I am a member of one writing group and one critique group.
Apparently, this is a little weird, but at my writing group we write. The goal is to get together, encourage each other, work through writing problems together, and write together. We accomplish this by sprinting; we do 20 minutes of writing, and then 20 minutes of talking, in a cycle the whole time we are together.
My critique group is particularly active during on months and particularly ignored during off months. All of the members participate in NaNoWriMo and the associated Camps. Three of the four members also participate in JuNoWriMo. An unofficial offshoot of NaNoWriMo that happens in June. During the month NaNo or Camp is happening we take a break while the members write like crazy. Once the month is over we start back up with our agreed upon submission of ~5k words per week from each member.
As someone who is working towards a full-time professional writing career both of these groups are important. The writing group was a great group to start with, getting to know others in the area who enjoy writing as much as I do and GET the same problems that I talk about. My significant other listens when I talk about my latest writer's block or character motivation problem, but he doesn't write, and can only understand so much. The emotional support of the writers group is amazing, and useful, and real.
The critique group is great for turn around and developing a critical eye. Having a weekly deadline to edit 5k words has been one of the best things I have ever done to improve my writing turn around. Reviewing three pieces of ~5k each week has done wonders for realizing what I can do to improve my own writing. Then there's the actual feedback I receive on my pieces which have been amazing at bringing the pieces up another three levels.
One of the best things I can recommend for a growing writer is finding and participating in both a writing and critique group. They can help bring any writer to the next level.
When I was six years old I got my glasses. Within a week I went from not reading at all to reading chapter books. The books I fell in love with were The Baby-Sitters Club series by Ann M. Martin. These books spoke to me. I read every one, over two hundred. Something about these characters just felt real. The girls were so different from each other, yet they were best friends. I could point to each one of my own friends and tell which character they would be (for the record, I’m Mallory). I found that I love falling into this world. These books also helped me discover my love for series. While I enjoy a standalone book, the girls in The Baby-Sitters Club helped show me how much more I could learn with each new book. I think this speaks to me as a writer. I always continue the stories in my head, and with a series I know what actually happens.
The next series I fell in love with was Harry Potter. These books had special meaning in my household, which I won’t get into. But more than that it was a great escape. Like the previous series it gave a chance to fit everyone I knew into place. I find I like my characters to be as realistic as possible, even in a magical world.
As an adult I found the world of cozy mysteries. I’ve always liked trying to figure things out, and since cozy’s are usually series’ as well these were a perfect fit. While there are many cozy’s that I love my favorite is probably the Aurora Teagarden series by Charlaine Harris. Harris is most well known for her True Blood books, and while I enjoy those as well, it was her earlier books that I fell for. What I like most about Aurora was actually how she broke from the typical cozy mode while still staying true to the heart of the genre. For example, there is no love triangle, an aspect of cozy’s that often bothers me. I also found a lot of similarities between Aurora and myself.
As a teacher I also find myself reading a lot of young adult and middle grade stories. Most recently I have found the books by Rick Riordan. He has five different series, but they all connect to each other. Each follows a different teenage hero who has just discovered they are the child of a god (or goddess). These books seamlessly interweave Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and Viking mythology with today’s technological, modern world. I find them a fantastic tool to teach these classic stories that my students are often find boring. And as a reader, well they are just fun!
Many pairs of glasses later, books still influence me as a writer and as a person. Reading often inspires me to write and I am always looking for fun new suggestions.
Most of us grew up going to the library for the next adventure to read. It was the only way to borrow a book. And if you wanted to buy one, there were mail order clubs or mall bookstores.
Printed books have ruled for centuries and are now having competition. With the explosion of the internet, eBooks and audio books have ceased our attention. But are we loosing part of the story when the feel of paper is no longer at our fingertips?
There is something to be said about gripping the paper as we travel along with the protagonist. When reading a good book, I never want it to end. I fan the remaining pages to count them. A light breeze touches my face, and the familiar scent of a well-read book tickles my senses.
Walking into a library has an almost ethereal effect. I can imagine myself there right now. The librarian lifting an index finger to her lips and quietly shushing loud talkers. The smell of old books. The sound of pages turning. Shoes clickety-clacking on the marble floors.
This holds true for bookstores too. There is nothing better than spending an afternoon sitting in a comfortable chair with a stack of books and trying to narrow it down to a few to purchase.
But today it’s different. A book is only a click away. EBooks have flooded the electronic highway. Many if not all libraries have virtual bookshelves people can go to and borrow eBooks and audio books. The best part of this is, there are no longer overdue fines. The library automatically recalls the borrowed material. Cool.
And buying books are just as easy now. Go on Amazon, Smashwords, or Audible, and you can get the next best selling story delivered instantly to your inbox.
Sure people still buy or borrow a printed book. I don't think they will disappear. Amazon will overnight a book to you and people still go to the library. But a tablet can hold hundreds if not thousands of ebooks and audiobooks. The best thing is the device easily slips into a backpack, briefcase or pocketbook and when you are using it, no one knows what you’re reading or listening too.
I remember when I was a kid and we were at the beach. My mom was reading a shirt-ripper. On the cover of the book was a beefcake hunk wearing a torn shirt. I laugh now thinking about it. Mom had the book slipped inside a magazine so no one could see what she was reading. Too funny.
With the many choices to feed the craving to read, there is something for everyone. The good thing is, authors are getting their stories out there. So what type of reader are you? Do you prefer a printed book, an eBook or audio book?
Loveable and huggable, or despicable and horrifical, audiences deserve and reward deep characters. They resemble real life enough to garner our empathy, are inventive, and will stand out in a crowd. Inspector Gamache and Kurt Wallander are as different as could be, though both men have the same occupation, similar physique, and identical goals. There are dozens more who fit the bill, but the good ones stay with you after the story ends. These characters may share goals and have different conflicts, individualizing an otherwise typical personality. Is your character frustrated trying to lose weight? A drunk? Neurotic? Have OCD? A mama's boy, or maybe a closet gay? These are their trials, and readers want to find out if the character wins or fails at surviving, and overcoming obstacles.
So what are the basic elements of a great character? Getting to understand how they think is primary. Readers want to be able to predict the reactions of characters (and then be surprised when they do the unexpected) based on their personal issues, inner dialogue, and the context that you present them in. They want to know if the character is brave or shy or fragile or clever or introverted or an adrenaline junkie. Will they choose adventure (yay!)? Are they likely to figure out the mystery or survive a cross-country trek? Are they afraid of bugs? When buggy looking aliens invade, will our hero be constantly nauseous? Knowing how the character (robot, dog, woman, tree, child or paladin) thinks gives readers insight, and insight makes people feel powerful. Now they're hooked.
But predictability and character growth is only half the battle. You need to bridge the distance between writers and readers to give them what they really crave. Whatever their foibles and talents, characters make their way into our hearts as we join them in the great escapade of (fictional) life. Harry Potter is endearing because he's bullied. Romeo falls in love so deeply he can't think straight. Ever been there? If you haven't, perhaps you will, and then BAM! All that crazy makes sense.
Having a plot that brings your multi-dimensional character along a literary journey that is fun and engaging brings the reader into your world. Your character is center stage, but you have to dress up the stage, create the world. Your agenda (plot) is what makes your characters pop. Some fit in perfectly, like David Copperfield in Dickensian England. Some are aberrant, such as Scarlet in Gone With the Wind. Either way, the reader will remember your characters because the story in which they find themselves provokes emotion, entertains, and brings the character traits and the journey together in a landscape that allows your protagonist to come alive, even if just for a while.