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Tasty tips and tidbits about the writing life from the students, alumni, staff, and instructors of The Writer's Studio.

Archive for the 'characters' Category

Tips from Southbank: On Writing for Children

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

Here’s a great tip from Ellen Schwartz, Instructor of SFU’s Southbank Writer’s Program on Writing and Illustrating a Children’s Picture Book:

The great children’s writer Christie Harris once said: “Plot is character in action.”

This sums up what we, as writers, strive to do every time we set out to write a story. What readers – not just children, but especially children – want is an engaging story about characters they care about. What happens to those characters has to spring from who they are – their insecurities, their strengths, their sense of humour, their fears, and, most of all, what they want. Some stories focus more on character development and some focus more on plot, but the best ones intertwine the two in an inseparable marriage.

Image credit: Flickr.com By Foto_di_Signorina

Sit and wait

Friday, May 18th, 2012

When Alice Walker was the editor of Ms. Magazine in New York, she began to feel there were characters inside her who needed to talk to her. But they refused to open up to her in New York. “‘What is all this tall shit anyway,’ they would say.” So Walker took a leave from her job and found a rustic cabin in Northern California. She sat and waited. Walker said there were “days and weeks and even months when nothing happened.” But eventually the characters began to visit her. They would sit down across the table from her and talk. She wrote down their stories, and these became the novel The Color Purple.

Never underestimate the power of sitting and waiting.

Post by Cathy MacLean, TWS 2012.

Information and quotations from “Writing the Color Purple,” in Delighting the Heart (1989; Susan Sellers, ed.)

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Sing your characters alive

Friday, March 16th, 2012

When writing from another person’s perspective (fictional or real), a great way to get into their mindset is to sing.

Close your eyes and imagine their face is your face. Their body is your body. Imagine how this person would feel in a moment of strong emotion.

Staying in character, start to sing, improvising lyrics and tune (this is not about musicality but feeling your way into their psyche). When you hit on a line that rings true, repeat it or make it your refrain.

Whole monologues or a powerful core first line can emerge.

PS: This also works well for yourself–sing the blues while driving, discover how you really feel.

Post by TWS 2012’s Saskia Wolsak.

Photo courtesy of the author.

Interview yourself

Friday, October 28th, 2011

A generative process: Make a list of questions you wish you had been asked in your life, but have never been asked.

Write the answers to these questions honestly and fully, taking as much time and as many words as you need. Put this away for a few days or a week. When you return to it, read over your answers and mark passages that seem to be saying something interesting or important. Any recurring images, themes, ideas? Would any of the lines work well in a poem? Do you see a character emerging? Pick out the valuable tidbits and develop them.

Post by Jen Currin, poetry mentor at The Writer’s Studio.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Find out what your characters want

Monday, September 19th, 2011

writers' tipsAre you having trouble “seeing” your character clearly? If so, then chances are, so will your readers.

If you’re struggling to understand one of your characters (main character or minor character), try setting the story aside and making a short list of what the character wants.

No matter how large or small a character’s role is in the narrative (nonfiction or fiction), he or she must WANT something—even if it’s only to cross the street. Clearly define for yourself what a character wants, and you will have a better understanding of how to write that character into your narrative.

Post by Brian Payton, a mentor with The Writer’s Studio.

Start with a hook

Friday, July 15th, 2011

Hook your reader with your opening. Those first few lines are crucial in obtaining and retaining their interest. Here are five tips to help you nail a great beginning:

1. Start in the middle of the action, be it a world war or “Honey, I’m leaving you.”

2. Let the reader know what kind of book/piece they’re getting into. Thriller? Romance? Fantasy?

3. Introduce key characters. Either build up to their introduction, or let us meet them right away.

4. Turn on the tension! Make sure your opening paragraphs are full of it.

5. Wow them with your best writing!
Read the full post.

By Claire De Boer, a current student with The Writer’s Studio. Photo by Klutch Photography.