Hiatus

February 24, 2013 2 comments

I’ve been thinking about this for a while now. I’ve been trying to figure out what I would say, how I would bring the subject up when I’m only talking with myself. It hasn’t gone well in my head.

I’ve decided to take a hiatus from this blog. I don’t know how long it will be, but I hope some day I’ll be back. At this very moment I am deciding that my work, the writing I do and don’t show to people, other than my workshop classmates and the magazines I send the pieces out to are more important than this blog at the moment.

Hopefully some day I will be able to just sit and write and I won’t have to go to work. But maintaining and worrying about keeping up on my blogging isn’t good. I love sharing things over the webosphere, but I can be much more productive when I’m not splitting my time.

So this will be the last post I make for who-knows-how-long. It’s time to focus on the stories I’ve been telling myself I will write–I have been writing–not posting on my blog, and feeling guilty. I don’t want to feel guilty for leaving you out of the loop so I’m just taking the loop with me so you can’t even see it.

Until we meet again.

W.X.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: , , , ,

February 13, 2013 Leave a comment

Originally posted on William Xander and Thought Wanderers Press:

Have you ever wondered how your favorite author is able to make their books feel so alive and real? How even minor characters feel like they are 3D and could exist in this world without the main character who is moving the story. The reason for this is probably because the author has given these characters some thought. What they are all about, what their world views are, where they came from, what they would name their pet Jackalope if they had one.

Inhabiting our characters isn’t easy, but the payoff for doing it is bountiful. Sure, most writers have a pretty good idea of their main characters views, beliefs, opinions, where they came from and why they left. But what makes a story truly believable is the detail that goes into the rest of the characters as well.

If your having a difficult time making minor characters stand out maybe it’s…

View original 177 more words

Categories: Uncategorized

Creating Round Characters

February 11, 2013 Leave a comment

Back to character. Back to the characters we love. The ones that you talk about with your friends. The characters that you talk about as if they were real people. As if they had made their own decisions, as if they existed outside of the plot, outside of the book, completely independent from the story.

Obviously, when you think about it rationally these characters are just a collection of words. These types (round types) of characters are so multifaceted, however, they become like friends, like people you hear about and you ask yourself the question: if this character did this over what kind of decision would they make this time? Of course the question is ridiculous, as there, really, wasn’t even a first time, it was only paper and ink and imagination. But what is it about these characters that make them so amazing?

A round character is a character like the one described above. Simply put a round character is a character you can talk about outside the context of the story or novel the character is in. And a flat character would be just the opposite.

Now, obviously the characters I find round may not be the same as the ones you do. But there are characters that do seem round to far more people, others to far less people.

How do we create round characters? That’s a good question and I don’t have the answer. If it was as simple as baking a pie then I would just list the ingredients and tell you how long and at what temperature to bake it at. Unfortunately there isn’t a recipe for this kind of thing. However, as a writer of fiction it is important to keep in mind that it is important to know your characters inside and out. Yes, you need to have your plot in line and know where your story is going: know your plot arch, but also be aware how your character deals with the issues. Nobody wants to read about a Muppet who is solely reactionary to plot. Most round characters are ones who take an active part in shaping plot. Each action the character makes propels the plot to greater tension and heights.

Keep this in mind. I think this not only creates characters that are more round but also enhances the authenticity of the story as well as your plot.

Another strategy for creating round characters is creating them before introducing them to the story and plot. Like I said earlier, characters who can exist without the framework of a story are more likely to be real to readers. Try and create your character before they are thrust into the next thriller, romance, or galaxy spanning space opera you’ve thought up. A good way to do this is to make a list of this characters background. Background and history can really let you know who this character is. Things like: Where were they born and raised? Parents? Siblings? School? College? Military? Best Friend? Heroes or Mentors? Enemies? Basic Nature? humor? Phobias? Disappointments? A life philosophy? 

These are just a few things that can make your character stand out. And remember, people rather read about someone who is really bizarre, someone who is very eccentric, or just plain weird than someone who fits the bold of normal. Readers want the extraordinary and we, as writers should be willing to give them that, even if it seems cheesy at the time. I just wrote a story where my two main characters met and fell in love at a roller-derby game. That seems like the cheesiest thing I could think of, but it’s unique and piques interest right off the bat.

Alright. Go write. Enough wordpressing around!

Narrator Perception, Reader Perception

February 10, 2013 Leave a comment

Something we’ve been looking into lately is the perception a reader gets because of the PoV used by a writer. This is a paper I wrote concerning that. Even though you haven’t read the short story I site here, still, might be of interest. Curious on your thoughts. Both about this paper as well as the concepts.

Narrator Perception, Reader Perception

The point of view which an author chooses to write in dramatically affects how the reader perceives the characters in a story. In What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank by Nathan Englander, from The Best American Short Stories 2012, we can see the influence a first-person narrative can have on a story as well as how the reader can be manipulated to see the characters in the story a certain way. By filtering the entirety of the story through the eyes of this particular narrator Englander is able to influence the reader’s views of all the characters. By doing so the author succeeds in telling a story that breaks down stereotypes the reader has unknowingly adopted from the narrator’s perspective.
Though James Wood claims in his book, How Fiction Works, that, “…first-person narration is generally more reliable than unreliable…” (5), the first-person point of view can be used to build an image in the reader’s head that is tainted with the narrator’s feelings and biases. On just the second page of What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank, the narrator gives a harsh yet jocular view of some of his wife’s friends “…Lauren met Mark and they went off to the Holy Land and shifted from Orthodox to ultra-Orthodox, which to me sounds like a repacked detergent–OR–THODOX ULTRA, now with more deep-healing power” (41). As Sarah Stone and Ron Nyren say in their book, Deepening Fiction, “…one character’s view of another tells us [readers] as much about the teller as the one observed” (6). Though this is not an out-and-out description of Lauren and Mark it still gives the reader a feel for the narrator–that he’s funny, opinionated , and eager to distance himself from his guest’s views–it also tells the reader these guests are as Orthodox as you can get. Even though the narrator is not forthcoming with what ultra-Orthodoxism entails it certainly gives the reader a vivid image–an image in which nearly every stereotype of an Orthodox jew could fit in. From this description given by the narrator the reader is put in mind of stuffy, closed minded, tight lipped radical thinkers. “They’re in our house maybe ten minutes and already Mark’s lecturing us on the Israeli occupation” (40). The narrator immediately puts it in the reader’s head that Mark is a person who only cares about his country and his religion. Our first impression of Mark, as readers, is preachy and loud. It is clear the narrator frowns upon how his guests have chosen to live their lives. The quotes above do nothing to improve the reader’s view of Mark or Lauren.
Since the reader is given the narrator’s view on the other characters in the story we are stuck with this impression of Lauren and Mark. They do not strike the reader as people who would be particularly outgoing or tolerant of the way other people choose to live. Least of all would the reader believe that these people would be likely to drink alcohol. “‘…I’ve got whiskey. Whiskey’s kosher too, right?’ ‘If it’s not, I’ll kosher it up real fast,’ he[Mark] says pretending to be easy going” (41). Suddenly the reader is faced with a break in the stereotype they have been picturing. The narrator, however, guides the perception of the reader with the last part of the quotation. The reader is made to believe that Mark is not sincerely easy going, but just wants to look that way for the sake of the situation. But just a page later the two couples are sitting at a table drinking vodka and getting snookered in the middle of the day. Mark and Lauren’s actions are not what the reader is lead to expect because of the narrator’s biases. This serves the story very well as the narrator, and so the reader, is constantly surprised by the Hasidic couple’s actions. The surprise and tension gets ramped up even higher not long after this when it is revealed that both Mark and Lauren smoke marijuana regularly. “‘Hasidim!’ Deb screams. ‘You’re not allowed!’ ‘Everyone does in Israel. It’s like the sixties there,’ Mark says” (47). This time what Mark says cannot be brushed off as an attempt to sound casual by the narrator. The reader and the narrator are in the same boat with only shock as company, seeing these two people in a way they never would have expected at the beginning of the story. Because of Mark and Lauren’s background the narrator is unwilling to see them as anything but conservative and stuffy, and he passes these views onto the reader, until this moment.
By the middle of the story the narrator as well as the reader has had to reevaluate the situation. Not only content with getting drunk in the middle of the day, it is revealed that Trevor, the narrator’s son, has marijuana hidden in his hamper, and Mark, Lauren, and the narrator’s wife, Deb, all want to get high. Furthermore, getting high is not something Deb is a stranger to, “‘Look at my big bad secular husband. He really can’t handle it. He can’t handle his wife’s having any history of naughtiness at all–Mr. Liberal Opened-Minded’” What Deb says here is what the reader has been feeling all along. Though the narrator has constantly been poking fun at the Hasidic couple about not being tolerant or open-minded, he is the one who is not open minded in this story. The reader is able to see very clearly at this point that the narrator is just as closed up and intolerant as Mark and Lauren, though concerning different issues. For the first time the reader is given a glimpse of how the narrator is viewed by the other characters in the story. Up until this point the reader takes the narrator’s word for the truth. He never boasts about being superior to others because of his secular and open-minded views. But for a brief moment it is revealed that he is perceived that way by others, including his wife.
By using the first-person point of view Nathan Englander is able to manipulate his readers into believing characters are something they may not be. Only half way through the story does the reader begin to realize that the narrator may not be reporting everything objectively. His aside when Mark makes the crack about making the whiskey kosher is a perfect example of how the narrator saw what he was expecting to see and subtly conveyed that to the reader. This continues when the narrator gives their background as ultra-Orthodox and by relating it to a laundry detergent shows that he doesn’t care much for the way they have chosen to live their lives. Since we are, as readers, subjects to this narrator’s whims we begin to view these characters similarly. Readers are not accustomed to questioning the narrator. Most readers want to believe the narrator is telling the truth, or at least what the narrator thinks is the truth. That is the case in this story, though the narrator does misinterpret some of what happens and is said. The narrator is not an unreliable one, but he does guide the reader to certain assumptions that are broken later for a grand effect. When, at last, all the stereotypes are stripped away the narrator is forced to confess his surprise and enjoyment he is having with Mark and Lauren, “It is the silliest and freest and most glorious I can remember feeling in years. Who would think that’s what I’d be saying with these strict, suffocatingly austere people visiting our house?” (55).  Finally the reader is able to appreciate both the narrator as well his guests, as all assumptions have been dropped.

By using this point of view the writer is able to influence how the reader sees Mark and Lauren, as well as the narrator’s wife, Deb. With a subtle and well placed trick the author is even able to give the reader a glimpse of the narrator himself from the outside.

Works Cited

Wood, James. How Fiction Works. New York: Picador, 2008. Print.

Englander, Nathan. What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank. The Best American Short Stories. Ed. Tom Perrota and Heidi Pitlor. New York. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2012. 41-60. Print

Stone, Sarah, and Ron Nyren. Deepening Fiction. California: Pearson Longman, 2005. Print

Character Life.

January 28, 2013 5 comments

Have you ever wondered how your favorite author is able to make their books feel so alive and real? How even minor characters feel like they are 3D and could exist in this world without the main character who is moving the story. The reason for this is probably because the author has given these characters some thought. What they are all about, what their world views are, where they came from, what they would name their pet Jackalope if they had one.

Inhabiting our characters isn’t easy, but the payoff for doing it is bountiful. Sure, most writers have a pretty good idea of their main characters views, beliefs, opinions, where they came from and why they left. But what makes a story truly believable is the detail that goes into the rest of the characters as well.

If your having a difficult time making minor characters stand out maybe it’s time for a new approach. Try rewriting the scene they are in, but this time write it from that characters point of view rather than your protagonists. Delve into what this character might be thinking. How is your protagonist perceived by other characters? This can teach you a lot about not only your minor character you’re becoming acquainted with but also your protagonist. Perhaps your main character is perceived as arrogant, rude, or vague and aloof from the conversation or actions that are transpiring in the scene. If this is the case not only have you discovered something about your minor character, but also something about your protagonist. Suddenly you realize that he or she is too passive in the workings of your world and now you know how multiple characters can be brought to life in a way they were not before.

So, next time you’re wondering how to fill out your characters, make them live and breath and cry and die with passion, try to take different perspectives on what is happening. Your characters can help write themselves, and each other.

The Character Contradiction

January 27, 2013 3 comments

How many times do you read a story or a novel and say to yourself, “Hot damn, I want to write a character like that one!” But when you sit down and begin to write your character isn’t who you want them to be. They take on your mothers nose, your boss’s calculating eyes, and your cat’s aloofness. To tell you the truth, this is all good stuff. The characters that you’ve fallen in love with over the years were probably created in a similar way.
“What are calculating eyes doing in a character as aloof as a cat?” you ask! I have no idea, you need to show the reader that, and really, that’s the story. Every human being has contradictions and if our characters don’t then they don’t feel real to your readers. A contradiction or two in our characters are what makes them human, what makes the reader turn the page (or in this day and age, push the button). How the characters deal with these contradictions can be a wonderful plot device. So, next time you are having a nervous breakdown because your main character is a hypocrite, please, please, please, don’t stifle that impulse. Take some time to look at your character as well as your plot and see how the hypocritical aspects of your character can further the tension in your story.

A question for my readers:
Four bandits are in a town, they have just robbed a bank and need to make a quick escape. There’s one problem, however, they only have three horses. As a writer, how could you change this to make it a better story? (If you’re part of the NILA MFA program or ever have been, Yi Shun, you’re not aloud to answer this.)

Happy Reading
W.X.

I’ve Disappeared

January 27, 2013 Leave a comment

Yes Yes, I’ve disappeared. Like smoke in a rapid wind, like dew on a sunny day, like…like…someone who hasn’t been keeping up with his blog! It makes me want to cry. I had been doing so well, you know. With the poems and five times a week posts, even if they were short. But to tell you the truth, I’m too busy for that now days. The MFA that I’m taking, while very fun, very interesting, is also very time consuming. As you can imagine, however, I am learning a lot about writing. 

My understanding of the craft has been revised two or three times and I’ve only been in class a matter of weeks. This alone accounts for my disappearance if you ask me!

But lets not forget. I’ve also picked up the title of Events Manager at Anchor Books and Coffee, where I work. We are now hosted authors from around Seattle once a month, so if you feel the need come on up to Whidbey for a reading. The events are free, we’re just trying to build a reputation for having writers in for readings and book signings. If you take a look in the Seattle Stranger mag you will see our add where it says, “Extraordinary Bookstores,” I think we’re right up at the top because it’s alphabetical, so you read our name before Third Place Books or Eliot Bay Bookstore, which we all found very funny. Anyways, this leads me to something you may, or may not be able to help me with. If, for some reason you live near Seattle and are looking to publicize your writing by doing readings by all means contact me and we can set something up. Just leave a comment and we’ll go from there.

Back to the MFA program. Now, the concepts and critical thinking I’ve been doing in this class is beyond the type of thinking I had imagined would go into writing fiction. Because of this it is rather wearing. As a learner though and as someone who is paying a boatload of money to be in the program I want to learn as much as I can. This means I need to try and teach someone of this stuff, because you can only really know if you’ve learned it if you can explain it to someone else. So…new topic, same blog. See you soon.

W.X.

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