Tag Archives: fiction

Creating Fictional Characters

No one creates characters out of thin air. They are bits and pieces of people you know, have seen, or read about. Sometimes the main character has a lot in common with the author. I’ve never read a Stephen King novel, but I know that his main character is often a novelist.

While writing THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER, I identified with several characters, especially “Effie Belle Butler,” an airbrushed image of me, with all of my strengths and none of my weaknesses. Writing a novel is like daydreaming about who you would like to be and who you would like to be with.

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Winter at Warwick House

macariaAJEThe second semester of Effie’s junior year at George Mason began with a mixture of snow and ice, and classes were cancelled.  Cooped up in the house with nothing to do, she moseyed into the library with Macaria in hand, found a seat by the window, and gazed at the wintry setting below, taking note of the massive oaks glazed in glittering ice, which reminded her of ice palaces.

Slipping into a nostalgic mood, she proceeded to read the book, published during the Civil War as a Southern  propaganda piece disguised as a romance.  But Effie was more interested in the protagonists’ relationship than in the subtleties bolstering the Rebel  cause.  If only real life could rival romantic fiction!  Was God fashioning a lifelong companion for her as dashing as Russell Aubrey?

She sighed blissfully as she read the following passage:

“Irene, oblige me in what may seem a trifle; unfasten your hair and let it fall around you, as I have seen it once or twice in your life.”  She took out her comb, untied the ribbons, and, passing her fingers through the bands, shook them down.  He passed his hands caressingly over the glossy waves.

Impulsively, Effie removed the combs binding her own hair, and vigorously shook her head, casting untamed curls in every direction.  Then, with an elbow propped on the windowsill and her chin resting in the palm of her hand, she gazed dreamily upon the day’s spectacular finale.  As the sun dipped low in the Western sky, its blazing splendor filled the room, painting the alabaster walls with shades of crimson, plum, and gilded pink.

Effie stood up and maneuvered the chair to make the most of the remaining daylight then sat down and resumed reading aloud, vaguely conscious of footsteps in the hallway.

She was endeavoring to memorize a paragraph when, all at once, the door swung open hitting the wall with a loud band.  Effie leapt from the chair, sending the book to the floor, and stooping to retrieve it, found herself bowed low before Rev. Baldwin.

“Give me your hand!”

005956-R1-23-24He pulled her up until her eyes were on a level with his tie, and she could tell by the rigidity of his posture that he was fuming.  And yet, braving a look at his face, she gulped to discover a pair of dark dejected eyes shyly entreating her own.  They peered beneath a veil of ebony lashes, gently disclaiming the hard mouth and adamant chin.  Stifling a sigh, Effie dropped her eyes and wondered how anyone could appear so cruel, vulnerable, and incredibly handsome all at the same time.  She ventured another glance, but this time his languishing look shifted into something more ominous.

He reached into his pocket, withdrew an envelope, and bitingly announced:  “This letter pertains to you.”

She stretched out her hand to receive it, but he held it out of her reach.

*The above is an excerpt from THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER, pages 158-159.

PapasLetterToEffieB.W. Wright wrote this letter–dated November 8, 1924–to the real Effie Belle Butler, my grandmother.  I named the fictional “Effie” after her.

“Dreaming” Up Fiction

Lion - Louisville Zoo

Lion – Louisville Zoo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: A photograph promoting the film The W...

English: A photograph promoting the film The Wild One depicts actor Marlon Brando. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What do you do when you can’t think of a story to write?  Consider your dreams. Dreams are stranger than fiction, and mine are no exception.  Some could be turned into short stories.  Others are so weird they are hard to relate much less explain.

For example, last week I dreamed that Marlon Brando (who looked a bit like Tom Selleck) was sitting in a big oven and a small lion with a mane was sitting behind him.  Neither seemed uncomfortable.  The door to the oven was open, so I asked Marlon Brando for his address.  Then a lime-green, five-pointed star flashed in front of me and I woke up.  Try turning that into a short story!

I always keep pen and paper by the bedside, so that when I wake up, I can record my dream before I forget it.  I try to recall if the dream was  in black and white, sepia, full color, or partial color.  Who was in the dream?  What was the theme?  Then I choose a title.

To find a title for my Marlon Brando dream, I’ll take a cue from C.S. Lewis and “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.”  I’ll call it “The Lion, the Actor, the Oven, and the Lime-Green Star.”  How’s that for originality?

To learn all about dreams, consider John Paul Jackson’s CD “Understanding Dreams & Visions” and his weekly TV/Internet program “Dreams & Mysteries.”  John Paul Jackson is a Christian dream interpreter whose insights are priceless.

How to Write a Novel: Part I

It’s kind of funny for a first-time novelist to tell somebody else how to write a novel, but I’d like to share what I’ve learned.  Writing a novel is nothing short of an adventure, but first you must have a burning desire to write; otherwise, you may give up before the baby is birthed.

Museum of Fine arts, Springfield, Mass

Museum of Fine arts, Springfield, Mass (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I say “baby” (or first car?) because your novel is like your baby.  In your eyes, it’s drop-dead gorgeous; but in the eyes of another, it might be downright ugly.  So when you start, be careful about sharing what you’ve written with others.  Writing a novel is a process that can improve with each revision.  Shop around for a critique group or go it alone.  Critique groups can be helpful or harmful, depending upon the group.  Consider constructive criticism, but toss non-constructive criticism into the garbage where it belongs. In the long run, you must be happy with the finished product.  After all, it’s YOUR baby (or your first car).

Here are some tips I’ve picked up from reading about writing–and from trial and error:

1) What do you like to read?  Romance, mystery, detective stories, general fiction?  More than likely, you’ll want to write a book in the genre you prefer.

2) Who is your favorite author?  Examine his/her style of writing, and maybe you’ll find your own “voice.”

3) Which do you like better: character-driven novels or plot-driven novels?  In a plot-driven novel, you want to hurry up and find out who-dun-it.  In a character-driven novel, you’re sorry to see the story end.  Romances tend to be character driven; mysteries plot driven.  Either way, you must have a solid plot with interesting characters.

4) Just as your finger print is unique, your writing style and methodology are different from others.  Some flesh out the entire novel in their minds before they begin writing. This type may begin with a chapter outline before penning Chapter One.  Someone else may choose to write the last chapter first.  I created my chapter outline after I finished the book.

Novel in progress

Novel in progress (Photo credit: MarkPritchard)

I started somewhere in the middle and finished the first chapter last.  The plot developed as I wrote.  The characters took over and determined what would happen next.   The only thing you have to know when you start writing a novel is how it will end, so that the plot moves in that direction.

5) Write what you know about.  Take into consideration your childhood; where you grew  up; where you have lived; your family; your favorite subjects, hobbies, and interests; what you like and what you don’t like.

I love romance.  My favorite writer is Augusta Evans Wilson.  My favorite romance is ST. ELMO.  My favorite actor is John Gilbert, who starred in the film adaptation of ST. ELMO.  I love history, especially when it involves Virginia and the Civil War.  I’m a Methodist preacher daughter.  When I began writing THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER, I was living in Fairfax County and writing historical articles for THE CONNECTION, a local newspaper; so the City of Fairfax became the primary setting for the novel.   I enjoy traveling.  My trip to England inspired several chapters of the book.  Boating and hiking are two of my favorite my hobbies.  I worked all of this and more into the story.

For more information about THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER or to buy it, click here.

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Finding Fictional Characters

JerimiahDoss 001Meet “Jeremiah Doss,”  the main character in “The Eastlake Clock,” one of my unpublished short stories.  To tell the truth, I haven’t the foggiest idea who he is–or was.  I found his photo in an antique shop and was drawn to it at once.

When I started writing the story, I had a vague image of what my leading character looked like, but when I stumbled upon this photograph of a nineteenth-century gentleman, I knew that he was the one.

I didn’t buy it at first. The price was an exorbitant $17, too much for a picture of a dead man that I didn’t know.  So I went home and brooded over my predicament.  I couldn’t get the photo out of my head, and I was desperate for inspiration; so, I trekked back to the shop and shelled out the cash.

When I got  home, I examined the back of the photo, and guess what?  No name.  The only script on back of the photo was the name of the studio, “Morse’s Palace of Art,” and the address:  “No. 417 Montgomery St., San Francisco, Cal.”

That gave me an idea.   Why not name the character after the studio?  So “Mr. Anonymous” became “Mr. Morse.”  Now I needed a given name.  I choose “J.D.”

When my husband saw the framed photo among the family pictures, he made a remark about “another dead relative.”  I didn’t have the nerve to tell him that the fellow was not part of our ancestry, and I wasn’t about to tell him what it cost to acquire the anonymous image.  

One day as I was browsing through my Dad’s genealogy online, I came across the name “Jeremiah Doss.”  Charles Wright and Rachel Doss were my g-g-g-g-grandparents, and Jeremiah was related to Rachel.  His name had a nice ring to it.  So I tossed J.D. Morse into the graveyard of unknown fictional characters and resurrected Jeremiah Doss.

I haven’t finished penning “The Eastlake Clock,” but when I do, I will post a notice on my blog.

Vintage Inspiration

Eastlake ClockThis antiquarian Eastlake clock belonged to my great-grandfather.  He and my great-grandmother were first cousins–double first cousins (whatever that means).  The clock sits on the mantle over the fireplace in my living room.  It inspired my unpublished story, which I named “The Eastlake Clock.”  How original is that?!

Charles Locke Eastlake, an English architect/writer, invented the Eastlake style of furniture, which dates to 1880. The popularity of Eastlake furniture quickly spread to America.  You can spot these fabulous antiques in any antique shop by looking for furniture with “Eastlake lines.”  I’ve found sofas, chairs, tables, beds, dressers, and washstands in this style.

EastlakeSofaCan you find the Eastlake lines on this sofa?

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While writing  THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER, I deliberately inserted some of my favorite antiques into the setting.  Most of the novel takes place in Northern Virginia. The Moore House in the City of Fairfax, VA inspired the fictional Warwick House.  Antiques abound in the antebellum Warwick House.  These include Eastlake furniture, a pincushion doll, and a salt cellar.

My display case above contains many salt cellars and two pincushion dolls. (Pincushion dolls that no longer have a skirt or a pincushion beneath the skirt are called “half dolls.”)

I have a large collection of salt cellars.  Most salt cellars are made of clear glass.  Others are made of tinted glass, ceramic, silver, or pewter.  Most date to the 1800s.  The larger ones are called “master salts,”  the smaller ones “individual salts.”  Other names for salt cellars are “salt dips” or simply “salts.”  These were in vogue hundreds of years before salt shakers existed.

Have you heard the phrase, “seated below the salt?”  It was NOT an honor to be seated below the salt.  Quite the reverse.

At least one salt cellar turns up in every piece of fiction I write.  It has become my “signature.”

Cinematic Inspiration

Ruth Louise Harriet took this photo for MGM (Photoplay magazine listed on back of photo.)

Ruth Harriet Louise, MGM photographer, took this photo of John Gilbert.  (“Photoplay Magazine” is stamped on back of the photo)

Is it any wonder that I made the protagonist in THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER: A Modern Gothic Romance a John Gilbert look-alike?  To learn more about John Gilbert and his films check out my other blog, John Gilbert, ST ELMO, and Me.

Inspiration for Short Stories

DixonCemetery

Genealogy is one of my passions.  I took this photo while exploring a creepy, neglected cemetery tracing my ancestry.  The cemetery was in the woods next to a cow pasture.  Wearing shorts, a summer top, and sandals, I emerged an hour later with 10 ticks on my skin.  I had been looking for my great-great-grandparents graves, and despite many obstacles (including poisonous plants), found them.

Their names, laced with lichen, were nearly erased by time, but I was able to make out enough letters to identify the headstones of Edna Ann Neighbors Cardwell and Thomas Dixon Cardwell, who had died a few days apart in the 1800s.

Prior to this excursion, I had been working on a short story called “The Eastlake Clock” and needed inspiration to move forward.  The photo of the cemetery, which I inserted into the text, advanced the plot.

Forget Fabio

LaBoheme1927

If you write romance and you’re looking for inspiration, look no further.  I’ve found the ultimate brooding Byronic male!  It’s not by chance that John Gilbert‘s moniker is “the spirit of romance.”

The above “fan card” is from LA BOHEME (MGM, 1926).

Choosing a Title for Your Writing Project is for the Birds

In an earlier post entitled “Bird Behavior reminiscent of ‘The Birds’,” I took a rabbit trail and talked about bluebirds “attacking” my window.  From what I’ve read, birds do this because they regard their reflections as rivals.  This craziness went on for a month, despite my attempts to end it.

Now the bluebirds have moved on, and the cardinals are bombarding the window instead.  If you wanted to write a story about this, what would you call it?  “Cardinals Seeing Red,” “Territorial Madness,” “Birds With Suicidal Tendencies,” “Mad Cow Disease Detected in Cardinals,” ‘Bird Rage,” “Nightmare in the Aviary,” “Cardinal Sin,” “Bird Brains?”

Adding a subtitle can change the meaning.entirely.  Examples:  “Cardinals on the Fence: Life Inside the Vatican,” “Aggressive Cardinals: Shenanigans in the Outfield,” “Cardinals Rule: A Change in the Pecking Order,” “Cardinals With a Mission: A Papal Conspiracy,” “Cardinals Cry ‘Fowl’:  Orioles Win.”

Finding a title for your essay or literary masterpiece can be fun.  The sky is the limit as long as the title reflects the theme.