The Mid-Zone…

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I’m currently in the middle of reading two novels and a short story collection; and I wanted to read these works as well to see excellent portraits of family dynamic storytelling–mainly how different writers work with family settings in their novels. Whether subtle or more direct, I’m finding each of these works incredibly fascinating with more of a look into the art of crafting a novel or short story collection based on family culture. So I’m reading John Irving’s A Widow for One Year–and I’ll tell you when you read an Irving novel, you’re hooked. I am. I like how he threads back-and-forth a character’s identity, whether work or hobby related as a reminder or flashback, to get that effect. I think the repetition shows the impact of what inspires/haunts even characters in their decisions and choices that they make in their lives–for example Ruth’s and her parents destiny. Elizabeth Strout’s Amy and Isabelle is an engaging portrait of a mother and daughter relationship, the twists and turns and discoveries that I’m seeing are intriguing along with how Strout works with setting/environment; and Jesse Shepard’s Jubilee King is a short story collection with very subtle and equally direct meaning of the mundane or every day life with a very raw and intriguing look into California landscapes and people’s relationships that shape it. So far, each work has provided a look at family life in different environments and cultures, and I’m looking forward to seeing where their characters and their lives end up. To be continued…

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Thinking/Re-thinking Novel Outlining…

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“Enter the writing process with a childlike sense of wonder and discovery. Let it surprise you.”
–Charles Ghigna

And that’s precisely what I think about how the process is or how it feels when writing–writing in any genre. I like working in many genres–poetry, novel, playwriting, and perhaps, in the future, writing a screenplay. There’s nothing like discovering new things and ideas from writing; and that’s why I think this book, if maybe outlining hasn’t been a fan of yours, works. I’ve worked with outlines and without them. I find this book Outlining Your Novel by K.M. Weiland a really good source in helping writers write better stories. It offers the benefits and misconceptions of outlining prior to writing a novel.

I like Chapter 6 “Character Sketches, Pt.1,” which makes you feel like you haven’t hit an iceberg and you can begin to see a prequel of the novel. I also really like Chapter 7, “Character Interviews Pt. 2,” which provides an effective template that scrutinizes profiling characters, so that you almost can never know enough about your characters. Continuing questioning your characters, I think, is key for developing them.

I’ve written with and without outlines. Sometimes I’ve started writing just a paragraph with no direction and come up with an idea, working that idea into a few more pages and then structuring more with an outline. Overall, Weiland’s book is a really good source for writers who have been stumbling or struggling with outlines and needing to organize ideas instead of throwing their novel out the window.

Talking Backstory…

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One of the most important things, too, in developing characters is making sure all of them have a backstory but not necessarily revealing each character’s backstory until the last possible moment; and sometimes just a few words are needed. I think some of the most effective backstory techniques are those that hint rather than tell out right–leaving just what we need to know. Since backstory is never the point of the story, rather something preceding it, sometimes there’s a risk of deviating from the plot. So I’ve been working, for example, within a location (New Zealand) for my main character, and what the character is experiencing, which is more subtle within the first-to-early mid-sections of the novel I’m working on now. But toward the end of the novel, there’s more of an opportunity to see the main character purposely revisiting the location in terms of the novel becoming more full circle.

I started out needing to develop the main character, secondary characters, and supportive characters’ backstory by writing general statements about each of them, which helped me to keep on target with the direction of the novel. And, of course, always an outline helps–which can configure into helping sustain backstory.