Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Photo credit: GaborfromHungary from morguefile.com
Characters ought to be more than a name and job title, like Joan Bunderson, special operative or Kyle Kowalski, hockey star. To breathe on the page, your characters need to have an outer life that's relational beyond work and an inner life of passions, drives, attitudes, memories, wounds, and fears.

Below is a fairly exhaustive list of questions to brainstorm when developing a new character, especially the protagonist. Obviously you don't need to know all these things about him or her to proceed with a story. However, wrestling with some of these questions might open up new avenues for inner and outer conflict to arise, or suggest interesting plot or setting elements you hadn't before considered. So choose a few from each menu or tackle them all, your choice.

If interviewing is your favorite research method, you might find it beneficial to find real people with similarities to your character and ask them a few of the questions. Even if your character is quite different personality-wise, a peer of your characters could give you helpful insights.

I suspect some of these questions might be useful for getting to know just about anyone if you're ever at a loss for conversation ideas.

Likes

1. What are your longtime interests or passions?

2. What do you like to do to relax? Have fun?

3. What are your favorite foods?

4. What scents do you love most? Which ones draw up specific memories for you?

5. What textures appeal to you most? What feels nice on your skin?

6. What kinds of music appeal to you? Why?

7. What sounds do you find soothing? Irritating?

8. What shows, movies, or books do you watch and reference over and over?

9. What words of phrases do you find yourself saying all the time?

10. What was your most precious childhood possession?

11. Are you a collector? What do you collect and why?

Experiences

1. What is the coolest place you’ve ever visited?

2. What is your favorite holiday memory?

3. What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever observed?

4. What is the funniest thing you’ve ever done?

5. What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?

6. What accomplishments are you most proud of?

7. What’s the worst illness or injury you’ve ever had?

8. What is the kindest thing anyone has done for you?

9. What is the most memorable gift you ever received?

10. What’s the meanest thing someone has done to you?

11. Have you ever posted, emailed, or texted something you wish you could take back?

12. What’s your most memorable moment with eavesdropping?

13. What is the weirdest secret you ever discovered?

14. What pranks, jokes, hoaxes or tricks have you ever fallen for or perpetrated?

Relationships

1. Do you find it easy or hard to get to know people?

2. What do you love most about your family? Dislike most?

3. How are you like your parents? How are you different?

4. What unique traditions have been passed down in your family?

5. What qualities do you value most in a friend?

6. What makes someone attractive/dating material to you?

7. Who are your role models? Who do you admire and look up to?

8. Who do you fight with most? What do you fight about?

9. What kinds of people do you feel awkward around? Why?

10. How do you feel about people in authority?

Inner life

1. What do you worry about most?

2. Do you have any phobias? What kinds of things scare you?

3. What makes you feel most at peace?

4. How do you calm yourself when you are upset or anxious?

5. What bad habit do you most wish you could give up?

6. What injustices make you most upset?

7. How do you react when you are provoked?

8. How do you relate to money and possessions? How important is wealth to you? Why? Are you carefree or worried about gains and losses?

Dreams

1. What crazy adventure do you dream of taking?

2. If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?

3. If you could magically acquire a new talent, what would you choose?

4. What would your dream home be like?

5. If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would you choose?

6. If you could go anywhere in the world, where would it be?

7. If you could time travel, what time period would you like to visit?

8. If you could have a superpower (or two), what would you choose?

9. If someone could magically cure one of your deepest fears, which would you choose?

Which of these questions strike you as most helpful? What other favorite character development questions do you use? 
Wednesday, January 28, 2015 Laurel Garver
Photo credit: GaborfromHungary from morguefile.com
Characters ought to be more than a name and job title, like Joan Bunderson, special operative or Kyle Kowalski, hockey star. To breathe on the page, your characters need to have an outer life that's relational beyond work and an inner life of passions, drives, attitudes, memories, wounds, and fears.

Below is a fairly exhaustive list of questions to brainstorm when developing a new character, especially the protagonist. Obviously you don't need to know all these things about him or her to proceed with a story. However, wrestling with some of these questions might open up new avenues for inner and outer conflict to arise, or suggest interesting plot or setting elements you hadn't before considered. So choose a few from each menu or tackle them all, your choice.

If interviewing is your favorite research method, you might find it beneficial to find real people with similarities to your character and ask them a few of the questions. Even if your character is quite different personality-wise, a peer of your characters could give you helpful insights.

I suspect some of these questions might be useful for getting to know just about anyone if you're ever at a loss for conversation ideas.

Likes

1. What are your longtime interests or passions?

2. What do you like to do to relax? Have fun?

3. What are your favorite foods?

4. What scents do you love most? Which ones draw up specific memories for you?

5. What textures appeal to you most? What feels nice on your skin?

6. What kinds of music appeal to you? Why?

7. What sounds do you find soothing? Irritating?

8. What shows, movies, or books do you watch and reference over and over?

9. What words of phrases do you find yourself saying all the time?

10. What was your most precious childhood possession?

11. Are you a collector? What do you collect and why?

Experiences

1. What is the coolest place you’ve ever visited?

2. What is your favorite holiday memory?

3. What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever observed?

4. What is the funniest thing you’ve ever done?

5. What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?

6. What accomplishments are you most proud of?

7. What’s the worst illness or injury you’ve ever had?

8. What is the kindest thing anyone has done for you?

9. What is the most memorable gift you ever received?

10. What’s the meanest thing someone has done to you?

11. Have you ever posted, emailed, or texted something you wish you could take back?

12. What’s your most memorable moment with eavesdropping?

13. What is the weirdest secret you ever discovered?

14. What pranks, jokes, hoaxes or tricks have you ever fallen for or perpetrated?

Relationships

1. Do you find it easy or hard to get to know people?

2. What do you love most about your family? Dislike most?

3. How are you like your parents? How are you different?

4. What unique traditions have been passed down in your family?

5. What qualities do you value most in a friend?

6. What makes someone attractive/dating material to you?

7. Who are your role models? Who do you admire and look up to?

8. Who do you fight with most? What do you fight about?

9. What kinds of people do you feel awkward around? Why?

10. How do you feel about people in authority?

Inner life

1. What do you worry about most?

2. Do you have any phobias? What kinds of things scare you?

3. What makes you feel most at peace?

4. How do you calm yourself when you are upset or anxious?

5. What bad habit do you most wish you could give up?

6. What injustices make you most upset?

7. How do you react when you are provoked?

8. How do you relate to money and possessions? How important is wealth to you? Why? Are you carefree or worried about gains and losses?

Dreams

1. What crazy adventure do you dream of taking?

2. If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?

3. If you could magically acquire a new talent, what would you choose?

4. What would your dream home be like?

5. If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would you choose?

6. If you could go anywhere in the world, where would it be?

7. If you could time travel, what time period would you like to visit?

8. If you could have a superpower (or two), what would you choose?

9. If someone could magically cure one of your deepest fears, which would you choose?

Which of these questions strike you as most helpful? What other favorite character development questions do you use? 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

I'm a big advocate of talking to real people as part of your routine research for novel writing. Internet research and books can be a good starting place, but these sources can't provide the rich details you need to make certain careers or time periods or phenomenon come alive on the page. You need to tap into eyewitness sources and draw on the experiences and expertise of real people who are intimately familiar with these things.
By George Armstrong, FEMA Library, via Wikimedia Commons

I talk in THIS post about making connections with experts (hint: they are often closer than you think). Today, I'd like to share some very basic tips about how to conduct an interview. These skills are sadly not taught much outside of journalism programs these days.

How to conduct a fiction research interview


  • Begin by breaking the ice. Explain the kind of fiction you write and why you sought out this person’s help. A little flattery can warm up your subject, as can mentioning a mutual friend or acquaintance. 
  • Get the person’s permission to record the conversation, and clarify how you plan to use the information—as background or to lend authenticity to characters, setting, and plot. Many subjects are far more relaxed if they know they aren’t going to be directly cited and/or quoted like in a news story. 
  • Move on to an open-ended inquiry that gets the source talking about his or her favorite subject. 
  • Be sure to ask your most important question early on. If your interviewee is time pressed, they might end up cutting the interview short.
  • Get in the habit of asking basic follow up questions to garner more detailed responses. “Why is that?” or “What do you mean?” can keep the person talking. 
  • Don’t be afraid to ask what might feel like naive questions. Even if you’ve done your homework, there are bound to be new ideas and terms that come up that you’re unfamiliar with. No one person can know know everything. Usually your source will be glad to fill in your knowledge gaps.
  • You might need to keep circling back to a topic if the interviewee hasn’t adequately addressed it. That doesn’t necessarily mean the person is being evasive. Some people need to warm up when discussing a topic, or they’ll respond better if you reword a question. “I’m having trouble understanding what you meant by ____” or “could we go back to ____?” are gentle segues that won’t feel like a police interrogation.
  • Endure awkward silences; they can be beneficial, as counterintuitive as that might sound. When a subject gives you a generic or rehearsed answer, don’t rush to keep the flow going by chattering away and zipping on to the next question. Instead, simply sit quietly and wait. Most of the time, your interviewee will sense you are anticipating more response and will oblige by volunteering more information.
  • Give the subject an opportunity to sum up, or do a final fill-in. Ask, “Is there anything else you think I should know that I didn’t ask about?” 
  • Get permission to e-mail follow-up questions to them, or to a colleague or subordinate. Don’t assume this person can give you all the time in the world. 
  • Express your gratitude for their time and expertise. Follow up with written thanks, even if by e-mail or text message.

Helpful Resource: Garrett, Annette. Interviewing: Its Principles and Methods. New York: Family Association of America, 1982.

Does interviewing as part of your research excite or intimidate you? Why?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015 Laurel Garver
I'm a big advocate of talking to real people as part of your routine research for novel writing. Internet research and books can be a good starting place, but these sources can't provide the rich details you need to make certain careers or time periods or phenomenon come alive on the page. You need to tap into eyewitness sources and draw on the experiences and expertise of real people who are intimately familiar with these things.
By George Armstrong, FEMA Library, via Wikimedia Commons

I talk in THIS post about making connections with experts (hint: they are often closer than you think). Today, I'd like to share some very basic tips about how to conduct an interview. These skills are sadly not taught much outside of journalism programs these days.

How to conduct a fiction research interview


  • Begin by breaking the ice. Explain the kind of fiction you write and why you sought out this person’s help. A little flattery can warm up your subject, as can mentioning a mutual friend or acquaintance. 
  • Get the person’s permission to record the conversation, and clarify how you plan to use the information—as background or to lend authenticity to characters, setting, and plot. Many subjects are far more relaxed if they know they aren’t going to be directly cited and/or quoted like in a news story. 
  • Move on to an open-ended inquiry that gets the source talking about his or her favorite subject. 
  • Be sure to ask your most important question early on. If your interviewee is time pressed, they might end up cutting the interview short.
  • Get in the habit of asking basic follow up questions to garner more detailed responses. “Why is that?” or “What do you mean?” can keep the person talking. 
  • Don’t be afraid to ask what might feel like naive questions. Even if you’ve done your homework, there are bound to be new ideas and terms that come up that you’re unfamiliar with. No one person can know know everything. Usually your source will be glad to fill in your knowledge gaps.
  • You might need to keep circling back to a topic if the interviewee hasn’t adequately addressed it. That doesn’t necessarily mean the person is being evasive. Some people need to warm up when discussing a topic, or they’ll respond better if you reword a question. “I’m having trouble understanding what you meant by ____” or “could we go back to ____?” are gentle segues that won’t feel like a police interrogation.
  • Endure awkward silences; they can be beneficial, as counterintuitive as that might sound. When a subject gives you a generic or rehearsed answer, don’t rush to keep the flow going by chattering away and zipping on to the next question. Instead, simply sit quietly and wait. Most of the time, your interviewee will sense you are anticipating more response and will oblige by volunteering more information.
  • Give the subject an opportunity to sum up, or do a final fill-in. Ask, “Is there anything else you think I should know that I didn’t ask about?” 
  • Get permission to e-mail follow-up questions to them, or to a colleague or subordinate. Don’t assume this person can give you all the time in the world. 
  • Express your gratitude for their time and expertise. Follow up with written thanks, even if by e-mail or text message.

Helpful Resource: Garrett, Annette. Interviewing: Its Principles and Methods. New York: Family Association of America, 1982.

Does interviewing as part of your research excite or intimidate you? Why?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

I've decided to move my regular weekly posting day to Wednesdays. See you tomorrow!
Tuesday, January 20, 2015 Laurel Garver
I've decided to move my regular weekly posting day to Wednesdays. See you tomorrow!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Photo credit: pippalou from morguefile.com 
Habit formation is always a hot topic in the new year, when many make resolutions regarding behavior changes they intend to make or goals they will strive to achieve. Key to these sorts of changes is new habits--behaviors one does automatically at certain times or in the presence of certain stimuli.

Habits, once formed, are difficult to change. That's both good and bad news. Good because if you focus on creating a habit through repetition, it will stick. Bad because negative habits can be difficult to overcome--they become hard wired into one's brain.

In my reading on habit development, a few basics struck me as useful, whether the habit being acquired was wiser spending, being smoke-free, writing regularly, or using social media effectively.

1. Take an honest self-assessment


Often we self-sabotage because we aren't intentional about what truly matters most, but go on moving in the same old ruts.

Begin by writing out your goals--say finishing a novel draft or saving a certain amount of money.

Next, figure out what current habits are blocking you from achieving your goals. What do you actually do now, when you do it, and what circumstances trigger it? For example, what do you do with your time when you could be writing? When do you impulse buy? What consistent triggers seem to impel you to not write or to overspend?

Lists like this can be long. But don't let that discourage you. You're looking for opportunities to make small changes that will add up to big boons in your life. You might discover, for example, that you spend an inordinate amount of time tidying up after your family--hours that could be reclaimed if they were better trained and given incentive to pitch in (reward charts, pay-per-chore). Or perhaps your lost time is due to TV watching four hours a day, an addiction to games on your phone, or frequent text sessions with you BFF about every inconsequential event of your day.

You might be surprised how you've been sabotaging yourself without really thinking about it. But this kind of knowledge is power.

2. Change your routine


Our harmful habits get ingrained mostly through repetition. The good news is that small changes can often remake our habits. If you are regularly wasting time and money sitting in the drive-thru line at Dunkin Donuts, try firing up the coffeemaker at home and change the route you drive to work. These two changes will remove the temptation to continue stopping at your old haunt.

Think creatively about each of the self-sabotaging behaviors on your list, and how small tweaks to your routine could remove the temptation to continue them. For example, move the TV to the exercise room to link the reward of TV with fitness. Perhaps you've had a hard time waking at dawn to write because it just doesn't fit your circadian rhythms to be mentally acute early. Shifting activities you now do in the evening to the morning (say laundry and ironing, paying bills and the like) could enable you to write in the evening instead.

Breaking the old routine can be a powerful tool for breaking a harmful habit.

3. Take small steps


Don't try to change every self-sabotaging behavior on your list at one time. Take on one thing at a time. And consider also what was comforting about those bad habits. How might a slight modification get you closer to your goal? For example, say you've been overspending at a weekly dine-out with your friends. Those times are precious for your friendships but hard on the wallet. Could you try cheaper eateries? Alternate between restaurants and pot-luck meals in someone's home? Modify what you order, perhaps skipping the wine and dessert, to save your budget?

The small change I'd like to implement is to blog on a different day. I've found that early in the week, I have far less time to devote to social media because my day job is consistently very busy Monday and Tuesday. Starting next week, I plan to shift to perhaps Wednesday. Stay tuned!

How are you doing so far with goals you've set for 2015? 


Tuesday, January 13, 2015 Laurel Garver
Photo credit: pippalou from morguefile.com 
Habit formation is always a hot topic in the new year, when many make resolutions regarding behavior changes they intend to make or goals they will strive to achieve. Key to these sorts of changes is new habits--behaviors one does automatically at certain times or in the presence of certain stimuli.

Habits, once formed, are difficult to change. That's both good and bad news. Good because if you focus on creating a habit through repetition, it will stick. Bad because negative habits can be difficult to overcome--they become hard wired into one's brain.

In my reading on habit development, a few basics struck me as useful, whether the habit being acquired was wiser spending, being smoke-free, writing regularly, or using social media effectively.

1. Take an honest self-assessment


Often we self-sabotage because we aren't intentional about what truly matters most, but go on moving in the same old ruts.

Begin by writing out your goals--say finishing a novel draft or saving a certain amount of money.

Next, figure out what current habits are blocking you from achieving your goals. What do you actually do now, when you do it, and what circumstances trigger it? For example, what do you do with your time when you could be writing? When do you impulse buy? What consistent triggers seem to impel you to not write or to overspend?

Lists like this can be long. But don't let that discourage you. You're looking for opportunities to make small changes that will add up to big boons in your life. You might discover, for example, that you spend an inordinate amount of time tidying up after your family--hours that could be reclaimed if they were better trained and given incentive to pitch in (reward charts, pay-per-chore). Or perhaps your lost time is due to TV watching four hours a day, an addiction to games on your phone, or frequent text sessions with you BFF about every inconsequential event of your day.

You might be surprised how you've been sabotaging yourself without really thinking about it. But this kind of knowledge is power.

2. Change your routine


Our harmful habits get ingrained mostly through repetition. The good news is that small changes can often remake our habits. If you are regularly wasting time and money sitting in the drive-thru line at Dunkin Donuts, try firing up the coffeemaker at home and change the route you drive to work. These two changes will remove the temptation to continue stopping at your old haunt.

Think creatively about each of the self-sabotaging behaviors on your list, and how small tweaks to your routine could remove the temptation to continue them. For example, move the TV to the exercise room to link the reward of TV with fitness. Perhaps you've had a hard time waking at dawn to write because it just doesn't fit your circadian rhythms to be mentally acute early. Shifting activities you now do in the evening to the morning (say laundry and ironing, paying bills and the like) could enable you to write in the evening instead.

Breaking the old routine can be a powerful tool for breaking a harmful habit.

3. Take small steps


Don't try to change every self-sabotaging behavior on your list at one time. Take on one thing at a time. And consider also what was comforting about those bad habits. How might a slight modification get you closer to your goal? For example, say you've been overspending at a weekly dine-out with your friends. Those times are precious for your friendships but hard on the wallet. Could you try cheaper eateries? Alternate between restaurants and pot-luck meals in someone's home? Modify what you order, perhaps skipping the wine and dessert, to save your budget?

The small change I'd like to implement is to blog on a different day. I've found that early in the week, I have far less time to devote to social media because my day job is consistently very busy Monday and Tuesday. Starting next week, I plan to shift to perhaps Wednesday. Stay tuned!

How are you doing so far with goals you've set for 2015?