About Face—What I See (And What I Don’t See) When I Write

girl in nature

I have no clue what my characters look like.

Okay, not 100% true. Just almost. I have no idea what their whole faces look like.

I do not clip pictures from magazines and glue stick them into a scrapbook, or have a Pinterest board filled with head shots. I don’t picture old neighbors or cousins or superstars when I write. I see beings, an aura, a movement.  It’s as if the characters are traveling to fast for me to get a good look, or maybe I’m just so polite that I don’t want to stop them to stare. Even in a serious and intense scene, I don’t see faces.

Kinda creepy, now that I think of it.

I can glimpse the hair and see it messy or or coiffed. I know the color and style. I’m familiar with the character’s gait, shoulder width,and height. I certainly know if there’s a bump on a nose or a cleft in the chin. I define fashion sense. And sometimes I know eye color.

But I still don’t see faces.

When asked who would play my characters in a movie, I freeze. I don’t see my “people” on a screen, I see them on a page. Not that I’d reject a movie deal should Hollywood come to call, but I’d be more likely to say who I think could “pull off” the character rather than who looks like her.

When you meet Izzy Lane (for which I cannot wait!!) my main character in The Good Neighbor, you’ll know early on that her hair is short because her ex-husband always liked it long. I wrote Izzy tall (five-foot-nine) because that’s how I pictured her, with a gracefulness that I envision comes with long limbs. I don’t think I ever described the face of Izzy’s next-door-neighbor, Mrs. Feldman. She’s eighty-five. She’s spry. She speaks her mind. And she is also scared of a long-held secret. So, picture her as you want her to look. Like your favorite teacher, a grandmother, aunt or friend. Or leave her face peacefully blank, or always turned slightly away, filled in by story and emotion, not features.

In my work-in-progress, there’s a twelve-year-old girl. She is gangly in the way you know will turn into gracefulness in a few years, maybe more. She has long red hair and a tentative smile. I watched and recorded several cooking shows that featured kids, because I don’t have any twelve-year-old girls in my life and there were a few on the shows. One had just the right smile. Another was a little too grown up, but that was good to see. Another seemed a little too young. I noticed unplucked eyebrows and braces. Whimsy. Big smiles. Bigger tears. Those are the elements of a character to me, much more so than a portrait.

I write for myself, but my novels are published for my readers. I trust them to take good care of the characters, to allow the people on the page to be who the readers need them to be for that story—to look the part and be perfect for that reader only.

Do you picture faces when you read? Famous faces or everyday faces?  If you’re a writer, who do you see when you write your own stories?

 

 

 

Guest Post: Author Lindsey J. Palmer Writes About Living In New York City And Major Life Milestones In Her New Novel

If We Lived HereToday, author Lindsey J. Palmer poses a foreboding question: how do we—and our characters—handle major life changes? How about those milestone birthdays? (You know the ones.)In Lindsey’s newest novel, IF WE LIVED HERE, the main character, Emma, is on the cusp of turning thirty. How does Emma cope? You’ll have to read the book to find out!

I have to admit that what impressed me even more than the premise (and I love books set in NYC because I love NYC) was the fact that Lindsey was writing her second published novel before she turned thirty. 

My debut was published in 2013 when I was forty-nine. When I was thirty I had a two-year-old and lived in an early nineteen-twenties Cape Cod in New Jersey. I had the picket fence, both literally and figuratively. Times have changed. 

And I think that’s what IF WE LIVED HERE is about. Changing times. Adapting. Figuring things out along the way. Making it work. Living life. 

I can totally relate. Even if when I was thirty, there was no computer in my house, telephones were attached to walls, stamps cost twenty-nine cents—and people still used stamps.

Please welcome Lindsey J. Palmer back to WFW!

Amy xo

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Guest Post: Author Susan Örnbratt Asks: “What is a lucky writer?”

Cover for websiteHere is a lovely reminder from author Susan Örnbratt that we should find inspiration in the everyday as well as in the extraordinary. And, that sometimes things happen just when they should. Even if it’s ten years later. Please welcome Susan to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

How a Grandmother’s Secret Words Became a Granddaughter’s Treasure 

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This Is My Brain On Index Cards

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I could not remember the dead friend’s last name.

I realize this is a problem likely reserved for novelists, because if I had a dead friend, I’d probably recall her last name.

At that point I hadn’t written many pages of my third novel yet, but I had an outline and a short synopsis for my agent, and ideas jotted down on paper just for me. I rifled through all of it.

Cooper.

The last name was Cooper.

I intentionally choose simple last names but obviously THAT memory trick didn’t work this time. I was going to have to figure out something so that this story, the new one, didn’t have me scrolling through pages to remember every name and every eye color.

So you know what this meant. A trip to the corner Walgreens.

There is not a plethora of index cards in Walgreens, but when I’m on a writing roll I am not prone to a shopping trip. So I worked with what I had. I chose the large, white cards because in a moment of stark realism, I know the small ones would not give me enough space because my ideas come out sideways and in large loopy letters, not neatly, and not on little blue lines.

I must say I was disappointed with the quality of the cards. They were more like paper than cards, but I was determined. I wrote each character’s name at the top, and anything I knew about him or her. Boys in blue. Girls in pink. I didn’t have check list or a method, I just jotted down what I knew about the character, mostly things like all their names (middle, maiden, nick—you get the idea), eye color, hair color and style, short or tall, thin or fat, and maybe his or her relationship to another character. I wrote the things that needed to remain consistent through the story, the things that wouldn’t change. Maybe for this novel’s first draft I wouldn’t have to type “find out what color Celia’s eyes were” on page 86, because I’d have a card that told me what i needed to know. I would limit my scrolling backwards and increase my moving forward. And in story writing, that is a good thing.

But I had more cards. What to do?

I don’t use the common novel-writing lingo because it doesn’t work for me. I’m a rebel that way. I find the words CONFLICT and TENSION empty. I look at them and think HUH? But, I do understand WORRY and ANGRY and SCARED and WONDER and SECRET and WANT and NEED.  So I wrote those out on cards for each character. Not in any order. Not the same for each one. Just what I knew to be important. Just what I knew at that time. That’s the great thing about index cards. There are always more.

I also put the major story points on cards. And—I wrote words you’re not supposed to write. AND THEN. That works for me. I wrote each major and minor event (you say plot point, I say event) on an index card followed by the words AND THEN…. This allowed me to consider the flow, and what was happening when and to move things around without major cutting and pasting in my Word doc.

I also wrote themes of the story on cards, and I’ll likely transfer those to—you guessed it—Post It Notes, when it’s time for me to revise. Those will stick all over my computer reminding me of what needs to float beneath the story to give it buoyancy.

For a few weeks I had each stack neatly paper-clipped together and tucked into an adorable little case I could carry around and look all writerly. Then one day I was chatting with my lovely agent and she asked, “What’s the last name of the dead friend again?” (No joke, she really did. She was writing up little blurb for the new book.)

“Oh my god,” I said. “I forget.”

“Well, call me when you remember.”

And then I did remember.

“I have index cards!”

And yes, the last name was still Cooper.

That’s when I realized index cards do not belong in pretty pouches. I wanted the cards out and around me whether I’m on the sofa or in bed (rules out the desk, but I don’t write there anyway).

The cards are like a little pat on the back to myself. I’ve thought it through, I have a plan, there is sense and order where I often feel there’s none. Even on days I get no writing done, I can read a card or two and have a good sense of story, remember something old, think of something new, and add a card to the pile.

I had no roadmap at all for The Glass Wives. When I wrote my debut novel I outlined the Chapter 3 when I finished Chapter 2. Yep, that book took four years to write. Not happening again. Ever. When I wrote The Good Neighbor I started with a (take a deep breath) twenty page synopsis. That synopsis served only as a loose tether to the story, because 1) stories always change as you write them, and 2) who is going through twenty pages to remember what’s just happened, what’s happening now, and what happens next? Not me.

The index cards are manageable size bites of the story and the characters, They’re snippets of time and place, fragments of intention and emotion. And on those days all writers have when the gifts of the writing life are elusive, when the rewards seem improbable and the words are fuzzy, these index cards are tangible rectangular reminders that many thoughts have been already been thought, and much of the work has already been done.

Cooper.

 

 

 

 

Author Interview: Anita Hughes Takes Readers To France With An Exotic And Fun Summer Read

FrenchCoast_Final Cover 1.28Today I’m pleased to welcome Anita Hughes back to Women’s Fiction Writers! Her newest novel, FRENCH COAST, whisks you far away without leaving the comfort of your favorite chair. Or bed. Or beach blanket. Anita shares with us how she chose the location for FRENCH COAST, and offers advice on choosing character names when you’ve used your favorites for your children (and Anita has five children)! I’ve known Anita since before our debut novels were published, and she’s as lovely as she is prolific. FRENCH COAST is her fourth novel!

Please welcome Anita to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

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Author Interview: Author Holly Robinson Talks About Emotion, Mystery, and Names—Oh My!

Haven Lake_FCSometimes you just click with someone, and that’s how it was for me and my friend, author Holly Robinson. I’m not sure even how or when we first connected, likely due to her first novel with NAL, The Wishing Hill, which was published around the same time as The Glass Wives. TODAY, Holly is launching her third novel with NAL, HAVEN LAKE (and has another coming out in the Fall, OMG). The best part of interviewing an author-friend is learning new things about her, her writing, her stories. They’re not usually the kinds of things that come up in casual phone conversations, but they’re the things I want to know and the kinds of interviews I want to share here.

Actually, that’s the best part of interviewing anyone—quenching my own curiosity by getting the answers to MY questions and knowing what, how, and why those answers would be of interest to others. (Hello, Journalism Degree!!)

Holly’s novels are family dramas strewn with emotion and mystery. Family secrets are woven through each one, as well as vivid settings, and character voices that ring clear and true. You’ll see what I mean when you read the interview! 

Amy and Holly and lots of plates on a wall—September 2014

Amy and Holly and lots of plates on a wall—September 2014

Please welcome Holly Robinson back to WFW!

Amy xo

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