Posts Tagged ‘creating characters’

No, it isn’t some new alien tech speak. It stands for National Novel Writers Month.

For 30 exciting days in November, people around the world join in the common goal to write their own novel. The end goal is 50,000 words. They don’t even have to be perfect words. You could even write a story about glow in the dark lava sharks in a hollowed out volcano, just sit in the chair and put fingers to keys!

So, it is almost 3am on the first day of Nano. I just finished typing in my scenes and have 7,890 words.

I’m pretty pleased with my new story. As I was typing I realized my male lead needs a name change. In the rush and excitement of my first Nano event, I used the name James Clemens. I’ve been obsessed with the pacing of my favorite writer, James Rollins/ James Clemens and his name slipped into my story. A definite change! First thing in the morning, if I can sleep. The story is spinning in my mind 🙂

If you are curious about Nano, the web site is http://www.nanowrimo.org/.


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Recently, I bared my soul to my writing group, and once again started the process of giving and receiving feedback. It is a tight-rope every writer navigates in the process towards publication.

I posted the opening scenes of my ‘Fairy-Tale’ on our group board and held my breath as the members read my story. Initially I created the story, to fill in some gaps for myself while I was world building. Every lost and mysterious world has myths and legends. Who hasn’t heard tales of Atlantis or Shangri-La? So my world, Chamoura, needed some myths and legends of its own.

Around the table at Starbucks, we took turns, reviewing what each of us had offered up. Eventually it was my Fairy-Tale’s turn for feedback and I did my best to sit back and take it all in. I lead this group so I didn’t want to be the cougar mama defending her cub. One member said he hated the main character and wished he had been murdered in the first scene. Someone else liked it. As I sat there listening to the lively conversation over the table, I actually surprised myself. These characters must have struck a chord for such a reaction. I wasn’t handed a list of typos and grammar issues with the ‘nice job’ and a ‘See you next time’ dismissal.

Just as I tell the other members of the group, my suggestions on your work are yours to do with as you wish. If they don’t work, then ignore them. And, I get that option as well. Did the feedback have validity even though it stung? Yes. Did my inner critic go on a tirade about what a lousy writer I am and I should quit? Nope. When I first started my inner critic’s voice was louder and had more emotional weight.

Today, I know that I can not please everyone that reads my work and I do not want to even try to do that. I have to remember that each reader comes to my story with their own filter they read through. That filter is their life experiences, beliefs, memories, and values. Each person is going to see my characters through that filter.

I find value in the feedback, all the feedback. It may sting, but it also pushes me to be a better writer than I was yesterday. All good writing is in the RE-Writing, and I am grateful I have people in my life, ready to offer me the slings and arrows that push my writing to be better!

Thanks to all of  EAC for making me a better writer!!!

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Do writers have a ritual practice to prepare their minds for the creative process? Is there a magical ingredient that transitions them from daily life to writing time? Something special that will summon their muse?


Ritual defined by Webster’s dictionary means ‘any practice or pattern of behavior regularly performed in a set manner.’ Physicians prescribe a daily nighttime routine if you have trouble sleeping. Many religions use routine and ritual in their practices to symbolize respect and reverence.

What better way to invoke your muse than with respect and reverence.

 In my writing life, I haven’t truly established a ritual for writing. I do prefer to create with a fabulous gel pen; you know the one that just feels ‘right’. But I found for me, each story is different and to invoke my muse, the ritual is also different.


I have been writing Tahoma’s story since this blog began. Research at the Duwamish longhouse told me that there was a mystical being at the bottom of Black River named Sky-Taw. I knew I wanted this creature in my story but I hadn’t figured out where this puzzle piece would fit. It was relegated to the back of my mind while I worked on a pencil sketch of Tahoma in human form, and I wrote dozens of scenes moving the plot line forward.


Last night, I went to Linda Zeppa’s intuitive writing class I had planned on getting to know my villain with this meditation session. My muse had other plans. Linda began the session talking about the sun. The meditation began with a progressive relaxation, filling yourself with sun, putting your troubles in a box and crossing into a world filled with sunshine. My muse crossed me over the bridge to Black River filled with moonlight. She has a mind of her own! The starlight and moon beams danced on the ripples of the water and then swirled above the water coalescing into an iridescent human form with a face of a heron. Tahoma thought it resembled his mother’s face. And the creature asked “Are you lost little one?”  It was more of an emotional experience than a visual, but I had instant access to Sky- Taw. I wrote as furiously as I could and when I returned home that night I laid out all the emotions in Tahoma’s heart. When he saw this creature, he was calm and at peace. It resembled his mother’s face and communicated with his mother’s voice. The creature wanted to care for the young shape-shifter and appeared in the image that comforted Tahoma in that moment.


I awoke today elated with my break through. While doing the laundry, the television was on in the background. Discovery channel had a program about an Alaskan triangle where planes have been lost, similar to the Bermuda Triangle. The last five minutes of the show, as I settled down to pay attention, they spoke of the Native American Tlingit’s belief in a creature called the Kushtaka. This land otter man can be malevolent or comfort a lost soul so they do not freeze to death. Through illusion, this creature can appear as a loved one. My jaw hit the floor. This is what I wrote about in my meditation session.


Was it synchronicity or reverence to my muse that led me in this direction? I’m not exactly sure, but it brings me back to my first blog post. Perhaps my writing ritual is to trust and have patience that the puzzle will come together when it is time.

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The journey between what you once were and who you are now becoming is where the dance of life really takes place.  Barbara Deangelis 

Black River by Mike Hamilton


My dream is for my characters to live and breathe on the page. They should be quirky, like the rest of the world. Setting is also an important character. It lives and breathes and speaks by awakening all the senses. Can it also have quirks?! 


I started thinking about quirks after reading a post in Cyndi Briggs blog The Sophia Project. In her post, It’s July: Let Your Freak Flag Fly, Cyndi states, “I bet your odd self has it’s own ways of grabbing your attention, of reminding you that for all your trying, there’s a hint of crazy in you that craves some fresh air and freedom.”  


 This is exactly what a reader wants in a character. The hero that is tall, handsome and always says the right thing = boring. If the same hero fumbles and spills ketchup on his shirt every time he gets nervous, the reader feels a connection.  


Can this be accomplished through setting as well? Can a setting be quirky and odd? 

I’ve been exploring that concept as I write more of my discovery draft. The above photograph, courtesy of Mike Hamilton, is an aerial view of Black River in Renton. This is the place where Tahoma fell from his nest as a heron fledgling and shifted into human form. This alone does not make the place quirky. It is surrounded by the modern-day expansion of a business park, satellite dishes, and a train off in the distance. Something however, is keeping the spot protected. Is it the quirky magic of Black River?  


One scene I was writing today has me considering the magic of this place. Tahoma is now in human form and setting off on his adventure. He looks down at his reflection in the Black River, the image reflected back is a heron fledgling. Could the quirk of this place be that your true essence is reflected in these waters? Could the fresh air and freedom in this magical place be a mirror reflecting your true image, not the mask people wear in our day-to-day life?


Magic lives and breathes here, if you slow down and take the time to notice it.  



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I have small notebooks all over. They are in my car, my bag, on my nightstand, and by the phone. There is even one on the bathroom counter. I call them my dreamcatchers.

The dreamcatcher originated with the Ojibwa culture and was quickly adopted by other Native American cultures in the 60’s and 70’s. It is believed that if you hang the dream catcher by your bed, luscious dreams would slip through the web and drip down the feathers to the dreamer. Bad dreams would be trapped in the web and burn away in the morning light.

Notebooks are my dreamcatchers. I like to browse through my dreamcatchers every so often. This evening I read an entry and I immediately thought about Tahoma, my little shapeshifting heron.

This is the entry.

The amulet was here somewhere. I repeatedly checked my calculations before inputting them into the GPS, which led me here to Honey Island, Louisiana. Not much of an island. More like an alligator breeding swamp. The last rays of sunlight were tucking behind the tree line as I got in the boat. There was a flash here and there of lightning bugs in the still air. As the boat started drifting in the water I picked up the scent of honeysuckle, the sweet nectar filling my lungs. I giggled as I finally understood the name of this place, Honey Island.

Starlight smattered the top of the water like a disco ball in the darkness. My eyes searched for the signs of the amulets presence. Its magic was so strong it would ripple through the air and alert its owner. I didn’t see any ripples in the air, and the only ripples in the water were from the drag of my boat. If I didn’t find the amulet soon, the hope of finding the lost city of Chamoura would be just as lost.

I reached for my backpack to check my calculations once again. There was a popping sound off in the distance. The water looked like an over shook soda pop, bubbles rising to the surface in quick bursts. My boat began to rock in the turbulence and soon turned upside down. The water was cold and murky, almost alive as it caressed my skin. My foot found the bottom and attempted to push off. The bottom of the swamp was a sponge. My foot was sucked into the depths. I fought it as hard as I could, but the caress of the water lulled me to stay calm. The last images I remember were of the lightning bugs that swirled around me in the water.



My first thought when I read this is ‘what the heck is Tahoma doing in Louisiana looking for an amulet?’

I wrote this piece in response to a writing prompt a few weeks ago. It said to use 6 specific words, Flash, Sponge, Alligator, Soda, Nectar, Starlight. Tahoma wasn’t on my mind. He was just steeping in the corners of my imagination waiting for his turn on the page. The fireflies are other magical creatures that appear in my longer fiction with the legendary world of Chamoura. Interesting that my worlds are colliding!

Gail Carson Levine wrote in her book, Writing Magic, “Save everything you write, even if you don’t like it, even if you hate it.” Her book was aimed at younger school age writers, but I follow the rule nonetheless. You never know when those few lines you scribbled a few years ago will inspire something wonderful. I believe ideas need to steep, find other ingredients, and brew a bit before the next bestseller can be written.

I’m not sure if Tahoma will actually make it to the Louisiana swamp or if the amulet is on his own Black River. He will let me know, I’m sure!

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My shapeshifting heron, Tahoma, is enjoying his human transformation. I could (and have) filled notebooks with the joy he finds in each new experience. However, when I try to coax him to move the story line forward, he isn’t ready.

When I write, I usually have the beginning hook and the ending scene in mind. Then I follow the trail of bread crumbs as my characters work through the maze of their storyline to ‘the end’.

Tahoma’s final scene in this story is a choice. Does he want to live his life as a human or return to the feathery adventures of a heron on the Black River?  He will meet mentors and have thrilling adventures to help him make this choice and lead him to his conclusion. At the moment, he still has mangos and smoked salmon to taste (and chew), laughter to experience (have you seen a bird laugh?), and he is a teen boy now so inevitably he will want to drive a car as well.

Amazingly, Tahoma hasn’t looked back. He hasn’t questioned the transformation, or climbed the cottonwood to get back into his nest. He hasn’t blamed or judged anything. He lives in the moment, just as a heron would.

I find it intriguing how an imaginary character that lives so vividly in my imagination has so much to teach me about life.

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“I’d like to live like a river flows, surprised by its own unfolding.” John O’Donohue 

~ pondering Tahoma’s human journey 

 Tahoma and I have only been friends for a few weeks now; we are still in the romance stage of our relationship. At the moment, I’m interested in every little thing he does. I know as I write his story there will be conflict and dark moments that define good literature, but for now, I’m happy in the romance stage. 

 He began his life in the canopy of cottonwoods over a river. He had a big brother that bullied him and tried to teach him his rank in the nest. Eagles were always a threat but he knew that on instinct. He was majestic and graceful and could literally soar through the air. 

Life in the canopy


Being human, however, is something new to him. 

He is still light and agile on his feet, but often forgets he is anchored in a human body. He stumbles as he adjusts to this new existence. His fight or FLIGHT reaction will be tested. 

Teeth! Now there is a challenge. No one human was born with teeth and had to learn to speak and chew to thrive in the world immediately, so he may bite his tongue often in the beginning. Chewing his food will be new. 

These are the physical adjustments to a human body my little Tahoma will be living with. What about the cognitive and emotional adjustments? Birds and other animals live in the moment. They don’t fret over the past or plot a retirement plan. I’m very curious to see if this human issue will infect his thinking. 

Then there is the teen issue. Fasten your seatbelts….

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