Paula Writes

Paula Puddephatt – Author

Character Development: Inspiration – Part 2 — September 15, 2018

Character Development: Inspiration – Part 2

character-develop-inspirationIf you haven’t yet read part 1, I would recommend doing so – ideally before reading this post, although afterwards would also work.

As I mentioned before, I regard character development as one of the most important aspects of fiction writing.

Other elements, such as plot, are important too, but without strong characters, plot isn’t enough. And some weaknesses in plot can actually be forgiven, once the characters have their place in our hearts.

I mentioned not being a fan of character sheets, and the whole “laundry list” approach to character creation.

It’s not so much that character profiles can’t be useful, but they don’t feel sufficient to me.

There’s usually a category, for example, about hobbies and interests.

I find this particularly difficult to complete, and do feel it’s one section, in which “for the sake of completing the box” type answers tend to appear. Does your character actually love cooking, rocking climbing, and badminton? Or did you literally just make that up on the spot, because it sounds like a good answer, and because you already used crochet and tennis for the last character?

Physical appearance is another category, routinely included on every character profile list out there.

If I needed to write down that my main character, Lucy, has red hair, in order to remember this, it would be kind of bizarre. Minor characters, possibly – but surely we should know what our central characters look like? We should be able to “see” them.  Do you seriously write down your own sister’s hair colour, in case you don’t recognise her, the next time you bump into her?  To me, it would be equivalent.

It’s also worth noting that, although someone might have should-length, thick, wavy, light brown hair – maybe the reader won’t need that much information. This isn’t a problem with character profiles, as such – but just a point that’s worth keeping in mind.  Many writers who take the “laundry list” approach to character creation, have a tendency to include the entire “laundry list” in their stories, which generally doesn’t read well.  Being selective is key.

One of the most important aspects of character development is taking time to understand the various important relationships, in the lives of your different characters.

I’ve written a post about how to create believable romantic relationships in your fiction, and another that focuses upon friendships. But consider family relationships, those with work colleagues, and any other relevant relationships, also. Together, these relationships form an important part of who the character is – and, as such, they deserve time and attention.

I would say to look at any or all of the categories on any standard character profile sheet, if you wish – but really take the time to consider each question. Mechanically filling out the blanks is unlikely to result in deep characterisation. Get to know your fictional people over time, and enjoy the process. That way, hopefully, future readers will want to know them, too.

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Character Development: Inspiration – Part 1 — August 31, 2018

Character Development: Inspiration – Part 1

characters-development

I definitely consider character creation to be one of the most important aspects – if not the most important – of writing great fiction.

Even in genres generally considered to be more plot-driven, characters matter – and excellent characterisation will set your fiction apart, giving it a definite edge over any other novels or short stories out there.

I have previously written post about my personal character development process, and about how to create believable characters – as well as various related posts, covering topics, including naming characters, and writing realistic dialogue. I would definitely encourage you to take a look at some or all of these, if you haven’t already.

I have already mentioned not finding “laundry list” style character profiles to be particularly useful.

I used to feel almost guilty for not liking this approach, but have learnt, over the years, that many other writers feel the same way.

I think the problem lies in the fact that we’re required to, in effect, give our characters the third degree.  We may well end up “writing anything”, in response to some of the questions, simply so that we can tick the “completed task” box, with regard to character profiles.

In real life, we usually get to know people gradually, over time.

It’s a natural process.  You wouldn’t suddenly go up to someone in the street and start interrogating them: asking about their childhood, favourite colours, favourite foods, and political views. Even if someone was prepared to tell all, attempting to absorb so many details, at a rapid pace, would become overwhelming. You wouldn’t remember half of it, or take in its significance.

So, here’s what I like to do instead…

Gradually, intuitively answer questions, that may sometimes be quite random, and sometimes, more obvious and generic.

When people include lists of nine thousand questions to ask your characters, I actually feel kind of inspired. But only momentarily. The questions may well be amazing, but they aren’t much use to those of us whose heads are spinning, from even attempting to take them all in.

So, my solution. A series of blog posts, each including a few things to think about – properly, and slowly, minus the dizzy spells.

Let’s start at the beginning: your character’s name.

Presumably, your main characters already have first and last names. If not, you should probably read my naming characters post – mentioned earlier.

But does your character have a middle name, or middle names? Most of us do. Mine is Michelle. Okay, some people don’t have one – but, if the character specifically has no middle name, you should know that, as a fact. It’s probably not realistic to give every character in your novel a middle name, but it helps, when it comes to the main characters.

Also, consider maiden, and previous married, names for women, where applicable.

Now, pets – because pets are so important in many of our lives.

Do you know whether your MC currently has pets? And how about previous pets? Know dog breeds. The number and colour of gerbils, throughout the years. And yes, names. Our pets all have them, right? Then for personalities…

I believe in being thorough. That’s why too many questions in one go doesn’t work for me.

But if you do want to decide upon something with a simple answer – try your character’s birthday.

Date of birth is more specific though, so let’s go with that. Give your character a date of birth.

Oh, and if your head is currently spinning, from trying to approach this my way – maybe try one of those extensive questionnaires.

Each to their own. Just because I find them dry, doesn’t mean that they can’t help many writers. They wouldn’t be so enduringly popular, after all, if many people didn’t find them invaluable.

See also: Part 2, for more on character development

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How To Create Believable Friendships in Your Fiction — August 30, 2018

How To Create Believable Friendships in Your Fiction

believable-friendship-fiction

Fictional friendships are important.

How do you ensure that these ring true?

I’ve already shared a post about writing romance, but romantic relationships aren’t the only type that need attention – in reality, or in our stories.

It’s worth considering that, in the context of a story, we will often tend to focus upon maybe one to three close friendships.

This is fine. But it’s also useful to keep in mind that our main characters will generally have a wider friendship circle, of some description. It can sometimes be beneficial to include a name or reference here and there, in order to reflect this.

When developing a friendship, consider the backstory – the history behind the friendship.

My main character, Lucy, has been best friends with Charlotte since primary school. As well as going to school together, they used to be neighbours. This does mean that they have a great deal of shared history. Yet, they have also grown apart, in many respects. By the end of the novel, Charlotte isn’t Lucy’s exclusive “best friend” in quite the same way. At the same time, that shared history will always be there – and that would be the case, even if the friendship ended.

Think about the “why” behind the friendship.

There are usually multiple reasons. In the case of Lucy and Charlotte, obviously they would have become friends partly due to circumstances – because they lived so close to each other, and went to school together. So, yes – the met at school, through work, or at the local chess club, part is always going to be there.

But then there will be other factors, including shared interests, shared secrets, a similar sense of humour – or, going deeper, the same core values. Maybe the friends are actually opposites, in many respects? Which can be good or bad – or a bit of both.

All friendships have their ups and downs, and this definitely needs to be reflected.

In some stories, it will a major plot point, or a subplot – but, even if it isn’t, it should ideally be communicated, to some degree. No friendship is perfect, after all. The problems and misunderstandings are part of what makes the relationship feel realistic. In this way, hopefully, your reader will be able to relate, and being able to relate leads to caring.

Make sure that your friend characters are fully developed in themselves, and not simply “sidekicks”, with no other obvious role in life.

They need to have their own lives, and not everything they do will be about their friend, even if said friend happens to be your protagonist.

Hopefully, these tips will help you to create believable friendships in your fiction. You might even start to envy your fictional characters, for having such strong friendships. That’s a good sign, because it shows that you believe in your own characters, and can feel the strength of their friendships.

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How To Write Poetry: Tips For Beginners —

How To Write Poetry: Tips For Beginners

write-poetry

I love poetry. I don’t consistently produce new poems any more. It goes in phases. But my passion for poetry never leaves me, and will always be an important aspect of my life and work, as a writer.

The focus upon precise use of language has definitely helped me to improve the quality of my prose – a welcome, beneficial side-effect of writing poems.

I was widely published in small press publications, and have also self-published several poetry collections. Nowadays, I do regularly share my work online, including via social media. Many of my poems appear on my World Poems page.

The aim of this post is to share a few tips to help you get started.

Read poetry: That’s my first piece of advice.

It does sound obvious, but so many people out there write poetry, having actually read very little themselves. Read – and re-read – a wide range of poems.

And ensure that you select at least some contemporary poetry, so that you won’t end up writing poems that sound like a bad attempt to imitate Shakespeare. Not good.

There’s so much poetry online that you might not know where to begin, so I would recommend starting out with your local library. I might be old-fashioned, but I don’t think you can beat the experience of reading poetry in a physical book. It’s somehow a much more intimate experience.

Experiment with different forms.

Is rhyme or free verse better? In my opinion, they’re both awesome – and the ideal is to at least try your hand at both.

It’s beneficial to explore specific types of poetry, such as the sonnet, villanelle, kyrielle, and haiku forms. Providing information about these is beyond the scope of this post, but I do encourage you to learn about any or all of these forms, if you think they might be of interest.

I highly recommend Sophie Hannah’s excellent collections, published through Carcanet. I personally learnt so much from reading her poems.

If you do write rhyming poetry, avoid “obvious rhymes”, such as “moon/June”, or “love/glove”, which have been ridiculously overused.

Yes, Madonna got away with using the latter in “True Blue”, but Madonna is Madonna. Also, pop songs aren’t poems, and have different requirements.

If you’re stuck for a specific rhyme, try making alphabetical lists of all possible rhymes for a particular end sound. That method has often solved the problem for me.

Of course, your “why” is important.

You should consider your reason for writing poetry, in the first place.

If you’re writing for therapy, for example, you may or may not intend to share your poetry. With survivors’ poetry, it’s more important to simply get started, and to work through the issues. Whether or not your poetry is technically great, will be of less importance than whether you’re able to express the emotions that you’re trying to process.

Ultimately, my advice for anyone, hoping to get started with poetry is to do just that: Make a start.

It’s possible that your poems will benefit from revisions, at a later stage. I would say that, initially, you do just need to begin. Don’t be afraid to “write rubbish”. Just keep writing and reading poetry. Over time, you will learn the skills and techniques that will help you to improve, and take your work to the next level. Write. Keep writing. And write from the heart. Oh, and enjoy it.

If you enjoyed this post, I would recommend reading my posts about the relevance of modern poetry, the blending of fact and fiction in poetry, and writing character poems.

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Building Your Author Brand: Personal Branding For Writers — August 27, 2018

Building Your Author Brand: Personal Branding For Writers

author-personal-brand

I’ve discussed the role of author blogs, and how to effectively use social media, as part of your online platform.

And I’ve written specific posts about using Twitter, Tumblr, Google Plus, Instagram, and Pinterest, as a writer. So, now let’s talk about personal brands, in relation to authors.

Not entirely sure what people mean by the term “personal brand” – or wondering whether you even need one at all?

Well, here’s the thing. You already have one. We all do.

Your personal brand is the way that you present yourself, and the associations that others have, when they hear your name. Reputation – image – call it whatever you like – but you definitely have a personal brand.

The only question, then, is whether or not you actively and consciously take control. Taking control, as in, taking steps to ensure that your brand – your projected public image – is something you’re happy with.

Some people struggle with the concept of personal branding, because they view it in a negative light – or simply don’t feel that it’s appropriate to refer to people as “brands”.

I mean, we aren’t jars of Marmite, or cans of Heinz Baked Beans, right? But personal branding isn’t about that. It’s not about labelling ourselves, and what we do, in a limiting way.

And there definitely doesn’t need to be anything cynical about this.

A central aspect of personal branding has to do with our core values and beliefs, and those can be incredibly positive, and powerful.

In my Believe in Yourself and Your Dreams post, I talk about my own core message – which is, and always will be, at the heart of my personal brand. It’s why I do what I do, day after day.

Target audiences are important.

Personal branding isn’t simply about defining who we are, as individuals. It’s about the people out there – those we’re hoping to reach, and connect with.

Ultimately, for writers, that’s going to be readers – and I don’t refer primarily to casual readers, although they’re also valuable, but more so to those who will return. Buy any books that we publish – read our blog posts, on a regular basis – support us, in any way they can.

We can call them fans, although it’s probably more helpful to think it in terms of building a community.

Some authors will actually have a customer avatar – one ideal reader.

This is a fictional person, not unlike the characters in our stories, except that this particular invented person reflects our ideal reader – someone with whom our work is likely to resonate.

It can be easier, and more effective, to “speak to” Charlotte, aged twenty-three, from London, England, than to – well, anyone who happens to be listening.

And, no, that doesn’t necessarily mean that your message won’t reach – and appeal to – Ellie, aged seventeen, or Jason, aged fifty. But Charlotte – or someone very similar to Charlotte – will be much more likely to respond positively to online content, created with her in mind.

Another important aspect of personal branding is consistency.

Of course, when it comes to blogging, and posting on social media, it’s important to be consistent, in the sense of posting regularly.

But consistency also applies to profile images, types of content shared – and beyond that, the colours and fonts used in our graphics. It can take time and experimentation to find the right style, to reflect what we offer.

And, with regard to colour – learning, and keeping in mind, the principles of colour psychology, can be beneficial.

Personally, I’m definitely experimenting with the colours I use, at the moment. In terms of fonts, I use Lucida Calligraphy, Lucida Bright, and occasionally, Lucida Handwriting, on the majority of my online graphics.

Individual projects may need particular, individualised attention – such as, specific branding for each novel or book series.

A novel can have its own identity, and yet, should still be identifiable as part of our brand, as a whole.

The subject of author brands is vast, and I’ve only touched upon it here. I’m still very much in the early stages of figuring this out for myself, but would encourage you to learn as much as you can about personal branding in general. This should help you to gain a deeper understanding of the various aspects, and you can then apply what you’ve learnt to building your author brand online. Oh, and offline too, of course.

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Writing Cliffhangers: Creating Suspense Through Your Chapter Endings — August 17, 2018

Writing Cliffhangers: Creating Suspense Through Your Chapter Endings

cliffhanger-writing

Ending a chapter with a cliffhanger is a powerful device.

Not every chapter necessarily needs to end in this way. In fact, that wouldn’t generally be advisable and, for some genres, would be entirely inappropriate.

That said, not every cliffhanger is going to be a literal matter of life and death – and therefore, they can probably be used more frequently than many writers believe.

In some stories, there won’t be a single life or death cliffhanger – and yet, there will still be cliffhangers, of some kind. A line of dialogue, containing a revelation or an accusation, can often provide the perfect cliffhanger.

A cliffhanger compels readers to continue beyond the chapter they had originally intended to read.

That’s the aim, anyway.

Many writers make the mistake of keeping the suspense going for too long.

There’s actually nothing wrong with providing a resolution to a cliffhanger almost immediately, in the following chapter. More problems will inevitably arise, and the plot will continue.

Delays can sometimes be effective.

So, yes – you can even finish on a cliffhanger, and then switch to a subplot. But do so with caution, because you do risk losing readers, in the process.

As for continually switching between different knife’s edge situations – I don’t claim that this can’t work out, but it definitely takes skill, and wouldn’t work well in many stories.

When it comes to ending an entire novel on a cliffhanger: rarely advisable, in my opinion, unless you’re planning to write a sequel, or the book is part of a series.

Or perhaps an epilogue could provide some sort of resolution. But, in general, I would reserve cliffhangers for chapter endings.

In a previous post, I discussed how to build suspense and tension in your fiction, which definitely ties in with this subject.

I personally do tend to use cliffhangers, of various kinds, a great deal, in my own writing. They’re one of my favourite aspects of fiction, both as a writer and reader.

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Health Issues, Self-Acceptance, and Being a Writer — August 9, 2018

Health Issues, Self-Acceptance, and Being a Writer

health-accept-writer

I recently rediscovered a chronic illness blog that I maintained for a while, and it reminded me how incredibly open I have tended to be about my health issues.

I would say that I’m still open, but perhaps slightly more guarded about certain aspects. I’ve been burnt too many times – and I’ve also learnt the harsh truth, that most of the time, most people don’t want to know, especially about the “not so pretty” aspects of the illnesses, with which many of us struggle.

I’m definitely struggling with self-acceptance right now.

I’ve been through changes, and don’t know how to be okay with the way I am currently. I can definitely improve in many aspects, but need to find the inner strength to fight – and hold on to this strength, when it does appear that I’m being pushed to breaking point, and having more hurled at me, continually.

I received a diagnosis yesterday, a more severe form of a diagnosis I had previously.

The news has left me reeling. I have a couple of ongoing health issues that I don’t feel I can discuss with many people at all, and this is one of them.

I have edited out a significant portion of this post, because I found myself specifically discussing my family circumstances, and it doesn’t seem appropriate, in the context of this blog.

I don’t defend many of the people’s actions and attitudes, but to go into it would take the blog in a different direction, and that’s not my aim.

My health issues, along with various social and housing problems, are making it extremely difficult for me to keep going with my various projects.

I haven’t been able to make my novel a priority, as I would have liked.

In a recent post, I discussed my struggles with social media, and the need to remain both positive and authentic.

I subsequently added to some of what I had said in that post, in another about positivity, challenges and hope.

Both of these posts relate strongly to this one.  Also, refer to my posts about mental and physical health issues, and being a writer, and my personal writing journey.

Again, apologies to anyone who is waiting to read more from me about writing craft. Hopefully, I will return to those posts, in the future.  Meanwhile, if you missed my POV post, that might be of interest.

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Planning Blog Posts: Plans and “Rules” — July 30, 2018

Planning Blog Posts: Plans and “Rules”

blog-post-plan-rules

Some people plan every post.

Others don’t plan at all. In truth, I’ve approached it both ways.

For the most part, I would plan out a writing craft post, or anything more involved.

I tend to use mind maps, and sometimes lists, to help sort out what would otherwise be a chaotic and overwhelming mass of information, in my poor, overloaded brain.

Planning often helps to break up the task of creating a new post, into manageable portions. It makes the process easier.

And yet, I need to contradict myself, on that point. Sometimes it doesn’t make it easier. Sometimes the thought of having to plan a blog post in advance can actually make the task feel daunting.

Sometimes I simply need to write, if I’m going to at all. Which, yes – is what I’m doing right now. Making it up as I go along? Yes, precisely. Scary, right? But actually, not so bad.

And I need to forget all the “rules”, and the fact that posts need to be a particular length, for SEO purposes.

Being honest here – 700 to 1000 words is difficult for me, even if that is viewed as pretty much a minimum. I try not to over-think it though, as posts find their own natural length, and each one is different.

Maybe I can even push aside the thought that what I’m writing might not be valuable to my target audience.

My what? I write for anyone who cares enough to read my words. Oh dear, shouldn’t I have some specific demographic in mind? Well, technically, yes. But, if you’re reading and appreciating my blog posts – hey, you’re my target reader.

Is this all just ramble? Perhaps. If it is, so be it.

Random thoughts and feelings have their place.

Even unplanned blog posts have their place.

Hopefully, more writing craft posts to come, in the near future. Need to start planning…

Keep believing.

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Positivity, Challenges, and Hope — July 22, 2018

Positivity, Challenges, and Hope

positive-challenge-hope

I feel the need to expand upon my recent post, entitled When Positivity Feels Fake.

The fact is, I continue to go through extreme challenges, health problems, and so much that I find terrifying and overwhelming. My positive outlook is 100% authentic – and yet, sometimes I don’t feel this way at all, or even close. The future appears dark and uninviting. At times, it’s hard to even see a future. And yet, I do – of course I do.

In terms of consciously appearing more positive online than I really feel – yes, I continue to do this. In many respects, it helps me. And I haven’t particularly reduced the time that I spend on social media, as I indicated I might. Social media can be draining at times, but on balance, it benefits me, and I deeply value the connections I’m able to make, in this way. It’s also a distraction. So, I don’t know which way I will go with it all, but for now, I will remain active online, as and when.

My novel? Not forgotten, but it’s not easy right now. I definitely don’t plan to abandon the project, long-term.

And the blog – well, here I am, right? I hope to start producing more writing craft related posts, in the future. Whatever happens, it would be good to continue with the blog, in some form. A heartfelt thank you to everyone who gives positive feedback, about the blog’s content. It means the world to me, and encourages me to keep going.

I would just like to mention how amazing I’m finding Pinterest. In recent days, my traffic has reached an all-time high, and almost all of it is coming from Pinterest. If you’re a blogger, and you aren’t on there yet, then you should start up an account right now. That simple.

More from me soon. Sending love and best wishes to you all. I appreciate you so much.

My post about health issues, self-acceptance, and being a writer relates.

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When Positivity Feels Fake — July 15, 2018

When Positivity Feels Fake

positivity-feels-fake

I’m going through too many issues right now, that are terrifying and overwhelming. It’s been one thing after another, to the point where I’m reeling.

And it does become increasingly challenging, to authentically share positive messages, via my blog, and various social media networks.

I can only do authentic – and equally, can only do hopeful and inspirational. At least, on balance – as I have never denied the darker aspects of life. To do so, would not, in fact, be true positivity.

I deeply appreciate the encouragement that I do receive, but sometimes the lack of support and acknowledgement from people, claiming to be “family” and “friends”, is hurtful. Maybe, according to their “tick box system”, I’m not seen as contributing much to society or “working hard”. I think that says more about any of them than it does about me.

I hope to resume blogging at some point, and am aware that I haven’t written much about writing craft lately. Right now, my WIP is not progressing much at all, and I don’t work consistently on the project. I’m scared, for many reasons, to officially put my novel on hold, but I’m making so little progress that, in some respects, it already is. As for my blog, I feel that an “Out of Office” sign is appropriate right now – and that’s, effectively, what this post is, or feels like.

I’m also going to be less active on social media. I don’t know to what extent, as yet. I’m sure that my follower counts will feel the impact, but that’s life. Those who truly care, and enjoy my posts, will stay.

I’m not going to add many links with this one – only to my posts about mental and physical illness and being a writer, and my personal approach to writing about mental health in fiction.

Update to this post: Positivity, Challenges and Hope.  And you are welcome to find me on social media.

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