Archives for characterization

#BookReview ‘La Belle Sauvage’ by @PhilipPullman #BookofDust

I’m a great Philip Pullman fan so when word of his new series The Book of Dust was first announced, I was excited. La Belle Sauvage is volume one in the series and tells the story of eleven-year old Malcolm who lives beside the River Thames at The Trout pub at Godstow, near Oxford. One day, a baby arrives at the priory on the other side of the river. Called Lyra, mystery surrounds the child, her parentage, and why she is cared for by the nuns. This of course is Lyra Belacqua, so familiar and beloved of Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. La Belle Sauvage is the story of Malcolm’s fascination with the baby Lyra, his relationship with scholar Hannah Relf and his suspicions about a mysterious stranger who visits The Trout. Everyone dislikes this man, despite his ready smiles and chat, because of his daemon, a three-legged hyena. Common with the first book of every series, there is a certain amount of scene setting, the laying-down of foundations for the forthcoming books. Pullman takes time and care to develop the character of Malcolm, the love he has for his canoe La Belle Sauvage, his relationships with his parents, the
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Categories: Book Love.

#FlashPIC 34 Is It Red Or Is It Orange #writingprompt #amwriting

Two people. Two opposing views. Consider a pair of lovers, a marriage, or two lifelong friends. Each has one strong conviction, which the other hates. So far apart are their views on this subject that they would disagree simply on a point of principle. Unblock your writers’ block with this writing tip from the Writers’ BLOCKbuster series. Write a short story or an exercise about contextual layers. Consider your couple. How could their polarisation affect a mundane squabble? For example, is this geranium red, or is it orange? Choose your two characters and their existing relationship. Decide on the conviction of each, and the opposing argument of the other partner. Establish whether they still love each other, or is their relationship fracturing? Now consider their domestic daily life. Choose an everyday irritation and make them argue. Start writing the dialogue, multi-layered; the spoken disagreement concerns the everyday irritation, the unspoken text is about their polarised opinions. Wind up the tension until one, or both of them, explodes. © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other FlashPICs:- Cable Anonymous people Cutting down the trees for firewood What are‘ Writers’ BLOCKbusters’? I want to help you put words on the
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters, and Writing exercises.

How Gail Honeyman writes

Gail Honeyman “I thought it was important that Eleanor was never self-pitying, because I think as a reader that is when you lose sympathy for a character. Even if [a character] has been through horrendous experiences, if they are seen as self-pitying, it’s a very distancing thing. She’s broken but she’s not destroyed. She’s a survivor of it all.” [in an interview with ‘The Bookseller’ magazine, March 10, 2017] I read this quote by Gail Honeyman in The Bookseller, not knowing either her or her debut novel. But the quote chimed with me. I was making slow progress with the book I was reading at the time and couldn’t pin down why. It was well-written, not overdone or wordy, not rushed, but I wasn’t connecting with the main character. Gail’s comment made me realize I wanted to shout: ‘If things are so bad, do something.’ This is a fine line to tread as an author. You want your characters to be tested, challenged, to face difficulties, and you want to explore their emotions, but the last thing you want to do is turn off the reader. Gail Honeyman again: “I guess what you want is not to notice the plot
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

How Sara Baume writes

Sara Baume ‘… something like, it’s a girl-going-mad novel, structured around roadkill and interspersed with descriptions of contemporary art.” [when asked what her next novel was about, in an interview with ‘The Bookseller’ magazine, November 11, 2016] Every novelist will recognize this panic when put on the spot. The brain empties and your carefully thought-through second novel becomes a blur. At the time she was asked this question, Sara Baume was in Ireland talking to an audience about her 2015 debut and Costa First Novel shortlisted Spill Simmer Falter Wither. The ‘girl-going-mad’ novel, titled A Line Made by Walking, was published earlier this year. Perhaps without realizing, Baume may have been confusing herself as the girl-going-mad with the character of Frankie. It is an autobiographical novel based on a difficult time in Baume’s life; she had graduated from art school in Dublin into a climate with no jobs. The novel is ‘true and not true,’ she explains. ‘It’s based in truth but then there was a point at which I realized that Frankie had become her own person…. She’s an art graduate and she’s trying to be an artist. It beings as an exercise to try and remember the things
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Categories: On Writing.

Great Opening Paragraph 100… ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth. That is nothing. I never seen anybody but lied one time or another, without it was Aunt Polly, or the widow, or maybe Mary. Aunt Polly – Tom’s Aunt Polly , she is – and Mary, and the Widow Douglas is all told about in that book, which is mostly a true book, with some stretchers, as I said before.” ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ by Mark Twain Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Diary of an Ordinary Woman’ by Margaret Forster ‘A Passage to India’ by EM Forster ‘Astonishing Splashes of Colour’ by Clare Morrall And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN by Mark Twain #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2qJ
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Stuck: Sandra Danby is stuck, are you?

All three main characters in Rhoda Baxter’s new novel Please Release Me [published today] are stuck in some way. Sally, the heroine, is stuck in a coma but able to hear the world around her. Have you been mentally stuck, like this, or stuck physically in a place you don’t like, a job you hate, or a relationship past its sell-by date? How am I stuck? I’ve been stuck, recently, still am a bit. Mine is a writing dilemma. How much of a character’s backstory to give away, and when? Telling [nearly] all at the beginning of the novel [my second, Connectedness, sequel to Ignoring Gravity] might help my readers to identify with my new protagonist, artist Justine Tree. But, and it is a big but, how do I balance the needs of a) not giving away too much information about Justine’s student days [below, top]; and b) telling enough about her to make the dilemma of the adult Justine [below, bottom] interesting, while c] maintaining intrigue to keep the reader reading? As a reader, I dislike [I typed ‘hate’ and then deleted it, as it seemed a bit harsh]… I dislike novels where the author puts everything on a plate, where
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Famous people, reading… Jack Nicholson

“If you think you’re attractive, you’re always attractive.” Jack Nicholson, actor I’ll have a go at dating this photo. It looks to me around the time of The Shining [1980]. Definitely not The Postman Always Rings Twice [1981] when his hair was shorter and neater. And to me he looks older than when he was in Easy Rider [1969] and Chinatown [1974]. He’d make a great starting point for creating a fictional character. See these other famous people, reading & writing:- Peter Carey Agatha Christie Madonna   ‘The Shining’ by Stephen King [UK: Hodder] Buy now And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Jack Nicholson: passing the time #reading? #films via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1GT
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Categories: Book Love.

The A-Z way to find new authors to read

If, like me, you are always eager to find new authors and new books to read, check out the A-Z Challenge by book blogger Rosie Amber. Running each day throughout April at Rosie’s blog, each letter applies to a character from a novel. Today is ‘H’. Click here to see what Rosie says about Rose Haldane [above] from Ignoring Gravity. Looking down Rosie’s A-Z list there are some familiar names for me:- Terry Tyler’s Last Child. Published on February 20, 2015, I’ve just downloaded the e-book from Amazon. A sequel to Tyler’s popular Kings and Queens, click here for my review, it continues the story of the Lanchester family. Last Child features on Rosie’s list tomorrow: ‘I’ for Isabella Lanchester. The other book on the list which stands out for me is familiar, another for my ‘To Re-read’ list. I haven’t read anything by Mary Stewart since I was a teenager. On Friday April 24th, Rosie will feature Uther Pendragon from The Crystal Cave as ‘U’ on her A-Z list. Fifth century Britain, this is the story Merlin’s journey to discover his real parentage as his powers develop and he begins to appreciate the role he has to play. Written in 1970, it is
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Categories: Book Love and My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity'.

I agree with… Joël Dicker

Joël Dicker, on his characters, they are: “…like friends: some of whom you see all the time, some you see only occasionally but are still really close with and some, like your roommate or colleague, that you see all the time but really can’t stand. The question I asked myself all along is: ‘Could the book work without them?’, and if the answer was yes then they had to go.” [Joël Dicker, in an interview with ‘The Bookseller’ magazine, March 21, 2014] Dicker is talking about the secondary characters in his debut novel The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair. Killing surplus characters, or merging them together, is something discussed on every creative writing course. As an author we take great time and care creating our characters so they become real to us, and hopefully in the end to the readers. But often a character resists, just doesn’t work on the page, and it’s difficult to work out why. This is a character to cut. I remember an old piece of writing advice.  I can’t remember who said it: what’s the purpose of this scene? If it doesn’t have a purpose, cut it.’ It’s the same with characters. They can’t be
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Categories: On Writing.

How Kate Atkinson did it: created Ruby in ‘Behind the Scenes at the Museum’

How did Kate Atkinson create the character of Ruby in ‘Behind the Scenes at the Museum’ and thereby the central dilemma of the story? She tells all to Melvyn Bragg in an interview on ‘The South Bank Show’ [Sky Arts] MB: What did you set out to do with the character of Ruby? KA: I knew that she’d lost something, that for me was the spine of that book. MB: Did you know that at the very beginning, when there’s something at her back in the womb? KA: I went back and put it all in, it was never there. MB: Ruby is an identical twin, her sister Pearl died at three and Ruby blotted it out of her memory. KA: I had that sense that something had gone missing, I got to two chapters from the end and thought ‘I don’t know what she’s lost.’ What would be the worst thing I could lose, and I thought that would be me, so what’s the closest thing to me? And the closest thing to me would be an identical twin. So I went back and put the identical twin in throughout the book and that was very satisfying because it
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

The tree that Rose and Wanda climbed

At the age of five, Rose liked climbing trees. Specifically, the tree outside Grandma Bizzie’s house. One day, she discovered a way to get two pieces of home-made lemon cake: invent an invisible friend. Wanda. Here’s an excerpt from Ignoring Gravity. “Given the choice, Rose would have lived at Grandma Bizzie’s house. She loved the sycamore, its five-pronged leaves which looked like a green giant’s fingers, the delicate yellow-green flowers that dangled like earrings in the spring and the winged seeds which fluttered in spirals to the ground in the autumn. One day she was sitting on the first branch, wishing Lily liked climbing trees, when Bizzie brought out a glass of squash and a piece of homemade lemon cake with runny icing on top. “Rose patted the air next to her. ‘Never mind, it’ll stop bleeding soon.’ Her friend Wanda, she told Gran solemnly, had slipped down three branches and had a long scratch on her leg.” This is the tree which inspired the climbing scene, except it is on Wimbledon Common not in a street in Richmond where Rose’s fictional grandmother lives. It has a wide branch with space for two small girls to sit. It was easy
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Categories: Book Love, My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity', and On Writing.

Famous people, reading… Gregory Peck

“Inside of all the makeup and the character and the makeup, it’s you, and I think that’s what the audience is really interested in… you, how you’re going to cope with the situation, the obstacles, the troubles that the writer puts in front of you.” Actor, Gregory Peck Is he reading To Kill a Mockingbird do you think? I’m not sure about the pipe, but Atticus Finch regularly appears in those ‘Most Popular Father’ lists which appear around Father’s Day. Peck seems to have been a thoughtful man, here’s another quote: “I’ve had my ups and downs. There have been times when I wanted to quit. Times when I hit the bottle. Girls. Marital problems. I’ve touched most of the bases.” Seems to make him well-qualified to be an actor, or a writer.   ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee [UK: Arrow] Buy now See these other famous people, reading:- Vincent Price Madonna Benedict Cumberbatch And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Gregory Peck: is he reading TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD? #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-15e
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Categories: Book Love.

I agree with… Hilary Mantel [again]

Hilary Mantel “When you are writing, your characters are flickering constructs, they are always on the move. It’s much more like people you know well in real life. You are not looking at them fixedly every moment to judge their features, what you do have is a general impression of them, of their energy.” [From ‘Wolf at the Stage Door’, an interview with The Sunday Times Magazine, December 8, 2013] I didn’t get this when I first started writing fiction. Looking back at some of my early characters in short stories, they were a bit paint-by-numbers. Clunky. It took me a while to let them do what they wanted to do. This was partly my thing about planning, about control. I knew where the plot was going, so the character would do ‘this’. Unfortunately for my plans, my character actually wouldn’t have been caught dead doing ‘this’. She wanted to do ‘that’. I learned to let my characters be themselves. ‘Wolf Hall’ by Hilary Mantel [UK: Fourth Estate] If you agree with Hilary Mantel, perhaps you will agree with:- James McAvoy – good writing has to come first Caitlin Moran – reading is not a passive act Amanda Hocking –
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

I agree with… Judi Dench

Judi Dench “It’s essential to have a back story. Essential. I had a whole family life for ‘M’ (in Bond): two grown-up girls at university, not that anybody knew about it, but I knew about it.” [Judi Dench, in an excerpt from The Sunday Times Magazine, February 23, 2014] I do this too. Back in the days when Ignoring Gravity didn’t have a title, I wrote an Excel sheet with details about Rose’s back story: her birth sign [Virgo], what car she drives [a black Mini with a white roof], her most intense dislikes [people who don’t do what they promise to do; unwashed hair]. Her character traits: she avoids confrontations but will speak up if feels wronged; at work, she puts her head down and gets on with the job; a Guardian reader at work, but secretly reads chick-lit at home. To read more about Rose, click here. Judi Dench’s quote made me remember an exercise I wrote as homework for one of the early creative writing classes I attended. It was about characterization: “create a character profile, a list of characteristics, then put that character into a situation and write 250 words about how your character would react.”
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Categories: On Writing.

I agree with Sofie Gråbøl…

Sofie Gråbøl “As an actor you’re always looking for the weak side of a character, for the dark side. It’s because that’s where… the door … opens for me to get into the character. That’s also I think the door for the audience too.  So the more flaws, the more weaknesses, to me the better. And Sarah Lund, there’s a lot of things she’s not capable of.” [talking about developing the character of Sarah Lund, The Killing] I’d just finished watching The Killing II and clicked onto the ‘making of’ extra on the DVD.  A friend of mine is an actor and writer and I’ve always been fascinated by her approach to building a new character. Sofie Gråbøl re-iterates this. This made me sit back and think about my protagonist, Rose, in Ignoring Gravity. What are her flaws? Well she’s very independent and wants to do everything herself, to the point where she cuts out her sister Lily without realising she is doing it. Rose does not exclude others consciously, she simply gets on with the things that have to be done. She’s single-minded, which on the one hand means she is motivated, focussed and determined to find the answers.
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Categories: My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity' and On Writing.

I agree with… Joel and Ethan Coen

Joel and Ethan Coen “Culturally people are used to watching certain kinds of movies, and a lot of movies have genre types as characters, and those are the people you see in movies. They are used to seeing Tom Cruise play Jaaaack Reeeeeacher,” he slurs the name sarcastically, “and the characters are all kind of the same.” [Joel Coen, interview in the Sunday Times Culture magazine, September 15, 2013] In this interview, Joel and Ethan Coen talk about characterization in their movies. They have been accused of creating odd characters, critics call these grotesques [below, Frances McDormand as Marge from Fargo]. Ethan: “The whole people-taking-it-as-grotesques thing is they don’t see it or they want to disavow parts of themselves by saying ‘Oh those people are weird’.” I worry that we have a tendency today – in film, in literature, in life – of needing to label and pigeon-hole people. Anyone different is odd. Labels and pigeon-holes do not tell a complete picture. Authors should be free to create their characters, free to let their stories develop without having to discount a story turn that may take it ‘out of genre’. More authors these days are self-publishing where they are free to
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

I agree with… Barbara Taylor Bradford

Barbara Taylor Bradford “For me it all starts with a memorable character. Graham Greene, the legendary English novelist once said in a famous interview that “Character is plot.” This is the best advice I ever got as a novelist. When I sit down to write a book, I try to tell a compelling story about one single character. What this person is inside, and how they view the world is your story. That’s how it began for me with Emma Harte in ‘A Woman of Substance’. You begin with a character that your readers can relate to and build the story around them.” [interview at Authonomy] Well Barbara, A Woman of Substance sold more than 30 million copies worldwide and you’re from Yorkshire too, so I believe you. And I read AWoS when I was a teenager [here’s my original copy], and loved Emma Harte. My novel, Connectedness, is about an East Yorkshire artist called Justine Tree. I started out wondering how a young woman who gives her baby up for adoption would feel 20 years later. Justine, complete with her name, hang-ups and motivations seemed to come into existence fully-formed. I originally made her an artist because I’m interested in art,
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Categories: On Writing.

If books were real, Jean Brodie…

Jean Brodie… would agree and disagree with Michael Gove [below] when he was the UK’s Secretary of Education. She would deplore his plan to build a free school on playing fields in Brighton, and celebrate his U-turn this week… … but support his focus on spelling, grammar and punctuation. “Deep in most of us is the potential for greatness or the potential to inspire greatness.”     ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’ by Muriel Spark [UK: Penguin] How would other fictional characters behave, if they were real? Elizabeth Bennet in ‘Pride and Prejudice’ Sarah Burton in ‘South Riding’ Adam Dalgliesh in ‘Devices and Desires’ And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: If #books were real, Jean Brodie would not be a fan of Michael Gove: THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE by Muriel Spark via @SandraDanby  http://wp.me/p5gEM4-kT
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Categories: If books were real... and On Writing.

If books were food, ‘Sense & Sensibility’ would be…

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen… would be a French macaroon. Both smell sweet, they are pretty, girly, full of sugar and spice and all things nice. S&S is a coming of age story, Marianne is led by the heart, by sensation, by immediacy. I read it at different ages and got completely different things out of it. I admit to being irritated by Marianne when I first read the book as a teenager, I thought her rather silly and vapid. Re-read when I was older and bruised by love, I felt sad for her loss of youthful energy. Her final understanding is that the true nature of love is nothing to do with fleeting romantic gestures and fine words, but everything to do with dedication and constancy and two souls chiming as one as the years go by.   ‘Sense & Sensibility’ by Jane Austen [UK: Vintage Classics] And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Imagine, if books were food: SENSE AND SENSIBILITY by Jane Austen #books http://wp.me/p5gEM4-j5 via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love, If books were food..., and On Writing.