Writing Prompt # 142

W.P. # 142  Names: Luther/Luthor

(Does it say anything to you about character?)

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Following Idris Elba as a driven detective working in London’s Serious Crime Unit (SCU), “Luther” focuses on the escapades of a detective…

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Decide for yourself. Is Luthor/Luther such an enigmatic name?

The Story World : Is it all just make believe?

A few months ago, a friend of mine suggested that everything in a good (or great) story comes down to a writer’s ability to create a believable story world. More concerned with creating genuine characters and coming up with an acceptable plot at the time, I was somewhat skeptical,  (because of my belief in Zadie Smith’s 4th rule of writing – Avoid your weaknesses (which for me had to do with setting). [More on that here, Rules for Writing.]

Of course, my problem at the time stemmed from the idea that a story is put together bit by bit, rather than something that is created whole. All in the same moment. Plus, I am a fly at the seat of your pants writer while my friend had a better grasp on undertaking the whole. Either way, in the last two months I have come across several novels that are so well put together that I am beginning to believe that even though having a believable story world matters, getting the reader into the story and keeping them there, starts inevitably through your delightful characters.

 

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According to Donald Maass in his novel, The Fire in Fiction, you should use your characters (their experiences and opinions) to engage your readers, because that is what helps them to fully experience the piece. Don’t believe me? Try reading Uglies, The Maze Runner and Across the Universe. In each of these novels, the authors transport us to unimaginable worlds, by giving us characters we can root for, characters who are doing something from page, whether they are in the future, a secluded location or out of space. The location, setting is like the filler, the backdrop for the piece, that will help us get a deeper impression. But then every story required either more or less of this to feel whole.

Or maybe this is one reason why outliners seem to have an advantage over plodders, but hopefully, thankfully in the end after we’ve all worked out everything, we will realize that with our own group of merry men and women (our first readers), we get to see where we went wrong or what needs more work. Because after reading all those “how to write a novel” books, the only thing that will tell us if we have succeeded or failed is our readers, and while you cannot please everyone, constructing a tight story will be worth it for the reader(s) who gets our work, and can follow the entire story.

 

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The reader will get into the story not just based on how believable the setting is, but also based on how our characters move around in the story world. They will observe what is happening to them, and if we do our jobs right, they will agree to follow these characters because something about their lives will ring out as true, even if they are faced with insurmountable odds. Because a story is crafted from beginning to end, even if we have to paint it a little at a time. So sustain the reader’s interest. Transport them to a place they haven’t been before and them keep them wanting more. This is the craft of a writer. Now, let’s begin!

Top 5 TV Series

A few years ago I remember picking up Darren Shaw’s second novel from Cirque du Freak: the Magician’s Assistant with some amount of skepticism. Of course it wouldn’t be long before I was suckered in and devoured the entire collection. What that first book taught me and many others since then is that interesting people are everywhere. They exist on your jobs, in the streets and more often than not on the television shows you watch.

The list below are five of my current favourites, but truth be known it is inexhaustible.

1. Continuum – This Canadian sci-fi action, thriller is explosive. Kiera Camerson, a police officer from 2077 travels to the present day Vancouver along with members of Liber8, a group of self-proclaimed freedom fighters. While she works to apprehend them, they plot to overthrow big corporations. Created by Simon Berry, some of the stars include Rachel Nichols, Victor Webster, Erik Knudsen. Currently on break after a third season, viewers can always expect to be fully engaged.

 

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2. Happy Valley – In this crime drama, Catherine Cawood is a headstrong police sergeant who heads up a team of officers in a rural Yorkshire valley. Still coming to grips with her daughter’s suicide, she wants to make the man responsible, Tommy Lee Royce pay for his crime, all the while a botched kidnapping begins to go awry. Written by Sally Wainwright, the shows’ six episodes have a tight unique feel. The stars are Sarah Lancashire, George Costigan, James Norton (et al). Great work on script, with cast and team of directors.

 

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3. Utopia – A British conspiracy thriller that follows a group of people who find themselves in possession of the manuscript sequel of a cult graphic novel, The Utopia Experiments. Filled with predictions of the worst disasters of the last century, the group must uncover them before shadowy organization known as The Network shuts them all up. Dennis Kelly is the creator while Fiona O’Shaughessy, Alexandra Roach, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett are some of the stars. On a side note if you’ve watched either Orphan Black or Helix, you may also enjoy Utopia, which is now in its second season.

 

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4. The Smoke – Another UK drama this one follows a gang of London firefighters led by Kev Allison, who returns to work after being scarred in a suspicious blaze while trying to rescue a crying baby. There are a wealth of characters here, each one with secrets to be explored. There is Mel, Kev’s best friend a guy who seems to have commitment issues, Trish, Kev’s girlfriend, someone who he seems to be pushing away and then there’s ‘Asbo’ the new recruit who has another deep dark secret of his own. The stars include Jamie Barber, Taron Egerton, Gerard Kearns and the writer is Luck Kirkwood.

 

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5. Extant – This new sci-fi drama, thriller has many stars from Halle Berry to Hiroyuki Sanada (Dr. Hatake from Helix), Goran Visnjic (Dr. Luka Kovac from ER), and Camryn Manheim (Control from Person of Interest) among others. Halle plays an astronaut who is struggling to learn how she became pregnant while on a solo space mission. So far there have only been three episodes but here’s hoping that it will amount to something good.

 

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Share what moves you and have a great week!

How Observant Are You As a Writer?

In secondary school I knew a boy who routinely read Sherlock Holmes for fun, along with other tales of mystery and horror. A fan of science fiction and romance myself, I had little dealings with Holmes until much later, when I fell into Agatha Christie’s Mrs. Marple, and Ruth Rendell. And although now, I do enjoy a good mystery, I often wonder whether my reasoning skills would have been more prolific if I had picked up on the need to be an observer from early on.

ImageThis is something every writer will have to learn as they progress in the field and try to create more believable characters. In fact, this idea clicked more with me, when I was reading an interview given by Audra McDonald, a six time Tony Award winning actress for the Academy of Achievement as a Broadway Stage Sensation. Asked about her role in Porgy and Bess, and more specifically if she had approached anything differently in the character of Bess. She responded that her goal wasn’t to approach anything differently, or do anything differently. Rather she wanted to understand Bess and to do that she went back to the place where the character was first drawn by DuBose Hayward, because that was the only way to get deep inside the character.

As writers, I wonder, how many of us dig deep to discover the gem that is our main character or group of characters. How many of us actually pay attention to what is going on around us, so that when we find parts of them in someone else, we can take it down; like a kid at the foot of a great magician, trying to decipher the code.

I believe a character is built up, slowly over time. It unfolds like a flower, opening to take in sunlight. In the same way, every day you get a glimpse of it. Every day you get an opportunity to see something new. Although the note-taking, of the people around you and their actions, doesn’t have to be too obvious. But capture the small nuggets, the little pieces of information or character traits, that will become any one of your characters. Work it into the story, little by little. Conduct character interviews, like the one described by Lajos Egri in The Art of Dramatic Writing.

In her interview McDonald says how as creative people often we have to walk in a lot of different shoes. Something that for actors and performers means playing a lot of different roles. Characters, people that they may or may not agree with on many different levels: be it social, political or religious. Likewise, writers have to get to know their characters, so that what they convey to their readers, is as truthful and accurate as they can make it.

Which is not to say that I possess a super-brain that records everything. For example, where I go, what I eat or even wear; but sometimes, I get an inkling of something that suggests: write this down, it’s important. This is one of those reasons why we keep a notepad at the side of the bed. We let the camera in our brain record, or we grab something and write, plot idea. Or possible story lead. And then later when we have some free time, we try to piece them together. Other times though we file and save it for posterity, to use it some time in the future.

Or as McDonald suggests, we do things to replenish the well, because the process of creation can be exhausting. She talks about going to a show to see a great singer like Ray LaMontagne at Carnegie Hall… “I can fill up that way, but I’m still observing as a student as well. My mind’s still at work, and processing, processing and learning and learning and learning…I am very aware of the fact that my mind and my soul, or whatever, are processing all of this, and storing it to then be used at a later date when I get out there.”

This is why being observant is necessary. Why we have to pay attention to things that are happening around us. Or as she say, “be aware of the moment.” The present moment. Not yesterday or the day before that. With all of our electronic gadgets, it is a must that we unplug and unwind when we write, because what we are creating on some level is primal. And urgent. And necessary.

ImageRemember that writing is about revealing truth, and when a writer is honest in their approach to the work it shines through, if you’ve ever read Bastard out of Carolina, The Color Purple or Paradise, you know what I mean. I remember reading the novel, Wrecked (by E.R. Frank) a few years back and finding some similarities between the female lead and her relationship with her father. As a result, I started to see things in my own family circle from a different point of view.  Perspective. Good writing will do that, it will help you to see things more clearly.

Later in the week, I will talk some more about the art of observation, but until then keep your eyes open and your ears pealed for the sights and sounds of life.

Meet My Main Character : Blog Tour

First off, let me just say, thank you to Mike for asking me to be a part of this unique group of writers; and for allowing us to be a part of this fantastic blog tour. Much appreciated. I’m also a great fan of your work (and even though I might be a few months early), congrats on Eye-Dancers turning two. Like you, I am also grateful for being a part of this WordPress Community. Without it, I wouldn’t have progressed so quickly.

And thanks, by extension, to Sherri for coming up with such a brilliant idea. Without you I wouldn’t have been able to hear about the work of all these wonderful writers whose pieces, I am looking forward to reading, along with your own. Check out Mike on his blog and Sherri on her blog. Also be sure to look out for Teagan Geneviene’s post next week and that of Jennifer K. Marsh and Joanne Blakie, in the subsequent weeks. So now, onwards to my main character.

For this Blog Tour, I’ll be answering a few questions about my main character (from a work in-progress). If you’ve been following Today, You Will Write, since last December, you will be familiar with the antics of Brandi Daniels and part one of The Way of the Seer. And although a few people have asked about a second installment, I am not ready to make such a huge commitment. After all, the decision to blog the novel came about after working through a couple of drafts. I have however, begun work on another piece, the one for which this blog was created. Hopefully it will provide enough intrigue and suspense to keep you going.

Unlike Brandi Daniels who wanted to go on an adventure and find out more about her father, this female protagonist is more interested in staying in her own place and time. A mind reader who has various abilities, she is trying to forget her past and the one moment when everything in her life changed from seemingly good to horribly wrong.

1. What is the name of your main character? Is he/she fictional or a historic person?

Ife Bomani is indeed a fictional character, although I’ve only ever met one person with Ife as a first name. There are no similarities, however, because I didn’t really know her. In a family of four, Ife Bomani is the first born of two children. At seventeen she works to provide for her mentally sedated father and domineering mother. The product of a society that is learning to depend more and more on a younger work force, she is all too aware of how the society is changing; becoming more insular, as the gap between the black and white mark youths increases.

2. When and where is the story set?

The story is set in the not too distant future, in, an American state like New York City, where everything is run by the government. Or in the case of the City, by a Governor elect. In this post war climate, though, the people have been imprinted with a chip, which distinguishes, those who rule from those who must follow orders.

3. What should we know about him/her?

Ife Bomani looks like a punk rocker, with short black hair and even though she stands out in a crowd, she is not a rebel at heart. Although she has been known to get her best friend, Thom out of tight places she has no intention of leaving either her home or her family.

And the fact that other people are suspicious of mind readers and their abilities, she will do anything to appear normal, because she feels guilty about what happened to her father and grandfather, the day she became too curious about the government and how they were controlling the people.

4. What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?

Having the ability to remember everything would seem like a pretty impressive gift, but  Ife would like to forget some of those memories, like her grandfather’s murder. Unlearn the ways in which her society is changing. Because there is a rift between what she has been taught and what she is beginning to see: People who do not follow the government’s way will be exterminated, including her, unless she can find a way to rectify what she was taught and the way of the world.

5. What is the personal growth of the character?

The challenge of possession so many memories is that after a while it can seem more like a burden and less like a gift. One think Ife will have to learn is how to depend on others so that the load will not seem so heavy, and to find commonalities of their shared existence. And how to process guilt and move on.

6. Is there a working title for the novel, and can we read more about it?

The working title for this piece is One Moment in Time.

7. When can we expect the book to be published?

Hopefully a year from now. Honestly, I am trying not to rush this, because somehow it is starting to feel right and I want the story to come out as it should.

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So thanks for reading. I’ve had a blast, sharing this with all of you and I’m looking forward to reading about Teagan’s Main Character, before then, make sure to check her out. Along with the other authors featured in this piece. Remember, she’ll be up next Monday. And Jennifer and Joanne will have pieces on the following Mondays.

Thanks again Mike, reading your piece has given me many pointers. Thanks again for the invite and inspiration!

And as always, keeping reading, writing and blogging! Every day you write you will get better.

Many Kind Regards,
Melissa