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Friday, May 21, 2010

Setting the Scene

I'm a time traveler.

No. Not my characters. Me.

Are you having a hard time buying my story? I assure you, it's true.

I spent the morning in 1870 smack dab in the middle of July with the temperature hovering around the century mark and my hair sticking to my damp forehead.

How did I get there?

I used three devices to transport me to another time and place:
music, sensory stimuli, and images.


I have a folder on iTunes that houses a number of classical pieces played by my characters, both of whom are musicians. I've listed to the selections several hundred times while working on my story, so hearing the compositions of yesteryear helps me shift gears. Since I'm a historical writer, I put it in reverse and go back in time.

Contemporary writers can use music to get them in the mood too. If your story is set at Christmas time, blast some carols. Do you have a scene taking place at the beach? Download some Beach Boys tunes.

Sensory Stimuli

I woke this morning to find puffy white cotton ball clouds scudding by and the thermometer outside registering 62ยบ. The one inside was a whopping two degrees higher. This presented a challenge, since my characters were in the midst of a heat wave. I don't know about you,but when I'm chilly, I have a hard time remembering what it's like to be overheated.

What did I do?

I donned my bulkiest sweater, closed the door to my office, and cranked the space heater. I don't know how hot I got it, but I was, um, glowing. (Victorian women in the 1870s were far too proper to sweat. They left that to the horses.) The elevated temperature and my physical reaction made it far easier to feel what my characters were feeling.

Other senses can be used to set the scene. Are your characters at the circus? Pop open a jar of peanuts, and you have an instant scent-sation that can make you feel like you're there. Is your heroine in the middle of an earthquake or experiencing turbulence at 30,000 feet? Write while trying to balance on one of those jumbo exercise balls.


One of the fastest ways for me to jump into a scene is to see it. To do this, I gather photographs that depict the people and places in my story and keep them nearby when I'm writing.

Since I write historicals, I went to a local antique store with a huge wicker basket chock-full of cartes de visite, those wallet-sized images of non-smiling people, which are mounted on cardboard. I set my stories in real towns in California's Mother Lode, so I purchased reference books about the tows, which are filled with photographs from by-gone days.

Whether you write historical or contemporary stories, it's easy to find images on the Internet that depict your setting--or one like it if yours is fictional--as well as pictures of people that look like your characters. You can print these out and keep them close at hand. Some of my writer friends mount their photos on poster board as collages.

Real life beckoned, and my trip back to 1870 came to an end. I closed iTunes, opened the door to my office to let out the heat, and blew a kiss to my characters, assuring them I'd see them again soon. When I do, I'll set the scene. I left my hero and heroine in a rose garden, so I'll pop outside, snip some of those on our bushes, and set them on my writing desk. I can smell them already.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I wanna know . . .

How do you set your scenes?

Do you listen to music when you write?

Do you strive to emulate the sounds and scents?

Do you select pictures of your main characters and locations?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Falling in Love With My Characters . . . Again

Falling in love is exciting.

Falling in love again is a different experience altogether, one that in my case came about after my husband and I joined together to face a tough situation thrust upon us by the actions of another. Working with Gwynly for two years as we dealt with considerable challenges in order to bring the stressful situation to a close showed me a depth of character I hadn't seen before, and my appreciation and respect for him deepened.

At the end of that l ordeal, I wanted to show Gwynly how much my love for him had grown. Inspired by Nicholas Sparks' book The Wedding, I planned a surprise vow renewal. Six months went into the planning, and the outcome was a memorable ceremony, one that showed Gwynly I would marry him all over again.

Character Concerns

Earlier this year, I received Revision Notes from my agent, Rachelle Gardner. A few of her comments revolved around my two main characters.

My heroine began as a capable and determined woman, but as the story progressed she lost some of her spunk, so much so that at times she came off as wimpy and–I hate to admit this–even whiny. Not good!

My hero was a friendly man with an engaging manner that endeared him to everyone. He treated people well. Very well, in fact. All right, since I'm confessing, I'll tell you the truth. He was too nice. The man had a serious problem in that he had no problems–or at least not enough of them to count.
Character Conversions

In the early stages of the rewrite, I redefined my main characters. Before I did that, however, I had to grieve the loss of the characters as I'd first created them. These two characters had lived in my fertile imagination for over three years, and, as you can imagine, I'd become quite attached to them. Bidding their former incarnations farewell took time.

Once I was ready to move on, these are seven steps I took as I reshaped my hero and heroine:
  1. I revised their back stories and gave them more clearly defined issues.
  2. I intensified their desire for what was most important to them.
  3. I gave them stronger motivations for their choices and actions.
  4. I determined how to strengthen my heroine.
  5. I made my heroine's behavior more consistent.
  6. I decided which weaknesses my hero would have.
  7. I gave them both more emotional depth.
Character Chemistry

Once I had a handle on my main characters' new personae and my new plot, I began writing. Because I'd gone though the process of letting go of the earlier manifestations of my characters and had taken time to get to know the present ones, the story began to flow. As I spent time with my new and improved hero and heroine, I experienced a thrill similar to the one I felt when I witnessed a whole new aspect to my husband's personality emerge during the trial we faced. My hero and heroine are more likable, more realistic, and more fun. I've fallen in love with them all over again.

While making radical changes to characters who'd been so dear to me wasn't easy, I know it was the right thing to do if I want to have a marketable story. I loved the characters as I'd originally written them, but I'm even happier with them now.

I Wanna Know . . .

Have you ever had to let go of a character you created? How did it feel?

Have you ever made significant changes to a character? What steps did you take?

Have you read a book and come across a character you felt wasn't as strong as she needed to be or one who had no real flaws? How did that make you feel?