Writing to Be Someone Else

Recently, I’ve read several interviews with Anne Tyler. She’s been called an “invisible literary superstar” because of her habit of living a very private life in Baltimore and giving few interviews in past years. But for now, she’s gone public, promoting her latest novel, A Spool of Blue Thread.

spool_tylerA Spool of Blue Thread is her twentieth published novel. I’m reading it now, and I’ve read all nineteen others, most more than once. Anne Tyler has been my silent mentor in my own writing. I study the seeming simplicity of her prose becoming both inspired and intimidated.

She writes about human relationships, usually revolving around whole families. I write about human relationships too (note the motto of this blog) because … well, nothing is more interesting to me.

I’d like to share a quote from the first interview I read this month:

I began writing with the idea that I wanted to know what it would be like to be somebody else, and that’s never changed.

I can’t tell you how much I relate to those words. I’m happy to be me. I’ve not had a life free of trouble and care, but then few of us do. My life experiences have made me who I am, and that’s mostly a good thing. But life experiences are also limited by circumstance. Imagination is not.

Abundant imagination is one thing I was blessed with. I suspect most fiction writers would say the same. From childhood, not only have we delighted in our own make-believe, but we’ve enhanced that with a constant stream of books filled with the make-believe of others.

Of course we don’t read only fiction. We also read non-fiction to learn about people and places and events. We stuff our heads with facts which, of course, fuel our imaginations—and our curiosity. We question, we observe, we wonder.

We write.

In my novels, I’ve written to know what it would be like to be a middle-aged widow hiding from life; a young man desperately seeking self-identity; and a street-tough young woman afraid to believe she’s worthy of love. More recently, I’ve been writing to find out what it’s like to be a young wife caught between her heart’s desire and her sense of obligation to her abusive, addicted husband; a middle-aged man caught in a plan of revenge set in motion two centuries earlier; and a quirky young woman who rediscovers self-confidence by pretending to be someone else.

Who do you write to be?

Linda

Keeping the Voices Straight

I love to write dialogue. I’d guess that in 87% of my scenes, I write the dialogue first and fill in the narrative later. So, deciding what my characters say is rarely a challenge, but making sure their voices are distinct and stay true is.

character_speakWriting in both male and female voices is a challenge in itself. Then you have to consider the character’s education, life experience, and regional influences to develop a voice that sounds natural. And you have to repeat that for each of your characters. Ideally, even when your character is not identified by name, the reader shouldn’t have to read very far into a paragraph before realizing who’s speaking or narrating.

In The Brevity of Roses, a few of my characters, for whom English was a second language, didn’t use contractions when they spoke. Because I didn’t want my main character to sound too stilted, as often as possible, I challenged myself to form a natural-sounding sentence without using any words usually contracted in informal writing.  Still, after each draft, I made an editing pass specifically looking for contraction slip ups.

Also, in that novel, two characters were upper-educated poets and because I’d written a good bit of the book in their voices, by the time I got to a third major character who was a young, streetwise woman I found myself slipping back and writing words and phrasing, both in dialogue and narrative, that she wouldn’t have used naturally. I had to edit those out.

In one of my current works in progress, my biggest challenge is staying “in character” as I write the parts from my Jesse’s point of view. He was born into a poor mining family in the West Virginia mountains and left school when he was fifteen to hire on as farm laborer in Kentucky. I don’t want to write his voice in dialect as much as I want to give the flavor of his voice. That flavor is not my own and I catch myself slipping out of character often.

In addition to Jesse, I have several characters who speak with just a touch of country and a couple who are pure “city folks.” One of those is the main female character, Nicole, who happens to be an English teacher. So again, I’ve set myself up for several editing passes just to make sure I’ve kept the characters’ voices “natural.” I accept that challenge.

If you’re a writer, what challenges are you facing in your current work?

Linda

If wishes were books …

I wish I could say I’ve completed a first draft of my next book, but the truth is I’m far from that point. Every night before I fall asleep, I listen for my characters to speak. Every day I continue reading and waiting to get back to work. Ah well, one day soon …

ppposterThis past week, I took a workshop from the Women’s Fiction Writers Association on writing middles, and I hope to get a spot in the upcoming workshop on writing beginnings and endings. That should cover a brush-up on structure, right?

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice was the book used as an example in the first workshop. I can’t recall reading any of Austen’s works and don’t own any, so I downloaded a digital copy of the book, but I didn’t have time to read it before the class started. Instead, I watched the 2005 movie version. I loved the movie. (And yes, I know it wasn’t completely faithful to the book.)

Apparently, most Austen fans prefer the earlier BBC mini-series version with Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy. I watched clips of that one, and though I’m sure it was a top-notch production and Firth acted splendidly, I prefer the more recent version with Matthew MacFadyen, maybe because he reminded me of John Cusack. And Keira Knightley, who played Lizzie, reminded me so much of my oldest granddaughter that watching the movie was a delight.

So anyway, I got introduced to Jane Austen fifty years later than most readers do. I confess reading the text was a bit daunting. Maybe my inner ear isn’t tuned to Regency. I had no trouble with the dialogue in the movie, but I’ve since learned it was slightly modernized because the director theorized people didn’t actually speak the way Austen wrote.

Wishing is where I started this and that’s where I’ll end. I wish my Nicole would speak to me with her beautiful words. I wish my Jesse would speak to me in his soft, molasses drawl. I wish the words would flow and carry me swiftly down the river to the The End.

I wish …

Linda

My love affair with AMC … mostly!

Once upon a time—or maybe more—I’ve blogged about the TV programs I watch, and I questioned why they’re all dramas. Sometimes late at night I watch old sitcoms, some from the 70s, but none current. I don’t know why. Anyway, today I’m sharing thoughts on a few of my current favorite dramas—and four of the five air on AMC.

Photo credit: ellenm1 / Foter / CC BY
Photo credit: ellenm1 / Foter / CC BY

I’m excited because the final episodes of Breaking Bad will air on AMC soon. I came late to the series and watched all four and a half seasons in two weeks this past winter. I’ve rewatched some episodes and I’ll  read the recaps of the others to refresh my memory before the last eight episodes air. Right now, I want Hank to bring down Walt and something good to happen for Jesse. And I still miss that villain extraordinaire, Gus.

Another show I came late to view is The Killing. I caught up on the first two seasons just as the third started airing. The writing and acting in the first two seasons was excellent, so it shocked me to learn that AMC had announced last summer they would not renew the show for a third season. Luckily, they changed their mind when Netflix bid to take it over. Emotionally damaged detectives Linden and Holder are amazing to watch.

Speaking of Netflix, they experimented by debuting the entire first season of their original series, House of Cards, at once. It was a big hit in our house. My husband and I binge watched, and now we bemoan the wait for the second season. The writing and acting is top notch. Francis Underwood has not done a single thing to inspire my faith in politics, though.

I believe I’ve told you before that I’m a fan of Mad Men, also on AMC, and though I couldn’t connect fully with this sixth season, I think that was my problem. The quality has never disappointed me, so I expect to appreciate this season more in retrospect. I’m beginning to think Don Draper is a cat—which of his nine lives will he be on next season? So many characters to love and hate—sometimes simultaneously. But that makes good drama, no?

My AMC guilty pleasure is Walking Dead. I can’t quite believe I’m watching a show about zombies, but there you go. Not a spoof or dramedy, this is a frightening and complicated tale as Rick and his tribe struggle to survive both the zombies and the psychopathic Governor. And three main characters were killed in last season’s finale! Actually, I guess I don’t feel guilt for watching it. I’m looking forward to October and finding out where the writers take the story next.

Two things these shows have in common are good writing and good acting. I think a lot about the writing, of course. Actors are inspired to do their best when they’re presented with good writing just as fictional characters are developed fully by well-written narrative.

I probably won’t ever write about drug dealers, homicide cops, politics, the 60s advertising business, or a zombie apocalypse, but drama is drama. I’m learning while I watch. As I prepare to start my next novel, I visualize my characters acting out their drama, but they’re only ghosts of who they’ll become when I flesh them out with narrative.

I can hardly wait to type The End.

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Apparently, I need a blog editor

It appears my last post is an example of why I edit, edit, edit when I write fiction. Evidently, I need to do the same when I write these blog posts. I thought I wrote a positive post. I thought I shared a bit of wisdom. But I confused some of you, so obviously my thoughts did not make the trip from brain to keyboard intact.

For the record, I’m happy to be a published author. I’m proud of my first novel and excited to get my next one out soon. I’m thrilled that I have fans—FANS—can you believe it? I hope thousands of readers discover my books, but if they do, it will most likely be by word of mouth because, by nature and by choice, I am not a high-profile writer.

However, if I’m destined to become an author known throughout this world and beyond, so be it.

Speaking of editing, I have now written 90% of the first draft of my next novel, so I’ll soon be ready for that stage. I hoped I might crank out those last 10,000 words this week, but I’ve been stalled since Monday night. I mentioned my dilemma on Facebook yesterday and a few of my writing friends let me know this is a common occurrence at this point in a draft. I guess I’ve forgotten.

I think the problem is my attempt to not write this novel as a pantser. I wrote a simple outline and several key scenes before I started the draft, but—as they always do—the characters had their own ideas. I quit following the outline some time back and eliminated or revised some of the scenes, but I still have a couple that I can’t decide whether to use as is, revise, or trash. So, until my characters show me the way, I’m stuck.

And speaking of Facebook, have you LIKED my author page? I’ll be thrilled if you do. It takes only two clicks, first click on this link and then click LIKE to the right of my name. Come on, I dare ya’.

Even if you don’t LIKE me, I wish you a wonderful end of the week. 🙂