Thursday, March 29, 2012

Characterization vs. Character

What makes the characters within any given story memorable? Think of your favorite novel. Did the characters stick with you long after you finished the book? Conversely, have you ever read stories whose characters left little of a mark on your memory?

Characterization vs. character. Is there a difference? Robert McKee answers this question in his book, Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting (a.k.a the “Screenwriter’s Bible”).

"Characterization is the sum of all observable qualities of a human being, everything knowable through careful scrutiny. . . . Character is revealed in the choices a human being makes under pressure" (pg. 100-101).

Hair color, height, eyes, lip fullness, diction and quirks are all great, but what makes a character truly memorable is who they become when conflict is at a max. Do you agree? While characterization is vital, I think it is a protagonist’s character, tried and proven, that makes them stick with us long after the last page is turned.

If your character could reach through your laptop and write her own story, what would her choices look like? How would she act when challenges arise? I always try to instill some noteworthy strengths in my MC, and fast. What kind of strengths?

What do you most appreciate about others? Think of someone you irrevocably admire. What about that person do you value? Are they kind or courageous? Meek or bold? Wise, loyal, kind, self-motivated, ethical, moral, determined, merciful…these are traits I think we can all appreciate.

On the flip side, a courageous, infallibly-kind hero who preservers no matter what can become stale. Readers might roll their eyes or—even worse!—put the book down after the first few pages. Characters need a flaw, and this is why (Donald explains it better):

“Character transformation can be one of the most powerful effects in any story.”

Voila! Conflict is story. I hope I have characters that readers can empathize with but who also have room to grow. Skillfully carry out the character transformation throughout a novel and hopefully we authors will have 'em hooked!

Any thoughts? I’d love to know who the most memorable characters in fiction are to you and why. Thanks!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Our Brains and the Creative Process

Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the things you can think up if only you try!
-Dr. Seuss

My dad was one of my best friends. He was a teacher at heart and a very effective one at that. He taught me so much, everything from how to read to how to set a goal and work hard until you achieve it. During my senior year of high school, Dad—healthy, marathon-running Dad—was diagnosed with a glioblastoma brain tumor on the left side of his brain. When he came out of surgery he could hardly speak and he had lost the right side of his field of vision. Each day when I arrived home from school I would find Dad in his office waiting for me to help him read his scriptures. He once commented on how ironic it was: now I was teaching him something that he initially taught me.

Those days were heartbreaking, yet I cherish those momentous times I spent side-by-side with Dad as he relearned language by reading his scriptures (Jacob 5!). In reality, Dad was really still teaching me. Here was a man half blind and unable to read. Yet he never gave up. He gave it his all until the very end.

Dad’s experience made me think a lot about the brain and how it works. His egg-sized tumor was in the left side of his brain and thus, his ability to speak and process words was hindered.

I once read (and I wish I had saved the article!) that one of the best ways to prevent Alzheimer’s Disease is to engage in activities that employ both sides of your brain.

“Crossword puzzles!” we all shout out. Yes. But right up with crossword puzzles on the list of brain-stimulating activities is creative writing. (woohoo!)

Disclaimer: I am no neuroscientist, but here's what I found on the web:

The left brain is linear. It is in charge of verbal, logical and analytical thinking. It excels in categorizing, speech, reading, writing and arithmetic. It places things in order.

The right brain, on the other hand, processes ideas rapidly and in a nonlinear pattern. It excels in visual, spatial and intuitive information. It explores possibilities and creates.

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Writers take a piece of paper and a bunch of symbols and bring something to life: a story! Creative writing really is a tasking hobby, employing a heavy dose of right-brain free and creative exploring as well as left-brain organization and language skills to put those ideas on paper. Writers take a flat sheet of paper and bring people, places, and even entire worlds to life within a reader’s mind.

In an article on USA Today, neuroscientist Nancy Andreasen speaks about the creative process in our brains:

“Research suggests that creative people often slip into a zone in which ideas and thoughts come up freely in a disorganized way. During that state, a part of the brain known as the association cortex becomes very active. That brain region is known to be able to link up ideas or thoughts in potentially novel ways.”

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Ever heard the writing advice, “write now, edit later”? This is why. When we pull the left side of our brains into the process of exploring an idea and putting it down on paper (grammar and organization), we can lose sight of the creative flow that the right side of our brains is engaging in. (Still, I have a habbit of editing everything to death before moving on!)

Andreasen also says, “Gifted people in the arts or science tend to enjoy adventure, and they often like to explore new places or ideas. They don't like being hemmed in by rules or convention and often look at problems from a different angle. They also tend to have a high tolerance for situations defined by shades of gray. They often have to move doggedly ahead on a project — even when the outside world rejects their art or new ideas.”

I think we need both sides of our brains to create something beautiful, and understanding how the brain works can only help us improve our creative processes.

This video is a little long, and some parts are a bit strange, but it’s worth a watch. Neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor had the rare opportunity of studying her own brain function during a stroke. Here she shares her experience:

Check out these Fun Facts About Our Brains and leave any thoughts you have to share in the comments. Thanks for stopping by!

-While language is controlled by the left side of our brains, the right side of the brain deals with ‘emotionally potent language’ - or in other words, swearing.

-Thinking positive might actually keep the doctor away. Studies show that 50-70% of visits to the doctor for physical ailments can be traced to psychological reasons.

-Eat healthy foods, for your body and your brain. A study of one million New York students showed that those who ate lunches without additives and preservatives performed 14% better on IQ tests. That said, our brains are the fattiest organs in our bodies!

-Memories triggered by scent (like cologne and perfume) have a stronger emotional connection, and therefore appear more intense than other memory triggers.

-Keep exercising your brain, because mental activity stimulates the creation of new neurons throughout your whole life. Click here for information on how to keep your brain sharp.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Feed Your Creativity and Hone Your Craft

"Trial and error." "Learn from your mistakes." These sayings have a lot to do with honing our craft as writers. Sometimes the only way to learn is to delve in, do our best, screw up, work overtime to correct those errors only to eventually throw the entire project away and start over. Painful! But through it all, we LEARN.

A friend of mine through ANWA shared the following inspirational video, and I believe it applies.

In a talk titled Happiness, Your Heritage ,President Dieter F. Uchtdorf of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints speaks about how the process of creating something makes us happy:
"The desire to create is one of the deepest yearnings of the human soul. No matter our talents, education, backgrounds, or abilities, we each have an inherent wish to create something that did not exist before...Don't let fear or failure discourage you. Don't let the voice of critics paralyze you-whether that voice comes from the outside or the inside."

I suppose this is why I love writing so much; I love to create a story that didn't exist before. Bringing ourselves-our experiences, original thoughts and feelings-into our stories is what makes them original afterall. Everyone has a story to tell.

So don't let critics get you down. Don't let yourself get you down. Dig deep, set the creative side of your brain free and create a story that is uniquely your own. And DON'T GIVE UP!

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Friday, March 9, 2012

Inventing a Story

Where do you get your inspiration? You know, when do you do your "thinking," the imaginative first step that shakes an idea to the surface and lets it fly free? Here's mine:

Running, traveling, and that time right before I fall asleep: those tend to be the moments when my creativity is at its best. And since I'm craving a new writing project, I will be doing a lot more of this:

And praying for an unforgettable premise to call my fingers to the keyboard. (Maybe I'll get a little crazy and plan a vacation, too!)

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