Characterization is a challenge writers’ face with every piece they write. What makes a compelling character? If characters are people, say friends or enemies; how complex does a writer need to create a character the reader will love or hate?
I recently sat down to chat with two groups of readers. They gave me insight about my characters from my novel, The Cause: Love & War. It was inspiring to listen to these women, age 14 to 65 years. These conversations taught me what works and what does not work with my characterization.
Every writer’s goal is to connect the reader to the pages he holds in his hands. Mantras echo in our heads- Don’t allow them to put that book down. Create a world a reader does not want to leave. When a reader shuts out the world around him, you the author have done your job. How do you know your characters touch your readers? Here are a few good indicators I heard from my readers.
Strong Emotional Response: As a writer, I love hearing strong emotional reactions from my readers. When they tell me they needed tissues to get through a few chapters, I sincerely say, “I am sorry I made you cry.” While doing a happy dance behind a “yes, I did it” smile. Their reaction strongly connects the reader to the character. The characters breathe within the pages. They are alive, living unpredictable lives. One critic disliked Emilie noting she was whinny and spoiled. Others describe her as very strong willed and outspoken for her time. Emilie’s character did have all of these qualities. The main ingredient is Emilie grew up. She was not the same girl in the beginning of the story as she was at the end. Either way, Emilie’s personality kept the readers reading. When readers identify with the characters, a bond connects them to the story.
Debate over a character’s action: The book club debated Emilie’s decision to marry after being touched by tragedy. The younger group felt drawn to discuss Emilie’s right to return to teaching after marriage. After a quick history lesson about women’s roles in the 1860’s the young ladies gushed about who was their favorite male character. I felt like they were chatting about the latest movie star. While the book club tried to analyze her logic and that of her parents. Historically, Emilie needed to marry; she was becoming too old to remain single. She understood love and was ready to marry. She would have felt pressure to move on with her life. This discussion shows everyone is thinking about history and Emilie’s well-being.
Leave them wanting more: My plan for The Cause: Love & War is to make it into a trilogy. I wanted to educate the readers about Civil War history in a non-lecture format. The recipe was not complicated; Add a good dose of historical facts, combined it with relatable characters, add a twist and unpredictable turn and tell the history in an enjoyable format. This recipe seems to work as most of the readers wanted to know when the second book was coming out.
The best compliment I received through the discussion group was from a reader who put off reading the story because it was not her genre. She happily said she enjoyed the story and learned more about Civil War history than she ever remembered learning from school. Characters are the heart and soul of every memorable novel. Take time to listen to your readers and let them tell you what they think. It will make you a better writer.
While researching the historical background for The Cause: Love & War, my goal was to move away from the history books and uncover true tales of the time period as told by the ones who lived it. I found a wealth of information in diaries, letters and oral histories. These histories allowed me to see “life as usual” for a common person as pivotal historical events unfolded.
I use these histories to understand people’s personalities through their thoughts and written words. Reading these words set my creative mind to work. Using these stories as a springboard for character development and story line I began to weave my own tale. Their words taught me dialects, phrasing and vocabulary. Mimicking these historical elements created a believable storyline.
While writing this historic specific story, I found it difficult to “stay in the period” while present day flowed around me. Historical novelists must keep vigilant watch to prevent modern phrases slipping into the storyline. It takes mindset and concentration.
Diaries and journals add realism to the storyline. My goal is to create a reality within the pages. I want the reader to think they live within the pages alongside my characters. I believe this transformation only happens by listening to the past. I dug deeper to uncovering a set of oral histories about slavery in the South. I excitedly found documentation about slave life different from the horrors we read about in textbooks. Slave owners who treated their slaves as people. Another oral history talked about a slave owner hosting a marriage of a black couple at their home. The afternoon said to be a joyous occasion. Not all white slave owners mistreated their slaves. This point often overshadowed by the blatant atrocities seen in movies and book.
The ladies of Gettysburg had an incredible talent for writing everything down. Sallie Meyers, Sarah Broadhead and Tillie Pierce bring the war to our doorstep as it arrived at theirs. I am sure some of these women never intended their words to be published. Their views about their lives help us to understand their experiences in a time we can only read about today.
Each aspect of The Cause: Love & War was touched by some letter diary or oral report, I read. Using various elements of these letters personalized the book and made it unique. The Prescott family’s views toward slavery came directly from the oral histories I read. The letters between Emilie and Thaddeus were written in the same spirit as many lovers, husband and wives. Emilie’s journal entries, helped her express herself, in a voice she was not allowed in Victorian times as many journals written by young women allowed them to express emotions they weren’t allowed to show to anyone else. These therapeutic memoirs open a new world of history for us today.
If the history bug bites, you may want to consider delving into books about collections of letters and diaries about people like you and me.
Spring is finally here! I am sitting in Texas as I write this blog excited to feel the warmth of 65 degrees, experience rain instead of snow, and see flowers and trees in bloom. Wisconsin is still in the tight grip of Old man winter. Since I last updated you, I am officially an author and truck driver. I needed my new occupation to support my writing habit :-)
Transitions are exciting, and this is a good time to refocus my blog. Most bloggers experience the “post rut” or lack of fun things to say. When I finished the Blogger for Peace posts last December I discovered the blog lost its platform. I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of Blogger for Peace and my distraction with the book release did not help. Last summer’s schedule swept me up with book signings and lectures. Fall into winter, the excitement of my wavered a bit. The blog lost its way, and I miss the challenge of posting. I miss your feedback.
Months of brainstorming led me to realize I still have a long way to go and a lot to say. The blog had two purposes, my writer’s journey and an educational format, that highlights history. I want to bring you the history not written in the textbooks. It reveals history as experienced by people like you and me.
The Cause: Love & War to highlight a Southern girl’s views of the Civil War as she sees it. My southern character is not wealthy; she does not have the privileges of the elite southern class. Her perspective is different because she is southern-born woman who lives in the North. A different culture and a different outlook, how does she does she understand the changing world around her? How would you consider this world if you were in her shoes?
How did you experience 9/11 or Boston Marathon Tragedy? My passion for research and history help me understand people are people. Our world events shape the way we think and feel about things. Our history books only scratched the surface of what people experience.
This blog will share more about who I am and my ideas of how history shaped the world we live in today. I am excited to share the research I did for the book and the new one coming soon.
Thank you for being patient while I was away. I hope you enjoy the journey to come.
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Available through Amazon & Tate Publishing
Re-posted from American Civil War Today!
The Cause: Love & War.
Every new job comes with a learning curve. Each new equally challenging as another. Learning from these experiences creates better outcomes for the next. The book is four weeks from its release date. I decided set out to pre-sell the book to gain experience through book signing events. I traveled to Gettysburg in June and Northern Wisconsin for July. Prior to the events, I studied several sites on How to Launch a Successful Book-Signing Event. I felt prepared and ready. Here is how that turned out.
The first shipment of books arrived, despite tornadoes around the publishing company weeks earlier. I felt the excitement tingle through me as I touched the “real” books I only dreamed about weeks before. These books were hard-won in my opinion. The first experience through this writing process is bumpy as hell and painstaking at times.
My debut signing scheduled for Heritage Hill during the Civil War event planned there. I chatted up the book throughout the park all day. I strolled through the 90-degree weather fully dressed in 1860’s gown and bonnet. My PR person aka Mom came with me handing out push cards and telling everyone about the new author and her book. Before the signing event, I changed into my author clothes and set up the signing table. As the visitors trickled through the visitors’ center at the end of the day, I chatted about the book and met some interested readers. The best part about book signings is interacting with the readers. Not everyone was interested, but those who showed interest made the event pretty fantastic. This first event as a whole was a success in my book.
Off to Gettysburg. OH BOY!! Gettysburg’s 150th anniversary was the goal from the moment I started writing this book. I wanted to appear at the re-enactment sites, to get the book into the hands of re-enactors. The downfall to this excursion was a lack of early planning. This event week was too big to tackle alone. The arrangements I made washed away like the tide overtaking a sandcastle on the shore. I refused wash away with the sand. I sold some books and made contacts with bookstores for November. The key to Gettysburg is to plan months in advance, not weeks. I simply did not have enough time to get is done successfully. My son and I forged ahead and pre-planned November by meeting book store owners, leaving promo copies and adding to my list of contacts. I left with one signing and two potential signings scheduled.
Two weeks later, I landed in Northern Wisconsin. My PR person set up multiple library tours and a Strawberry Social event. This was my first set of speaking engagements. I prepared to talk about the book, and its important history. The week was exhausting. The Plum Lake event was a signing event with three local authors. We drew local readers excited to meet us. I practiced my one-minute book speech and enjoyed meeting the readers. I am thankful for the librarian’s efforts to advertise through flyers and press. It was exciting to see the events documented in the local newspapers. This was evident as people recognized my name when I introduced myself.
These events are a warm up to the release of the book in September. The marketing learning curve will become easier with experience. Right now, I am enjoying the process. The editing is done, the book is complete. I am meeting new people, talking about the book and learning new things along the way. It’s just another day in the life of a writer.
I recently discovered a pot of writer’s gold from Stephen King’s book On Writing-Memoir of the Craft. An entertaining college course from the writer himself. I tripped across this book listed as a favorite on several writers’ sites. I hesitated to read King’s work his genre is not like my own. As a writer, I appreciate his storytelling abilities. He weaves brilliant story lines that always leave the readers wanting more. He translates these books into unforgettable movies. I could not escape the nagging thought I should read him anyway. I did learn some valuable tips and enjoyed the work very much. Every writer will hear a different message, but here are a few pieces of gold that spoke to me.
Good story ideas come from nowhere. Your job isn’t to find ideas but recognize when they show up (page 37). Beginning writers tax their brains thinking and over thinking. I believe the main source of writers block is over thinking. Be aware of your surroundings. The stories are out there. I like King’s ideas about linking what-ifs to ordinary events. Take time to observe your surroundings. The stories are out there, they are yours to create.
Write with purpose (pg. 106) and Write what you know about as long as it is the truth (pg. 158). This is a two for one. These ideas go together because it speaks to you as a writer. The authentic you the one who; is able to write only from your point of view. Write what makes you happy. You know the days when your fingers are flying over the keys, your brain is flooded with the storyline, and you are smiling because you are in the zone. That is writing with purpose.
Read a lot and Write a lot (pg. 151) and Reading is the creative center of a writer’s life (pg. 147). Both of these quotes remind me to step away from my work and learn from others. These are courses in continuing education. King says a writer learns more from a badly written book than a good one. Not to say good books are void of valuable lessons. Good books teach us to refine voice, prose and pace while bad books are valuable lessons in how not to torture our readers.
The lessons in this book are endless. The book reminds us we are human. Our job is to bring to life characters our readers cannot forget. Each writer entertains in his or her own way. The beauty of our work is creating, and the joy of creating is what brings us to our desks every day. Thank you, Stephen King. Your book is inspiring. I will take your lessons to heart and continue to write for the joy of writing, any benefit beyond that is a bonus.
Thank you, Brad Clark Open Eyes, for nominating me for the WordPress Family Award. I appreciate the nomination. Family is one of my most cherished blessings. I am blessed to have a lovely brood of children. They are challenging, beautiful and sometime horrible to, but I through it all they make me a better person. As a parent, I pray every day, I am guiding them to a successful future.
Regular readers know, I usually write posts about family, peace and unity. I firmly believe the family structure and stability have a direct ripple effect on the current state of society. Parenting is the most influential role in a child’s development. It begins and ends with the family. I will continue to talk about family because it is near and dear to my heart. I blog to give hope to parents and families to encourage them to protect family values and do what is right for our country’s future.
I enjoy blogging about B4 Peace. Kozo, Everyday Gurus came up with a great idea in January; everyone spread peace one blog post at a time. The assignments are challenging, and fun to write. July’s post must be resonating with you because my blog traffic is remarkably steady this month. Thank you for visiting, I enjoy reading your comments.
My schedule last month was busier than I imagined. I spent part of June and most of July promoting The Cause: Love & War in Gettysburg and areas of Wisconsin. Although I enjoy book signing and speaking events, I miss creative writing. I can’t wait until the book publishing process becomes familiar to me. I am decidedly uncomfortable not knowing what to expect. Through it, I am enjoying the process with anticipation to settle down and finish the second book.
One of the great pleasures about the winning the WordPress Family Award is the opportunity to pay it forward. This is where I nominate ten other blogs. Some blogs inspire me; make me laugh or makes me think. I would recommend everyone, but it would take all day to link everyone’s blog. Enjoy these blogs and I hope you will follow them if you are not following already.
That’s Another Story
Kelly Kuhn-Becoming, One Breath at a Time
The Return of the Modern Philosopher
Positive Outlooks Blog
The Bucket List Publication