. Something is bound to have faded or disappeared, but something new is in its place.

In a work of fiction, part of individualizing characters means understanding their present and their past – and what memories they carry with them that influence and inspire them. Another layer to this is to understand whether they remember things exactly as they happened, or do they skew them a bit because of who they are in the present?  Differences in memory can certainly flame conflict, especially if a character insists that someone did something or something happened one way, when it actually happened another.

The things a character remembers can tell much about who he or she is. Do they remember colors over shapes? Character over mannerisms?  Do they forget eye color, but remember how someone smiles or waves?

For many, the holidays, particularly Christmas, are rich with inspiration. Throughout these next few weeks, when you put on a writer’s “cap” and marvel at how many new elements you have to put into your work, think a bit, too, about how you will remember, and what you feel is most important, in your heart, to never forget.

Blessings and a very happy Thanksgiving!

Maureen

www.maureenpratt.com

http://blog.beliefnet.com/gooddaysbaddays/

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Dave-websiteHi,
Dave Fessenden here with some thoughts on writing for this Friday blog.

I am experienced in nonfiction—I wrote a book on the subject, in fact—but when it comes to fiction, I still have a lot to learn. My first novel is coming out this month (The Case of the Exploding Speakeasy), and though I’m getting a lot of good reviews, I am not sure I’m ready to teach about fiction.

With that disclaimer, let me share an observation I had when reviewing a potential client’s fiction manuscript.

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Gail_5Welcome to the CAN blog and some information about writing fiction from Gail Gaymer Martin at www.gailgaymermartin.com

Most writers learn how to create believeable main characters who are usual the man or woman bringing the story to life through their perceptions, emotions and actions, but learning how to use secondary characters is a different process altogether.

Numerous characters appear in your novels for realism and to provide a piece of action necessary to move the story forward or to broaden characterization of a main character. These walk-on characters might be referred to as the waiter, clerk, cab driver, mail carrier, baby sitter, maid, doorman, neighbor, a crowd or mob.

They have limited time in the story and so when using them remember to:

  1. Be specific only when necessary. If the person reappears for a key purpose use brief descriptions only, describe a feature that defines the character or the role he will play.
  2. Use an eccentricity only if the character needs to be remembered, perhaps as a witness to a crime.
  3. Use a name only when it points to a character’s ethnicity or physical characteristic: curly, Baldy, Bambi, Blimp, Shiny, Chan, Vito, or Gomez which will help the reader picture him.

Walk-ons serve a purpose to bring reality to the novel. A restaurant needs a waiter. A store needs a clerk, A taxi needs a driver. But these characters can also add an element of suspense when they seem nervous or edgy or they can bring comic relief to the novel. Think of the movie When Harry Met Sally and the restaurant scene when woman said to the waiter, “I’ll have what she’s having.” This line accentuated the humor of the scene.

Secondary characters are different from walk-ons. They have a greater role in the novel, such as a relative, neighbor, or co-worker, and provide contrast, new information, or conflict to the story. They will appear in occasional scenes and add reality as well. Most people have a confidant that they discuss personal issues in their lives or coworkers who join them for lunch. These characters have names—Grandma, Ethel, Uncle Joe, Bill.  Some description and personality traits are provided to make these characters three-dimensional. Their traits often moves the story along—the wisdom provider, the commonsense giver, the time-user, the empathy shower, or the one who is the “life’s not perfect” reminder.

Secondary characters can:

Serve as a contrast to the main character.

Provide key information that helps move the story forward

Provide backstory moments

Assist the main character in brainstorming solutions to conflicts

Create conflicts or undermine characters progress

Serve as a red-herring in suspense or thriller

Provide a backdrop for the main character to express concerns or choices

Both walk-ons and secondary characters are important to a novel just as various people enter our lives to provide a service, cause change or create an outlet for ideas and solutions. Use them wisely. Don’t give a walk-on too much importance or you will confuse the reader and don’t neglect bringing the secondary character to life to the degree they are significant to the story.

I’d love to hear your ideas and additions to this list. Please leave a comment.

 

 

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