Writing Tip — Guest Blogger, Amy C. Blake

SONY DSCI’m so excited about May’s theme, creating characters, that I’m starting a day early! Here to discuss characters in her latest release is YA fantasy and suspense writer, Amy C. Blake. Welcome, Amy!

Which comes first when creating a story – characters, plot, or setting?

I usually have some idea of plot and setting, but I need to know my main character in great detail before I can do much with a story. Since what happens in the plot depends so heavily on my protagonist’s personality and background, I’d say character is the most important factor for me.

Do you use a different approach for villains and heroes?

My hero is a critical part of my story, so I get to know him/her completely before I start writing. While I also need to know my villain thoroughly, that character is somewhat dependent on my hero. In other words, I want my villain to be the best antagonist to fit my hero. For instance, in my Levi Prince series (my new release The Fay’s Apprentice is the third book in that series), Hunter is the perfect villain for Levi. Hunter is rich, self-confident, and insolent. Levi is poor, gawky, and self-conscious. In addition, the ancestors of the two boys shared a similar antagonism to theirs, a factor Levi is only beginning to understand by his third summer in Terracaelum.

Who was the easiest character you’ve created? Who was the most difficult?

The easiest character is a toss-up between Patience from Whitewashedand Levi from my Levi Prince series. Patience was easy because I tend to be impatient like she is. Levi was easy because he’s a homeschooled pastor’s kid like my own children. Christy from Colorblind was the most difficult because she’s super sweet but was also not a believer during much of the story.

What do you think is the key for creating main characters that readers can relate to?

I think it’s key that my main characters be real. They need to be basically likable people but with at least one flaw many readers share. As I mentioned earlier, Patience tends to be impatient. Many of us battle that tendency as well, so she’s relatable. However, Patience isn’t just impatient. She’s also kind to a young mother trying to pacify twin babies on an airplane, and I’m careful to show that side of her personality before I show her flaw(s).

What’s been your most unusual source of inspiration for a character?

My main characters are all homeschoolers, something I haven’t seen in the mainstream or Christian markets. As a homeschooling mom of four, I wanted to show that home educated kids are well-rounded, likable but flawed individuals, just like everybody else.

To follow Amy, visit her at the following sites:

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FaysApprentice_FlatOn Levi’s third summer at Camp Classic, he’s torn between two responsibilities. On the one hand, his parents expect him to watch over his little sister Abby, who has no clue their summer camp is a haven for mythical creatures. On the other hand, Mr. Dominic wants him to train at Fort Terra, a full day’s hike away from his sister, because of Levi’s previous encounters with the demon sorcerer Deceptor. Although he enjoys training with his friends, Levi finds life at Fort Terra difficult thanks to the ongoing tension between him and Hunter and the stress of having his former kidnapper Regin as his chaperone. When the woman Regin claims to be the evil sorceress Anna appears, Levi faces a whole new challenge. (Book 3 in the Levi Prince series)

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Award-winning author Amy C. Blake is a pastor’s wife and homeschooling mother of four. She has an M.A. in English from Mississippi College and has written articles, devotionals, and short stories for a number of publications. She’s also writing two series for the Christian market, her Levi Prince YA fantasy series and her On the Brink Christian suspense trilogy.

WhitewashedColorblind, and Tie-Dyed, featuring three homeschooled girls on the brink of adulthood…and danger, are available in paperback and Kindle. The Trojan Horse TraitorThe Fall of Thor’s Hammer, and The Fay’s Apprentice, about homeschooled pastor’s kid Levi Prince and his adventures in Terracaelum, are also available in paperback and Kindle. She’d love for you to visit her website at amycblake.com.

 

Monday Sparks — Writing Prompts: Poetry Everywhere and Anywhere

fantasyw-3792552_1280Where do you find inspiration for poetry? Nature ignites my creative spark as well as holidays and season. Also, things that annoy me. My poem for July was born from the way extreme summer weather seems to exist just to test humans.

If you find you are running out of inspiration, check these ideas in a post from Almost an Author. Two ideas that snagged my attention are describing a color — one of my favorite books on poetry is Red Sings from the Treetops, which describes the season in color — and personifying a disease. I can picture a cold as a guest who drops in unexpectedly and won’t leave.

What sparks ignite your poetry?

Writing Tip — Novels in Verse

blondw-1866951_1280If you are more comfortable with poetry than I am, you may want to tackle writing a whole novel in verse. This post from Almost an Author lists several novels in verse, covering a wide range of plots. The author recommends them to reluctant readers.

My oldest has had to read two novels in verse for school and doesn’t really like them. Perhaps it’s because my oldest is an avid reader and prefers series like Redwall and Guardians of Ga’Hoole. 

Have you read a novel in verse than you would recommend?

Writing Tip — How to Use Personification

boardw-2084766_1280Last Tuesday, I compared adverbs to paroled felons because of the ban most writers have placed on them. Writing about the pitiful adverb as a hated outcast of society was a lot of fun. Personification is one my favorite kinds of figurative language. It offers writers such a range of possibilities for comparisons. The suggestions below are only two possibilities.

Humor

Some of the funniest pieces of writing I’ve come across use personification. My two favorite humor writers, Patrick F. McManus and P.G. Wodehouse, used the technique many times.

From “Controlling My Life” in the book Real Ponies Don’t Go Oink! by Patrick F. McManus: “I just read a book on how to get control of my time and therefore of my life. My time has always had a tendency to slip away from me and do as it pleases. My life follows it, like a puppy after an untrained bird dog. Come night, my life shows up, usually covered with mud and full of stickers, exhausted by grinning happily. My time never returns.”

In numerous short stories, Mr. McManus describes his dog from his childhood, Strange, as if he is a disreputable human relative.

From “Strange Meets Matilda Jean” in Real Ponies Don’t Go Oink!, he writes that when he would throw a stick and tell his dog to fetch, Strange “… would give me this insolent stare, which said, ‘Fetch it yourself, dumbo. You threw it.’ Then he would flip a cigarette butt at me, blow out a stream of smoke, and slouch back into his doghouse.”

Mr. Wodehouse often wrote about dogs in his stories and used personification to describe them, among other objects.

From “The Go-Getter” in Blandings Castletwo dogs battle it out in the drawing room of a country house during a party. Mr. Wodehouse describes the thought processes of a mutt named Bottles. “And, feeling that all these delightful people were relying on him to look after their interests and keep alien and subversive influences at a distance, he advanced with a bright willingness to the task of ejecting this intruder.”

From Over Seventy, Mr. Wodehouse writes about three hurricanes that hit his area of Long Island in one season. “Our hurricanes were Carol and Edna. Dolly, their sister, a nice girl, went out to sea, but Carol gave us all she had got, and so eleven days later did Edna.

Using humorous personification doesn’t have to be confined to humorous stories. Rex Stout uses it in his murder mysteries because his main character, private detective Archie Goodwin, has a considerable sense of humor.

In And Be a VillainArchie is on a stakeout and has skipped breakfast. “My stomach had decided that since it wasn’t going to be needed any more it might as well try shriveling into a ball and see how I liked that.  I tried to kid it along by swallowing, but because I hadn’t brushed my teeth it didn’t taste like me at all, so I tried spitting instead, but that only made my stomach shrivel faster.”  Later when Archie finally  gets something to eat, he writes, “My stomach and I made up, and we agreed to forget it ever happened.”

Creepy

There’s something inherently creepy about things acting like humans. Perhaps it’s simply because such behavior goes against accepted norms. When a writer uses human qualities to describe inanimate objects, the reader senses something is wrong.

The mysteries featuring the detective Uncle Abner are set in West Virginia before the Civil War. In “Th Wrong Hand” from Uncle Abner: Master of Mysteries, Abner and his tweenage nephew Martin go the house of a man, whom Abner suspects of murdering his brother. Martin is afraid of the man because his back is hunched. They enter the house on the stormy, winter’s night. Martin’s descriptions underline his uneasiness. “The wind whooped and spat in the chimney” and “A gust of wind caught the loose sash in the casement behind us and shook it as one, barred out and angry, shakes a door.”

I have worked on and off on a murder mystery set in October with the climax coming on Halloween night. The main character and his friends are venturing to an abandoned house where he thinks proof to a seventy-year-old murder is buried. “The wind blowing through the deserted streets was like sighs of relief. Trick-or-treating and all that kids’s stuff was over. Now the night could get down to the grown-up job of being the most wicked holiday of the year.”

What kind of figurative language do you use in your writing?

Monday Sparks — Writing Prompts: Idiom Renovation

fingerw-3653374_1280The English language is thick with idioms, and we use them in conversations every day. But as writers, we need to avoid the well-worn ones, unless it’s a key to a character’s dialogue, or we risking looking unimaginative.

Putting twists on old idioms is a lot of fun. Take “shoot yourself in the foot.” If I have a character, who’s a fashionista, inadvertently damage herself, another characters can say, “She just shot herself in the Choo.”

When I was a teenager, my younger sister invented two ways to freshen “whatever floats your boat.” She started with “whatever cranks your tank” and then added “whatever skins your skunk.” I love the second one and might have a rural characters use it.

Your turn. What new spin can you put on old idioms?

An Easter Story: “Dad sent me.”

crossw-3080144_1280I wrote this Easter story a few years ago to express how I think about Easter. May you be blessed during the most hopeful holiday of the year!

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I am trapped.

The boulder is heading straight for me. I can’t escape.  What good would it do anyway?

I’ve ended up in this exact situation before, too many times before, so why try to get away?

It’s my own stupid fault.  I finally get that.

There’s nothing I can do.

I huddle down. How much will it hurt this time? I can’t take much more pain. I am so sorry. So very, very sorry. Not that that matters.

I’m knocked to the ground.  But not by the boulder.

A man, a stranger, shoves me out of the way. I twist around to him. The boulder smashes into him and shatters into a pile of rubble, burying him.

I gape. I stare. Why would a stranger save me?

The pile moves. Flinging off the rocks, the man stands up.

I splutter, “B-b-but how?  But who?  But why?”

Brushing off the dust and dirt, the man gives me a huge grin and answers all my questions with one sentence.

“Dad sent me.”

Writing Tip — Poem in Your Pocket Day

 

denimw1-164983_1280Poem in Your Pocket Day is a day to celebrate poetry, created by the Academy of American Poets. It’s a day to share a favorite poem that you carry with you. I’m using my blog as my virtual pocket and will share one of my favorite Psalms.

Psalm 121:1:

“I lift my eyes to the hill — where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”

What poem do you want to share?

Writing Tip — Why I Love Figurative Language

light-bulbw-1246043_1280I added figurative language to my theme of poetry for this month because good figurative language is a poetry of its own. Figurative language draws me into a story like no other literary device. If an author comes up with a simile so perfect that I can instantly imagine it, or if he uses personification in such a funny way that I burst out laughing, he’s hooked me. I’ll keep reading in the hope I will find more literary treasures.

Because I enjoy reading figurative language so much, I love working it into my own writing. The more I’ve written, the more I realize how critical crafting original yet relatable phrases is to my storytelling and to connecting with readers.

Here are three reasons why I love figurative language.

Replacing adverbs

Pity the poor adverb. For years, he thought he was a respectable member of the English language, and now suddenly, he’s barred from all professional writing like he’s a paroled felon. The only people who give him work are elementary school teachers during grammar lessons and high schoolers writing their first novels.

As much as I wish I could use adverbs regularly, (HA! Slipped in another one) the ban on them has forced me to develop my skills at concocting figurative language.

In my upcoming short story, “A Rose from the Ashes”, the main characters is speaking with the county sheriff during a church dinner. The sheriff has volume control problems. But I can’t write “The sheriff said loudly.” So I came up with “I sat back. His baritone was pretty powerful for just one-on-one conversation, but sometimes he seemed to forget he was indoors and not issuing orders to deputies at a busy intersection.”

It’s much longer, but it’s more colorful and also shows how the main character perceives the sheriff.

And speaking of characters …

Building characters

To keep my readers in the head of my main character, I create figurative language appropriate for him or her. The main character in “A Rose from the Ashes” is Rae Riley, a nineteen-year-old amateur photographer. Her hobby influences her perception. She describes the harsh overhead lighting at the library where she works : “Why did every public place have to be lit like an operating room? Nobody needed to see the lint in the carpet or the bumps in the drywall.”

The figurative language does double duty. It lets the reader imagine the scene and get to know Rae a little better.

Adding humor

If a story can handle humor, I say put it in. Figurative language is a wonderful, and often easy, way to add it.

In the short story “Elk Magic”, Patrick F. McManus takes the idiom “beside ourselves” and twists it. As he travels into the Colorado mountains for an elk hunt, he rides in the cab of a truck with hunting guide Paul and fellow hunter Russ. “On several occasions, both Russ and I were beside ourselves with excitement, which made for a pretty crowded pickup cab.”

Readers understand the excitement of the hunters, and a well-worn phrase is given new life.

What are some memorable lines of figurative language you’ve read or written?

 

Monday Sparks — Writing Prompts: Spring Acrostic

spring-lake-w3399955_1280After haiku, acrostic poems are my favorite type of poetry. Here’s mine to celebrate the season. Please share one below.

Even during your darkest days,

Afraid and alone,

Still remember:

There always comes a third day,

Entering as quiet as the dawn,

Rising with the certainty of sunrise.

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