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Did I dazzle you?

“Did I dazzle you? Did I jump off the page?”

Those two lines are from the movie 21, which my husband and I watched over the weekend. I actually liked it, but what really stuck with me were those two lines.

In the movie, those words are thrown back in the face of a professor looking for scholarship recipients with more than just academic achievements. He wants students with “life experience”. After making hundreds of thousands of dollars by counting cards at blackjack tables in Vegas, the main character definitely has it.

The whole scene reminded me of trying to get into Berkeley (which I didn't even want to attend, but my dad hoped I'd get in so I could live at home). Not only did I not have a 4.5 GPA, but my parents were alive, I'm white, I wasn't an Olympian, I hadn't started my own company, and I didn't want to be an astronaut. Let's just say my dad coughed up some dorm fees elsewhere.

Anyway, here's my point. (I know, finally, right?) Those lines made me think about writing good characters. If we do our job well, shouldn't the characters dazzle our readers? Shouldn't they jump off the page as if they were real?

The challenge for us as writers is imbuing our characters with the qualities that make them unforgettable. The life experience that they would have if they were real people. If I were an expert on this, I think I'd be writing on deadline and too busy to blog almost daily, so I won't claim to have the answer.

I do have a couple of good resources, though. The book I just finished–and I highly recommend–is The Plot Thickens by Noah Lukeman. He got me thinking about my characters and their circumstances in a way I hadn't before. There are plenty of thought-provoking exercises at the end of each chapter to start you on your journey.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Debra Dixon's Goal, Motivation, and Conflict. Her book was the subject of my very first blog post, and understanding her concepts represented a real turning point in my writing career. More than any one idea, GMC has had the most profound effect on how I write.

Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint by Nancy Kress is another good primer for character development. Kress also includes end-of-chapter exercises.

I just started reading The Three Dimensions of a Character by Larry Brooks, so I can't speak to it yet, but it looks good so far. Just like with his book Story Structure Demystified, he excels at the “how to” of writing, and I'm looking forward to his forthcoming book from Writer's Digest.

What are some of your tricks for bringing characters to life, and do you have any other must-have books on the subject to recommend?

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So You Think You Can Dan…er, Write

This post is also available at romancemagicians.blogspot.com today…

I was watching So You Think You Can Dance last night (yes, I can't live without my DVR–I never watch live TV anymore), and something the judges kept saying caught my attention.

The gist was that if the dancers got “into character” and put the appropriate emotion in the performance, they could get away with a few technical errors. But, the opposite was not true. A flawless technical performance lacking emotion or story was not enough to cut it.

I think the same could be applied to writing. Grammatical problems or minor plot issues can be overcome with a great voice and style. It's more about the execution of the story, than its mechanics.

As I was flipping through The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman at BAM today, I was happy to see that he agreed. He basically said that execution was more important than plot for catching an editor's or agent's eye. If they don't get past the execution, they'll never read enough to get the plot anyway.

Not that we can afford to discount grammar or other technical issues–after all, we need to put our best foot forward–but we shouldn't forget that in the end, the story and how we tell it is what will grab the reader.

I guess I'd say, “Always improve your craft, but don't forget your voice.”

The Daily Squirrel: soap

The scent of gardenias filled the steamy shower as she worked up a lather on the bar of soap. A familiar peace settled over her as her slick hands washed away the sweat and the lingering odor of cigarettes. Some day soon, she'd finish her degree, and she'd never have to work in a smoky bar again.