Tuesday, June 30, 2015

How Do You Bring Characters to Life?

When you write characters in a story, they are more than simple descriptions on a page. They behave, they act, they live and breathe. People have physical attributes; so do the characters in writing.  They have senses of taste and smell and touch. Physical or emotional flaws may help shape them. Like the writer, characters think. They have motives, often revealed only through their actions, not their words or even their thoughts.

I might describe Johnny like this:

Johnny is an emotional, overweight ten year-old boy with blue eyes and blonde hair.

Or I might describe Johnny in a different way altogether:

Johnny's ninth birthday party, just a year ago, stuck in his memory like a knife in the gut. The older kids had laughed at him, calling him 'tow-headed fat-boy.' The memory caused tears to well up in his piercing blue eyes. He felt a warm tear slide down his cheek to the corner of his mouth; the salty taste reminded him of what his mother had said: "Those boys knew what they were doing; they were pouring salt on an open wound."

Though the prose in the latter paragraph might be a little 'purple,' it gives more insight into Johnny than a two-dimensional description.

I'd love to read some of the ways other members give life to their characters.  Please, if you will, share just a bit here on this blog.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Humor in dialog - Chap Harper

Humor in dialog- Chap Harper
These two characters will remain humorous throughout the rest of the book. I usually pick out a few that interact in a way that once they are in character one can expect the humor. Many of the characters could be in a gun battle but these two never stop being funny. It is that vein of humor that you try to maintain throughout the book. Since my books are adult, sometimes the language is a little more realistic for some people's taste, so you might cover your eyes through the occasional "bad" word parts. 

(Excerpt from Once Upon the Congo)

Sony may have planned his butt off for this trip, but he was not prepared for a young anthropologist who stood next to the large helicopter he was about to board.
She extended her hand “Hi! I’m Carol Barbot.”
Sony was in shock. Here stood a woman brushing back long blonde-streaked brown hair from her face—a runway model face. Beautiful white teeth glistened behind a smile wrapped with gorgeous full lips. She flashed lovely green eyes. He also noticed her dark olive complexion. As her soft feminine hand shook his, Sony sized up her body quickly and efficiently. All was in perfect harmony. Even her breasts were in motion while she and Sony shook hands. He had to act cool, since this most likely was the most beautiful woman he had ever touched, even in the form of a mere handshake.
“Carol, very nice to meet you. I’m Michael Sony Cole. You can call me Sony,” he said, as calmly as possible for a man who hadn’t been laid in a year. Now he was holding the hand of a first degree sex goddess.
“Did your parents name you after their television set?” She said. Her lips curled in a quirky smile.
“After the clock-radio next to their bed. Seemed like the thing to do after conception,” Sony said with a straight face. He had been down the Sony name road too many times.
Carol laughed out loud. She had met her match at smart-ass conversation. She might possibly have just met someone as handsome as she was beautiful. Sony was six foot three, slim, athletic, with a combination of his mother’s and dad’s good looks taken up a notch and capped off with a head of thick blond hair and piercing blue eyes. 
“Did they hire you to be our expedition comedian, or do you have a real job here?” she quipped.
“My parents own part of the mining concession, and I’m not sure why I’m here. And you were sent here to keep our minds off of the perils of the jungle?” Sony said, a little sarcastically.
“Absofuckinglutely! Once I strip down to bathe in the river, the pygmies will line the banks, and you guys just shoot them all,” she said, also with sarcasm.
Sony laughed, and realized this woman was a lot of fun. “Just in case—since I would be lining the bank to watch as well—would you mind telling them not to shoot me?”
“You’re golden, Sony. I will save you from pygmies and friendly fire every time.”
“Carol, now really, tell me about yourself with the least amount of fabrication possible.”
“You make things hard for me, Sony. I was thinking about liking you—but now it’s over.” She was clearly having fun with him. “I am a certified first class cultural anthropologist. With three degrees, for which I am also—like a doctor. Not a real doctor who would ask you to drop your drawers—not that I might not ask that of you sometime, but the Ph.D. kind where you don’t get to see people naked.” 
“So, Carol, we hired you for this expedition so that you can put tags on the toes of the natives we shoot? Or—maybe you are one of those bleeding hearts who will tell us not to shoot natives? I knew it! This expedition is not going to be any fun, and I want to go home.” Sony delved deeper into dark humor, knowing she would probably protect natives with her life.
“Sony, any natives you shoot have to be cleaned and stuffed for our museum. So don’t think you are just going to leave them in the jungle. The first thing you learn at anthropologist school is to not waste a dead pygmy. Very important to conserve the bounty nature gives us.” She laughed at how far she had carried the dead pygmy humor.
“Carol, I can’t wait any longer, since I’m beginning to think we could go on tour together. Are you married?” Sony realized all this banter could end quickly.
“No. Not this week. And you?”
“Not in the last year. Would you like to pretend we are married for the trip, and see if we would like it?”
“Sony—the man named after a clock-radio, I take you as my phony-ass husband as long as we are in the jungle together. Once we hit pavement again –it may be over.”
“Carol, I take these vows of marriage as just a stupid excuse to have sex together in the jungle, and will treat them and keep them, use them, for my own selfish satisfaction. So help me.”
“I pronounce us jungle married, and you may kiss the bride,” Carol said, as she pulled Sony close to her and kissed him. Actually, it was a very good deep kiss. They kissed again, and Sony said, “I had a ring picked out, but didn’t know your size.”
“Uh—I don’t know your size either. Maybe I should have waited to marry you until we had spent a little time together?"
“Oh, no! You are stuck with whatever size I am. Jungle divorces are almost impossible to get. Pygmies hate divorces and usually kill those who come before them with that request,” Sony said.
“Yes. I remember that from anthropology school. But as I recall the man is killed, and the chief takes the woman as a wife or . . . slave maybe.”
“Carol, you pull these anthropological assessments right out of your ass don’t you?"
“You’ll have to check later, sweetie, since it’s all yours in the jungle.”
“I like being married to you, Carol. You are so abnormal,” Sony said.
“Ah, yes, a most charming trait. You seem to possess abnormality at a deeper, psychological level—a level that someday may require medication.”
“Carol, I’ll loan you my meds anytime.”

While these two married each other and worked on a comedy routine, the jet carrying Mit, Chris and Modesto landed at the airport. The expedition would be headed out soon.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Software for Writers

I'm interesting in chatting with anyone who has experience using the following software:

  • Scrivener (from Literature and Latte)
  • calibre (both as e-book library management and for creating EPUB and MOBI files
  • Adobe InDesign
Please get in touch by email to jsswinburn@gmail.com.  There's a free cup of coffee and a Danish in it for you!



Sunday, June 14, 2015

Writing Exercises

The Right Ingredients to Keep You on Edge: by Betty Wilson Beamguard, The Writer Mag Aug 2006

  • Select a newspaper story. Rework it into fiction using one of the people involved to tell the story as he or she experience it. Bring in sensory details wherever possoble.
  • Choose an emotional passage from your fiction and bring it to life by showing how your characters reacted rather than telling how they felt. Use action and dialogue rather than description.
Write - have fun.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Indie Authors Talk Editors

For those of you considering hiring an editor for your work prior to publication, I think you'll find this linked article from Publishers Weekly of interest.  It is about a year old, but mentions some specific editors by name and discusses costs, etc.  I haven't done any research to try to find these editors, but that's on my to-do list.

In the event my link doesn't work on the text above, here it is in all its lengthy glory:


Monday, June 8, 2015

Photos from Arkansas Writers' Conference

Speaker Panel Taking Questions
Speaker Panel Taking Questions
John Achor at his Book Table
John Achor at his Book Table
John Achor, Layne Fleming, Myra Rustin,
Linda Black, Janis Kearney
Linda Black at her Book Table
Chap Harper at his Book Table
Janis Kearney and Linda Black handling registration
Peggy Caudle Vining, Poet Laureate of
Received Honors at AWC
Faye Guinn, 2nd Place
in VWC Contest
John Swinburn with
contest award

Sara Gipson, 3rd Place
in VWC Contest

Notes from the Arkansas Writing Conference

The Arkansas Writing Conference (AWC), held June 5 and 6 in North Little Rock, was a great opportunity for chatting with old friends, making new ones, and learning about writing and publishing.

The Village Writers' Club was represented by the presence of the following members: John Achor, Linda Black, Chap Harper, and John Swinburn. We should note Linda Black was not only present, but was involved in planning and organizing the Conference. Linda is a member of the Arkansas Pioneer Branch of the National League of American Pen Women, the Conference organizer, and was a member of the planning committee. John, Linda, and Chap each had a table at which they displayed their books, as well.

Two members were recognized by placing in AWC contests: Mickey Jordan's short story, A Flight to Remember, received 3rd Honorable Mention in the Allen Vaughn Brown Memorial Essay contest. John Swinburn's poem, A Night on the Town, received 1st Honorable Mention in the Marie Barton Memorial Poetry Award contest. John's short story, Cameron Bay, was awarded 1st Place in the Writers' Colony at Dairy Hollow Short Story contest.

The Village Writers' Club sponsored a contest at the AWC. Themed "Creative Non-fiction about Possibilities," the winning entries were from: 1st Place, Geneva King Emerson; 2nd Place, Faye Smally Guinn, and 3rd Place, Sara Gipson.

Keep an eye on A Passion for Writing. We'll share some interesting and informative tidbits from speaker and panel presentations in the weeks and months ahead.

Monday, June 1, 2015

White County Creative Writers 2015 Contests

White County Creative Writers have announced fifteen contests in advance of the group's 2015 Writers' Conference (scheduled for September 5, 2015 in Searcy, AR). Details about the contests (deadline for entry is July 27) may be found at: