The Writer's Mailbag: Installment 147
Oh My God, the Sun!!!!!
I’m writing this on April 21st, a Friday, and the predicted high in Olympia is 70 degrees. We haven’t seen 70 degrees in seven months. Needless to say, I’m going to get my writing done as quickly as possible and then go outside and soak up some much-needed warmth.
How ya doing? I hope this finds you all well. I’m doing well, thank you very much, and I’m honored to be spending a little bit of this Monday with all of you. Thanks for inviting me into your home. Next time I visit, if you could see fit to have some chocolate chip cookies, it would be appreciated. J
Are we ready? Only nine more to go and we’ll celebrate three years of the Mailbag, so let’s do it! Is my math correct? I think so!
From Audrey: “Excellent advice as always Bill--freelancing is so difficult to balance with my creative writing--my freelancing is always legal blogs--and after that I just have no fun stuff left in my tank--how you do switch hats between the two?”
It’s a great question, Audrey, and I wouldn’t be able to do it in the same day. That’s why I designate certain days for certain types of writing. Customer SEO writing is done on Monday and Tuesday, usually, and creative writing is done the rest of the week. I go so far as to not even mix two different creative writing projects on the same day. I just find it easier to compartmentalize my writing and my days.
A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT
From Liz: “Have you ever entered or considered entering the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest? I have not, but am thinking about doing so. It's all in fun. The general 'rule' or task, is to create the opening sentence to a novel or story, which should be the most awful sentence you can think up. The fellow after whom the contest is named, was the originator of the now trite, "It was a dark and stormy night..."
Liz, I have not. I’ve never even heard of it, and I definitely did not know where that opening line came from, so thank you for both pieces of information. For those interested, and I’ve already gone and taken a look, you can find that contest by following this link.
How Do You Write About Ugly Topics?
From Misha: “I was reading your current short story ‘Mary Had A Little Lamb,’ and it is extraordinary writing, but it also makes me cringe and look under the covers at night before I go to bed. How do you write about topics like child murders and stay sane?”
Misha, who told you I’m sane? LOL
I don’t know, Misha, and that’s the truth. If I were to actually see a murdered child in real life, it would probably haunt me for the rest of my life. Just the thought of child abuse in any form makes my blood boil. So I honestly don’t know how I separate myself from the ugly reality of life. Maybe my mind shuts down when writing fiction. I know it’s fiction so I don’t allow emotions to enter the fray…..but maybe that’s not it….I honestly don’t know.
We all have different buttons which, when pushed, will send us into darkness. For me it’s rape. I can’t write in detail about rape. It bothers me too much. I can’t write about physical abuse, or spousal abuse. Why that is a no-no for me but child murder is not, I have no clue. We are complicated beings, my friend, much too complicated for me to understand.
From Katie: “Hey, Bill! I was wondering, when you write short stories, or even a novel, how do you make each character seem unique? Maybe I’m not asking that correctly. In real life, we can all see, so we can see the uniqueness of individuals. But in a book, we can’t see the characters. What tools does a writer have to give each character some distinguishing characteristics? Does that make sense?”
It makes perfect sense, Katie, and I wish more writers of fiction gave this some thought before they attempted to write a book.
Let me begin by stating that I would go crazy trying to do this with every single character in one of my novels. I do try to give a physical description of everyone who shows up in my novels, but that’s as far as I go with most secondary characters. With the main characters, however, more is needed, because we writers want our readers to be totally invested in the story.
One way you can do it is through types of speech. I’m reminded of a character in the “Longmire” series, Henry Standing Bear. Despite the fact that Henry is Native American, the author of that series has given Henry a distinctive way of speaking. Henry never speaks with contractions. Now that may not seem very drastic but believe me, when he’s the only one in the entire novel not speaking with contractions, it becomes very noticeable. It is a very subtle way of making Henry stand out from the rest of the characters.
I have a character in my “Shadow” series, Paul Striker. Now Striker is a stone-cold killer, so I always try to convey a darkness about him when he appears in the novels. I don’t allow him to speak very much, and when he does speak it is usually in short, clipped sentences. There is a very menacing quality about Striker, and I try very hard to convey that through his mannerisms, his unwillingness to speak very much, and the overall vibes he gives off when he enters a room.
Again, this is very subtle stuff, but I think it is also very important.
Remember, when developing characters, no two human beings are the same. Observe people downtown, or in a library, or a coffee shop. Observe the differences in their mannerisms. That’s real life, and a novel reflects, in many ways, real life.
Anyway, great question!
From Duwayle: “Is anyone else seeing their HP views and earnings drop drastically? What’s up with that? Anyone?”
I have, mine have, and I have no clue.
I used to make decent money on HP, decent for a creative writer, that is. I used to make around $150 each month, sometimes $200….this month I’ll make $25.
I have no answers for you, Duwayle. I’m just a writer, and I’m only here because I love this community of writers.
From Leo: “I was wondering how the sales are for your coloring books? I was thinking of doing the same thing as a fundraiser for our Little League team.”
The sales, Leo, are excellent, much better than my novels, and that should probably tell me something. LOL The big test will be once the farmers markets begin. I’ll be interested in seeing how the coloring books do in that setting . . . but thanks for asking, and good luck with yours should you do it.
THAT’S ALL WE HAVE
I was going to berate all of you for not asking more questions (not really), but then I realized that the lack of questions means I can get outside sooner and enjoy the heck out of this gorgeous day.
So thank you, all, and I’ll see you again next week, as we inch our way towards the three-year anniversary of the Mailbag.
2017 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”