Monday, July 11, 2011

On the Writing Process - Creating Great Characters

The second installment of musings on writing relates to creating great characters. If you've ever seen a movie or a TV show or read a novel or short story that captivates you, chances are that the writers developed great characters to tell the story. Great characters are well-rounded, and detailed enough for the reader (or viewer) to believe. That means they are three-dimensional. 

If you are writing a script, a novel, a short story or other piece, and you give ample thought to your characters, you are bound to win more fans! 

Here are some things you should consider when creating a character:

The character must be consistent (unless the character is mentally disturbed, the traits and actions of the character should remain consistent with their values and the way the writer has presented the character from the beginning of the story).

The character must be believable. Even if you are writing fantasy or science fiction, a good character must be believable in action, deed, thought and relationships, or you will lose credibility AND lose the attention of your viewer or reader.

The writer must create a history and relationships for the character, even if all meaningful relationships with family, friends, husbands, colleagues or lovers are not related directly to the story. With some idea of who this person is and the people in their life, the reader or viewer will understand the character as a whole human being. 

The writer should know how she or he sees the character (age, weight, height, description, gait, mannerisms, job, education). While the writer does not need to tell the reader or viewer everything he or she thinks about the character's physical presence or every fact about the person's lifestyle, exercise regimen or eating habits, it will be easier to write about the character if the writer can picture the character in his head and have a fully formed picture of how the character lives his or life life.

The character might have a particular style of speaking (an accent, a casual or formal sentence structure). That should remain consistent throughout the story, unless the character is a spy or someone who is changing identities!

The character should have a "back story". Even if the writer does not reveal every detail of the character's history, it helps the writing if the writer understands the history and experiences. That will explain the reasons for the character's actions and reactions to situations in the story. If an action or reaction is particularly odd, the writer must reveal the impetus or motivation in order for the reader to understand what is happening. 

There are certainly other factors to creating a character but I won't go into every one of them here. The last one I will talk about is the most important. The character MUST have some redeeming quality, value or reason for existence and/or for the actions they take. If a character is unnecessary to the story, or if the writer does not value the character in some way (even if the character isn't very nice), the reader or viewer certainly will not see the value or purpose of the character's role in the story. 

When a writer chooses to reveal a character's thought process, it should be to provide clarification or critical information to the reader or viewer. Remember that you don't have to write about every thought in a character's head but DO write about reactions so that the reader or viewer can see how one character is reacting to another's action or statement. In TV and movies and on the stage, the viewer has the luxury of seeing an actor emote and so can understand their reaction to what is going on. In books, the reader must rely on the author to explain what is happening so she can see the events unfold in her imagination!

Remember that the viewer or reader cannot read your mind and needs to have a certain amount of information in order to make sense of what the characters are doing and why they are acting they way they are acting. BUT...don't go into so much detail that you lose the reader or viewer in exposition and explanation. 

In the next blog entry about the writing process, I will talk about writing at a particular time of day. Since many of the topics we will discuss relate to other topics, you'll find that I might talk about a technique, about characters or about other topics more than once during these blog posts. When taken as a group of posts and a body of thought, I hope these blog posts will give you  more complete picture of the process, and how you might approach writing your own novel, short story, script or other content. 

Monday, June 27, 2011

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Monday, June 13, 2011

The Process of Writing

From time to time a renowned author decides to write a book on the process of writing. A number of years ago, Stephen King wrote 'On Writing', a great book for aspiring authors. If you are a published author, people will often ask you questions about the process. Here are some of the most typical questions an author of fiction is asked by readers and prospective authors. 

1.  What is your process for writing, e.g., writing outlines, creating believable characters, writing a particular time of day, writing for a particular audience, finding and sustaining your voice, creating a character that your readers will love.
2.  What happens when you get writer's block?
3.  Do you write every day?
4.  Has writing become a tedious job for you or do you still love it?
5.  How long does it take to write a novel?
6.  How do you get your book published?
7.  Do you need an agent?
8.  In an age where so many books are published, can I ever hope to find an audience for my work?

Since people have been asking me these questions a lot lately, I thought I might try to tackle them in some orderly fashion. Of course, this is purely MY perspective since every author will answer these questions differently. 

Today, I will take on part one of the first question. Does my process include an outline and a process to create a detailed character?

I have written with and without an outline. If the story is simple, I sometimes like to let it take me wherever it goes and worry about adding the bones after I have created the skeleton. 

When I do create an outline, some will be very general in providing a sequence and flow and others will be extremely detailed. The more complex the story and the characters, the more detailed the outline. 

The detailed outlines arise from a need to capture all the ideas I have in my head about the story and how it will evolve. With a summary description in the outline, I can refer to the next piece of the story and remind myself where I am going so I don't get lost in the ebb and flow of the tale. Without that guide, I may forget the great idea I had about a character, a location, a relationship or an event. 

There is one caveat in my outlining process and that is that I NEVER allow the structure of the outline to DICTATE the story or evolution. Writing is, after all, a creative process and sometimes the muse takes you in a different direction. If I get to a certain point in the story and the next thing in my outline doesn't seem to make sense, I may have to follow my gut and be confident in the idea that the story or character has taken on a life of its own. While this might seem a bit hokey, there are times when the story takes the author on a journey and refuses to go in the direction the author has planned. That may be a bit frustrating but it is also exciting and wondrous because the journey is a real one and the work has taken on a flow that is magical. 

If you are going to develop an outline, you may choose to create a character summary as well. Even if you never describe what your character looks like in the book (you may choose to leave that to your reader's imagination), you should have some picture in your own mind to make the character real for you.

Character detail may include a 'back story'. This comes rather naturally to me since I have a background in the theater and I know that, if I am going to create a believable three dimensional character, I must know where the character came from, the life experiences that molded her and her goals and the reasons for her actions. In a fictional novel, this can be of some help (especially if you have never been the shepherd for a character and taken on the very real responsibility of getting the character safely through 200-400 pages of life and evolution). 

You NEVER want the reader to question whether a character's actions or thoughts are believable in a given situation. Be sure that the character's traits and values are consistent throughout the novel. If the character goes through a life-changing event, their behavior might change in some ways, but the reader must see how and why that change took place or they will not stay with the character and embrace them. I will take on the topic of creating a character your readers will love, in a later blog.

In the next blog, I will discuss the logistics of writing, e.g., time of day, place, etc.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Finding the Answer - How do I....?

I recently had the privilege of attending the BEA Book Expo and signing books in the Strategic Publishing Group Booth. During my time at the trade show I was approached by numerous individuals who attended the show in hopes of figuring out how to a) write the book they had always dreamed of writing, b) find a publisher to publish their work, c) find someone (anyone, really) who might believe in their ability, talent and vision. 

It is sometimes difficult to provide an answer to the question without discouraging the person who stands before you, anxious for you to say the words they have come to hear. The reality is that the prospect of writing and publishing a book is overwhelming and that, once the book is published, the journey has only just begun. Unless you are Tom Clancy, James Patterson, Stephen King or an Oprah Book Club choice, you will find yourself responsible for promotion, marketing, scheduling events and appearances and generally hawking the book. With the advent of self-publishing, there are millions of authors giving voice to their stories. That choice is wonderful for the reader but it is also overwhelming. When a reader has to choose a new book and spend hard-earned money, they usually revert to the familiar and buy the book written by a well-known author.

I don't mean to discourage the budding writer, but the real truth is that your vision must be so strong and your devotion to writing and publishing YOUR book must be so strong that you don't care if 5 people or 500 people read what you have written. If you have the money to put toward the publishing process, do the research and find the RIGHT self-publishing that will support the author with a menu of services from which they can choose. If you choose to do most of the work yourself, that is fine. If you choose to pay for the services, be sure the publisher offers these services. Editing, marketing, sponsored events you can attend, etc. Some self-publishing houses will print whatever you give them and the result will look unprofessional. What does that mean? It means that you have even less chance of getting a reader to pick up the book and read the jacket. The book must LOOK as professional as the writing inside. 

Ask for and pay for help where you need it. If you are not an out the work. If you are not a cover designer, get someone else to design the cover for you. The story is your creation (your baby) and you love it. You want others to love it as well. If you are going to sell any books, you must present your work professionally.

When an author approaches you and asks 'how do you write a book?', 'how do you get a book published', be brutally honest about the challenge. It will save the less-than-dedicated a lot of stress and heartache. IF the author really does have vision and devotion to the project, he or she will write and publish the book in spite of the challenges and perhaps that book will have an impact on ONE person. If it does, it has served its purpose! Anything more than one reader is a wonderful surprise!

Monday, May 9, 2011

On Art and the Pursuit of Dreams

I believe that everyone is an artist. Whether you write poetry, fiction, or non-fiction, business articles, journals or diary entries; whether you are a painter, sculptor, singer, actor, speaker or dancer, self-expression is part of your life. You may believe that you have no artistic talent, but consider the inspiration a mother or father gives a child when reading a favorite book aloud. Think about the inspiration a coach or mentor gives a business colleague when they have made a mistake or when they try to find the solution to a problem. It's all art, friends!'s all part of the pursuit of the dream.

Your dreams may be gargantuan ("I want to be the leader of the free world") or they may be small ("I want to learn to speak another language"). One dream may build on another. Much like a child must learn to balance before he or she can run, many of our dreams require long-term dedication and persistence. Perhaps others do not understand your dreams. They may think you are focusing on things that are unimportant. Don't let that discourage you! 

Every dream is  a work of art and sometimes you are the only one who sees the vision. Buy a journal and write about what you want to achieve the next day. Write about your struggles to accomplish your goals. Write about the joy you feel when you achieve an objective or overcome an obstacle. Sing a favorite song that describes how you are feeling on this day. Dance to your favorite music in the privacy of your own home or on the sidewalk. Express what you feel...good or bad...and go forward! 

Dreams may be elusive, but we can live in our dreams every day and by living the next step, we create art, envision reality and bring our dreams to fruition. It is in this execution that others see the beautiful expression of life. Imagine that your struggle to bring a dream to fruition can become the inspiration for others...and the ripples flow outward into the world! Isn't that the greatest form of artistic expression? 

Dream on!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

"To Sleep, perchance to dream..." Hamlet, Act III, Scene I

Dream Series #5 free stock photoWilliam Shakespeare penned the immortal line 'to sleep, perchance to dream'. In today's society, this line seems to take on new meaning. Many people have insomnia, and many take medication just to get to sleep. Without sleep, your body cannot replenish and renew. 

In honor of the release of my new novel, 'Dreams of the Many', and with a nod to my holistic bodywork background, I am pleased to present 10 Simple Tips to help you sleep. 

1. Remove the TV from your bedroom. Persistent sound and light will decrease the quality of your sleep and can prevent you from falling asleep. Do NOT sleep with the TV on!

2. Consider Guided Imagery CDs which are scripted to pattern your brain and enable healthy sleep. After several weeks, you may not even need to listen to the CD to get to sleep.

3. Use lavender essential oil, an eye pillow that contains lavender leaves or spikenard essential oil. The smell of lavender is relaxing and will help you to turn off your mind and get the sleep you need. Spikenard doesn’t smell as comforting but it sure does the trick!

4. Take a melatonin or valerian supplement to boost and balance your body and brain.

5. Bathe with chamomile or lavender essential oil.

6. Replace your mattress and pillow at least once every eight years. Poor mattress and pillow support can hamper your sleep.

7. Take a brisk walk for 30 minutes, 3 times per week. This will help to regulate your system and improve your sleep/waking balance, AND it will improve your physical health.

8.  Do not eat a large meal in the late evening. Do not eat SUGAR in the late evening.

9.  Learn to meditate! Meditation provides critical exercise for your brain and conditions your brain to more easily enter a relaxed state.

10. Learn and practice deep, diaphragmatic breathing. Long, slow, deep breaths and full exhalation help to oxygenate and relax your body.

It’s just that simple! Now, go forth and dream!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Dreams of the Many: Tell me about your dream world!

Dreams of the Many: Tell me about your dream world!: "It has only been a week or so since the publication of 'Dreams of the Many' and the response has been gratifying, to say the least. I am alr..."

Tell me about your dream world!

It has only been a week or so since the publication of 'Dreams of the Many' and the response has been gratifying, to say the least. I am already hard at work on the second book in the series and immersed, once again, in a dream world. 

All of this dream work gives me pause for thought. I wonder about our perception of reality and whether we can ever know the difference between the world we believe is real and any other experience or environment. Haven't we all had at least one dream that was vivid enough to follow us into our waking state? Have you ever had a dream in which an event took place and, when you woke up, you were still responding to that event as if it had really happened? 

I'd like to hear about your dreams. Tell me about a dream that was:

  1. Very vivid
  2. Predicted or foretold something that eventually happened to you or to someone you know
  3. Helped you to solve a problem
  4. Brought you into contact with someone who has died and evolved in such a way that you came to believe that the person who had passed was trying to send you a message or help you make a decision. 
I want to know about your most memorable dreams!  Come on, everyone. Jump into the pool!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Announcing 'Dreams of the Many', a new novel by Susan Obijiski


Reality and Fantasy Collide in Author’s Metaphysical Novel
Get ready for the ride of your life! In this odyssey of the mind, you will wonder what is real and what is fantasy. Susan M. Obijiski’s Dreams of the Many is a far-reaching metaphysical novel that plays mind games, but the stakes are extremely high. When his strange dreams first started, famous actor Brody Murphy paid little attention. What he could not know was that these dreams would change his life and test his sanity. The person controlling his dreams is a young autistic boy named Casey, and for him, the dreams are more than just fantasy; the outcome will determine Casey’s future. Brody discovers he is one of 10 mind travelers brought together in a surreal dream world, one designed to help Casey overcome his afflictions and live a normal life. Some of the travelers will succeed and others will fail, but all must have the courage to overcome their nightmares.

Dreams of the Many is an insightful story about shared humanity, and a reminder of our capacity to overcome our fears, and become what we were meant to be.

DREAMS OF THE MANY (ISBN: 978-1-61204-099-8) will be available on March 28, 2011 and can be ordered through the publisher’s website: or at or Wholesalers please email