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Sunday, June 16, 2013

Write Who You Are

I know sometimes the depth of who we are is even hidden from ourselves. That philosophical endeavor will have to be answered by someone greater than me. But for the other easily accessed parts, here's my proposal.

I recently read James Scott Bell's Plot and Structure. I recommend it for my fellow authors. His book is dense, and I was not able to read it in one sitting as per my MO. But for those of you with no time to read the whole of it, check out Bell's Appendix A. It is a wonderful overview, especially if you are a seasoned author.

I'll condense the fifteen double-sided pages of handwritten notes I've accumulated from my reading of this text and share some shortly in another post.

In the meantime, here's enough to keep us busy. Bell opens this nonfiction offering of his stating that freshness is the key to originality which translates to writing WHO you are.

From this one thought, I have expanded it into an author's arsenal. Which has prompted me to gather many materials to be hole-punched and incorporated into a physical Brainstorming/Mindmapping notebook (or five).

For my application, this would be the ultimate go-to book. For those of you who like to create individual bibles per book, then you would be making those separately but leaving the original source intact.

So start out with the author's requisites:
  1. Great Character Names List (first and last). Cull the best of the best from reading obits, baby name books, telephone books, etc. Remember to mark those you have already used (unless in a designated series). Also vary major and minor character names within each piece of fiction so you are not replicating the same first letter. Look at Firefly's cast from the master Joss Whedon: Mal, Inara, Jayne, Book, Kaylee, Zoe, Wash, River, Simon. Unless you count Serenity herself as a character (which she is), then S would be the only starting letter repeated. However, this is okay as there is no chance of confusing the doctor for the spaceship or vice versa, for those of you who speed-read the names and distill them down to the first symbol as I do.
  2. Intriguing Character Pictures. Gather from magazines, online, wherever. As the old but true trope says: one picture is worth a thousand words. FYI: Don't use these pictures for your covers unless you are willing to pay their usage/royalty fees. I'm just saying to base your characters in your novels on these people who captivate you in these photos you are amassing. Also some very entertaining obits are about the lives of such unique individuals that they are calling out to be the main character in one of your next books. Do I really need to tell you to change their real names? I didn't think so.
  3. Fascinating Places List. Write down the geographical locales that suck you into their vortex. Research for surprising facts or, if money abounds, go visit firsthand.
  4. Titles List. Add to this as you think of them. No editing. Just go with what spurs you on.
  5. What-If List. Take all those burning questions and compile them in one place.
Add in a dash of what you like:
  1. What are the genres you read? Those are the ones you should write as well.
  2. What do you collect? For me, it is quotations. So I find that one well-worded line can be a font of plot ideas.
  3. What are your folders within email? Mine them for subjects that excite you that can be part of that novel floating around in your imagination but not yet fully formed.
  4. What about key words for you? I subscribe to three different word-of-the-day subscriptions and sometimes one will sing out to me, causing images to flip across my brain. Those I sock away in my email folder entitled Brainstorming/Mindmapping for me to excavate later. Maybe for the actual binder, make separate listings where you categorize them into strong action verbs and concrete nouns.
  5. What are your tells? If you were in witness protection, what could you not give up that would give you away? Assuming I would have my key family members with me, then mine would be my addiction to Cajun, French and Mexican coffees; my love of animals; my twenty-year-old Del Sol; my home-away-from-home: book stores, libraries, continuing education classes.
  6. What are the main categories of books that populate your home library? Obviously those are subjects which hold your attention. Use that knowledge in creating your own books.
  7. What are your favorite movies? I started that list via Pinterest and have many. But I prefer happy endings and only killing off the bad guys or someone off-the-page who we haven't bonded yet with. Think of Margo, Charlie and Don Eppes's mother, from the series Numb3rs. Which works for me as I write romsus and falls in line even for that mystery I will write someday.
Mix in with a smidgen of what you don't like:
  1. What pushes your buttons? For me it is selfish people. Liars. Unsolicited solicitors. Bullies. Load your antagonist with one or more and you should have no worries about writer's block.
  2. Do you have any causes that rend your heart? Saving the Wild Mustangs, fostering dogs, feeding children, clean water, stopping abuse? Use them. That is what makes you real, original, 3-D.
  3. What scares you?
Combine with some:
  1. Poetry. Great lines (or even just a great pairing of words) can set off a new plotline instantaneously. Capture them.
  2. The Bible. The Good Book is full of stories (some good, some not). Study the parables for universalisms. Read the Old Testament tales for plot patterns. I bet no soap opera episode can top some of those. I can't even write it out here. Too gruesome. Read the Psalms for particular emotions.
  3. Your Life's Philosophy. What are those sayings you repeat all the time? Maybe "life's not fair" or "you can't trust anybody." Perhaps "life's a beach" or "I'm golden." Try recording yourself while gathered with your CPs one visit and listen in on what tumbles out of your mouth. Or better yet, while attending one of those family dinners.
  4. Great First Lines List. Start one now. See if any patterns arise that you can utilize (NOT PLAGIARIZE!) in your work. One of the best lines ever was written by one of my CPs. And if she doesn't hurry and publish that book, I will bust from not being able to share it!
  5. Music Lyrics List. Although I understand if you quote exact lyrics in your commercialized book, you incur royalties due to the songwriter. But if you could take your favorites and create your own, even better. The one that always pops in my brain is from True Blood's theme song by Jace Everett: you came in and the air went out.
So start your own hard-copy brainstorming/mindmapping collection. Review it as needed and certain elements will draw you in. Use those for that current project of yours. The next time you peruse your list, other items will want your attention. Rinse and repeat.

As always, use what resonates, toss the rest. Have fun!

Denise Barker, author + blogger + copy editor


  1. Fantastic post, Denise. I love not only the wonderful suggestions but also your energy and enthusiasm!

  2. Thanks, Nia! How's the publishing world treating their newest debut author? db