Thursday’s thing to love about being a writer

page05Have you noticed that as people get older, it becomes more difficult to buy  presents for them? Maybe it’s because, as grown-ups, we have more freedom to go out and obtain the things we really want; or maybe it’s because, as we get older, the things we want become more expensive. Whatever the reason, I find that it’s much more difficult to find the perfect gift for my parents, sister, brother, in-laws, and spouse than it is to find gifts for their kids.

What’s this have to do with being a writer? It’s this: as writers, we have the ability to craft gifts of words, gifts that no one can buy for themselves.

page06For instance, the illustrations in this post come from the most successful picture book I’ve ever written. I wrote it ten years ago, when we were short on cash—so I decided to create a book about my son (only son, at the time) searching out the meaning of Christmas with his cousins.

The truth is, this was not a very good picture book in terms of writing craft—I know a LOT more now than I did then—and I’ll never be much of an illustrator, but it made a wonderful and unique gift for nieces, nephews, and grandparents. This book, printed on a color inkjet printer and bound by hand in a distinctly amateur fashion, is still treasured and loved, even though the cousins in it have all grown up and even though it’s not a perfect piece of art—because it was crafted with love.

This year, money isn’t quite so tight as it was back then, but I find myself turning to handcrafted—and handwritten—gifts again. I believe the gift of words can be more precious than anything I might find on a store shelf…

cover2

…which is why, today, I love being a writer.

Happy gift-giving and gift-creating!

:-) Cheryl

Editing, editing, editing!

hat

Is it a sign of too much rewriting and editing when you start to look at the whole world that way? Take the hat pictured to the left: normally, I would consider this a fine hat. Beautiful yarn, soft texture, bright colors…. but after weeks of nonstop thinking about character, voice, writing style, and audience, I found myself viewing this finished project with editing-type questions. Does this pattern display the yarn’s colorway to its best effect? Have I created the best texture for the piece? Will the audience love this hat, or would a different color emphasis be better?

So…I’ve torn out most of this hat to make another, which I can’t display here yet, in case its intended recipient reads my blog :). But I’ll be sure to post a pic later, because I think the “revised” hat is much better than the original, even though I though the original hat (above) was pretty fun.

At least this particular type of revision works. It’s when I start trying to erase a day from the plot of my life that things really start getting confused…I’ll have to warn my family of my current mindset. Maybe they’ll give me more writing time, just to get it out of system before I do something really nutty!

:) Cheryl

Make Every Character Count

Blog ImagesI’ve been re-reading some of my favorite books (my favorite form of writing inspiration) as I rewrite my own, and I’ve been struck by the attention authors give to secondary characters.

For instance, in Libba Bray’s A Great and Terrible Beauty (a Victorian fantasy about a young woman discovering her dangerous magic ability at boarding school—minor spoiler alert), each of the girls has her own fears and desires that come out in the course of the story.

  • Anne: At first glance, she’s the unattractive, stuttering, and somewhat boring charity student; digging deeper, though, we discover that she dreams that her life will have a fairy tale ending, that someone will discover she’s actually a lost heiress and she will be rewarded for her brave endurance through trials.
  • Felicity: Wealthy, nasty, and a natural leader, other authors might have let Felicity slide by as the Victorian equivalent of today’s vindictive cheerleader type; but instead, she’s a many-layered character, victimized by her father, abandoned by her father, proud, and terrified of not having power to control her life.
  • Pippa: Felicity’s best friend, Pippa is the beauty of the school, but again, she’s no stereotype. Pippa has a dark secret, one that she fears will keep her from her dream of true love—a dream that’s unlikely enough for any girl during this time period, but especially for one whose family wants to marry her off quickly, before her secret is discovered. 

Each of these characters could easily be a stereotype, but Bray brings them to life with unique character traits  such as stuttering, cutting, and secret fears and longings. And because of this, her characters live.

It’s put me in rewriting heaven, because I’m inspired to take a closer look at my *own* secondary characters. The result? I discovered that although they each had fine voices and distinctive characteristics, they were…unsurprising. The grandfather was grandfatherly. The diner waitress was practically cracking gum. Worse, I discovered that I didn’t know nearly enough about even my more important secondary characters. Reis, for instance, has spikey blonde hair, round-lensed glasses, talks a lot, and plays guitar—all of which gave me enough of a character to draft the scenes where he makes an appearance. But when I started asking harder questions, I found I didn’t know the answers. Does he have a summer job? Does he want a summer job? If not, what’s he doing all day on a lonely island with few others his age? What does he want more than anything? What does he fear more than anything?

Most of us ask those questions about our main characters, but it’s easy to let minor characters squeak by as stereotypes.

A funny thing happened as I figured out the answers to those and other questions: my characters came to life, too. Today’s task has been to rewrite the grandfather’s scenes using his new persona—one much more paranoid and hard-edged than the original character. I’m finding that he has a lot of surprising things to tell me….

Happy writing and rewriting, everyone!

:) Cheryl