Brandy Schillace: Balancing Academic Work and Writing Life

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Rogue Scholar. ​I like the image this phrase conjures: the highway white with moonlight, the carriage rattling and banging as the driver nods in his seat…and scholarly rogues riding from shadowed enclaves, brandishing the sharpened steel of academic rigor. It doesn’t quite work that way—but there’s a shade of truth here all the same. Academia can be both competition and battlefield. It requires enormous sacrifice of time and energy, and it steals away hours as deftly as any highwayman. In a dwindling job market, universities demand more and give less, and the PhD lucky enough to land a job finds herself frequently beleaguered. The tenure track leaves little enough time for research—and far less for creative endeavors. How is it possible to balance a writing life in the midst of these other obligations? It’s no wonder some turn to the rogue lifestyle, with more academics seeking “alt-ac” or alternative [...]

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Brandy Schillace: The Plot Doesn’t Thicken; It Grows Up.

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I spent my afternoon between a clock and a hard-case.

Writing to a deadline, I found myself fighting with a character of my own creation. Surely this has happened to some of you? You run into a particularly disagreeable fellow who won’t do what he’s told (or wants to dictate his own parts). Naturally, we had an argument…out loud… and there’s nothing like getting caught yelling at an empty sofa. My long-suffering spouse no longer asks “who are you talking to?” He is more apt to say “Give ‘em hell, sweetheart!”

These moments of frustration represent the growing pains of character, setting, and story. As I said in my post about character building, characters and their interactions with the story world drive plot in unexpected ways. I like Carolyn Haines/R.B. Chesterton’s idea of story “seed.” Her brilliant depiction of scenes arriving in flashes that we have to feed, water, groom, [...]

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Brandy Schillace: On Character Building (One Donut Shop at a Time)

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I have a great affinity for donut shops…But not because I am especially fond of pastries.

It has more to do with the reality of such places. Here, the mundane becomes concrete and tangible: the florescent pink door handle, the flickering light of glass cases, the smell of coffee and powdered sugar (and crisping dough creations in the back-room oven). From the badly designed Styrofoam cups–with lids that never quite fit–to the faux wood shelves attempting to capture a sense of “rustique,” the donut shop is quintessential for one of my favorite fiction exercises… the character build.

Why? Why not create character in a chic Parisian cafe? Or a veranda in Venice? Or a yacht off the Caribbean coast? You could. But the goal is to create a real, live character–someone readers can identify with and believe in. Unless you spend a great deal of time traveling to or researching [...]

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Stephen Leigh, on Seven Strategies for Characterization, part III

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5: Research

I flat-out love research, as I find it inevitably sparks new ideas for a story or novel. If you’re writing in the ‘Here & Now,’ it’s not quite as necessary, but unless you do exactly what every last one of your characters do, and you have the same background, education, and interests as all of your characters, you’re still going to need to go out and seek information. In my classes, I give my students this scenario: Your character is a upper-class woman living in New York in 1855. Your story starts with her waking up in the morning. How happens next? What’s she wearing? And from there, I give them a (brief) outline of how such a woman from that era would generally be dressing — which usually leaves them a little stunned.

As writers of speculative fiction, we generally have a lot of research to do. [...]

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Stephen Leigh, on Seven Strategies for Characterization, part II

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In the first installment, I covered the first two strategies: 1) the Physical Details, and 2) Show vs. Tell. We’ll pick up from there…

Strategy 3: Dialogue

I think, for me, that this may be the Big One — the strategy with the most impact on characterization for both good or ill. If you fail at getting the dialogue right, the character will also fail, but if you get it right… well, then the character will stir and come to vivid life on the page.

With dialogue, we add an entirely new sense to the character, because as soon as you enclose words inside those quotation marks, the readers begins to not only see the character, but to hear her or him. We give the character a voice — and each character should have her or his unique voice. Everyone who grew up before the time of your phone telling [...]

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Stephen Leigh, on Seven Strategies for Characterization, part I

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In my creative writing classes, I generally break fiction into four basic components: Character, Setting, Plot, and Theme. I spend more time on characterization than the others, honestly, since I think that no matter what genre you’re writing, the reader cares primarily about the characters. You can be a tremendous worldbuilder and create an incredibly intricate background for the novel; you can have a blazing plot with startling shifts and turns and unexpected directions (all properly foreshadowed, of course); you can lay a deep, meaningful foundational theme underneath everything to support the entire structure. That’s all fine, but if the characters are wooden and one-dimensional, it’s also all for naught. Yet if the characters are complex, real, and compelling, then the reader will forgive small defects in setting, plot, and theme… because it’s the characters we care about.

It’s the characters we remember when we close a book. We [...]

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Stephen Leigh on Research: The Story Behind IMMORTAL MUSE

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Stephen Leigh, who also writes under the name S.L. Farrell, is a Cincinnati author who has published twenty-seven novels and many short stories, including several for the WILD CARDS series, edited by George RR Martin. [Administrator's note: He is also one of David's most very favorite people, and the nicest guy you could ever hope to meet.] His newest novel is IMMORTAL MUSE (by Stephen Leigh), DAW Books, March 2014. PW Weekly gave it a starred review, saying “Leigh seamlessly inserts his two immortals into history, playing with actual people and events to deliver beautifully-rendered glimpses of different eras. Leigh strikes the perfect balance between past and present, real and imagined.” Stephen’s web site is www.farrellworlds.com.

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For the first time this week, I had a chance to hold my latest novel, IMMORTAL MUSE, in my hand. It’s a fine feeling — one that I suspect every writer relishes, no [...]

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