Sunday, March 29, 2015

Character Development Using Ancestors



Starting with people you know (of) may take half the work out of character development (let’s hope!). Here are some ideas on how to create a well-rounded and interesting character from people in your family tree. Other than from my own experience, some of my ideas come from the book Gotham Writers’ Workshop, Writing Fiction.

Characters drive a story and are what make readers care. Here are some “rules” to follow in developing those characters:

·         Desire: A character should want something. That “want” will move the story forward. For example, in the novel I am in the process of writing, Spicey (a slave born in 1841 in North Carolina) never knew who her father was, and her mother died when she was a young girl. She is an orphan. Her strongest desires are to have a family who loves her. To give the story even more depth, I have made one of Spicey’s strongest natural traits to be that of nurturer. She not only wants to be loved, but she wants to give back love. She is a house slave and those she can bring close to her as her (pseudo) family are the white people she serves. During the story I will need to show she badly wants close relationships. In my story, and with yours, you must help the reader identify and sympathize.

·         Make your character dimensional. Explore the unique and specific details that will make the character complex. We carry with us our histories, experiences and memories which make us different from anyone else.  Rarely are people all-good or all-evil. Create fully dimensional villains by thinking of someone in your family who is the worst person you’ve ever met, but also think of at least one redeeming quality. The person I am thinking of steals from his mother; lies at the drop of a hat; has alcohol and drug abuse issues and has spent time in prison for crimes you wouldn’t speak of in polite society. Yet, his redeeming quality is that he is very sensitive and remembers past good experiences with his family that he holds close to his heart. 

·         Contrasting traits provide endless opportunity to make your characters more complex. Maybe they are struggling with their own identity? My character Spicey is nurturing, as I mentioned, but she is also very moody. She tends to let bad feelings fester.
·         Be consistent. All actions and behaviors should seem authentic to the character. If he eventually does something out of character, show the reader a glimmer of that tendency ahead of time.

·         It’s good to let your readers be surprised at something the character does. It will create a journey and discovery in your story. Just make sure it works with their personality type.

·         Characters should possess the ability to change. It is often the story’s culmination when the main character changes, even if it isn’t a complete change. Some people like to write the end of their novels first. If you do, write a passage where your main character achieves his/her strongest desire (point 1 above). Show that your character has changed.

·         Creative Invention. Even when writing about people you know (of), you should still leave room for your imagination to take them to interesting places. Transform them into characters that suit the needs of your story.

·         Take the time to get to know your characters/ancestors as if you lived in their generation and knew them intimately. Even the unpleasant character/family relations. It will help you put them on the page with more authenticity.

I am far from done on the subject of creating characters. In the next post, I will give you ideas on how to make a Character Sketch.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Taking Liberties to Novelize Ancestors



I am fascinated with the unseen world of what we call Heaven—the realm where my ancestors reside. I have wondered how that world affects mine. Is it possible for my ancestors to hover over my shoulder and read what I am writing about them? I would like to think they somehow guide me with ideas of what to write.
You’ve heard authors of fiction say something like, “My characters become real people to me.” In writing historical fiction based on the lives of ancestors, they are real people. They are people I am a part of and perhaps may someday meet. My greatest fear is to disappoint them.
When creating fiction, a good writer will flesh out her characters. To make a realistic character richer and fuller, he or she will need to have flaws. I find it hard to portray my ancestors in a bad light, yet I can’t have a flat character—one who does everything perfectly. They need to have defects. A good story will show how they evolve. I can’t protect them all the time, even if my first instinct is to do so. I can’t just show their positive side and expect the story to work. I need to put them in situations and see where they will go. Maybe even make them the antagonist.
I can learn who my ancestors were through small clues they’ve left behind. For instance, I have a family Bible which once belonged to my third great-grandfather. On the first page, written in his hand, it reads “This book is never to leave my family.” I can glean from those eight words; family was important to him, he was a man of the Bible, and perhaps he was authoritarian.
Writing about family means researching every clue I can find to figure out what kind of life they led, who they loved, how they loved, and what they did with their lives. Were they educated in traditional settings? Did they love the earth and farm the land?
When I am writing fiction about real people, I have to balance the facts I have with my imagination. I try to keep the facts intact. I research and find all the evidence I possibly can. Old census records are a good start. I have also tracked down many descendants of my ancestor’s siblings. In fact, it’s a great way to find photos of ancestors because people usually didn’t keep their own photographic portraits, but gave them away to family members. Speaking of photos, a face is worth a thousand words—let your imagination go wild and write those thousand words.
It’s amazing what can be found in a courthouse. I once found a record of my sixth great grandfather being sued for beating up a gentleman. That gentleman became someone famous, which made it all the more interesting to me. Courthouses hold records of births, marriages, deaths and so much more. Orphans Records can be very enlightening; Bastardy Bonds intriguing. It might be surprising to learn how much land an ancestor owned, and where it was or what it was used for. Perhaps they didn’t own any land, but instead followed the migration to unchartered territories of the Wild West.
Researching and writing about my ancestors has deepened my love for them. I have come to respect them for who they were and the paths they chose. The best thing that has come from writing about my ancestors is the bond that has formed between them and me. Learning of their lives has helped me understand better who I am, and hopefully some day when I do meet them in that place called heaven, I’ll find out we have much in common and already have love for one another. (That is, if I haven’t insulted them by making them the villain of my story!)

In the beginning...



I’ve always admired people who could write blogs—putting info out there that they hope others would want to read. I’ve known the day would come when I’d need to do the same. Here it is. Today. I’m throwing myself out to the world in hopes I’ll land safely in your kind arms. Be patient with me as I collect my thoughts and give you something that will enrich, entice or educate.

I have written my first novel, White Oak River. It’s a Christian based historical novel and one I’d like to sell. If you’re an agent reading this, please contact me and I’ll share. It is the novel which is driving me toward blogging. Not that I’m complaining about writing a blog. I LOVE to write—I just need to make sure this blog is worth my time and yours.

In this day and age, one must have an ‘author’s platform’ to reach out to the world through social media. My website, www.orasmith.com is up and running, so if you want to know about the book, go there. Stay here to gain insight into the craft of writing and any other blogs I decide are worthy to lift spirits. I am a believer that creativity is at the center of a healthy soul.