Character Workshop: Part 1


Before I started writing stories, I vented my need for creativity in the form of roleplay. If you’re not familiar with roleplaying, it is where you make up a character, and pretend to be that character on a forum. The first post on the thread of the forum would tell you the situation your character was in, and each person playing would take turns telling the story from their character’s perspective.

The result being I got really good at developing characters. You can give a character a name and a history, but there is nothing like roleplaying to give your character depth. I thought I’d share this with you in a three part series, starting with a “rough draft” so to speak, and culminating with us doing a small roleplay with our characters. Here’s how we begin.

Fill out the following form, with a character. It doesn’t matter who, but I suggest a new one so you aren’t clogged with old history:

Eye color:
Hair color:
Lives in what country:
Lives in what state/province:
Lives in what sort of house/apartment/etc:
Special skills:
Greatest strength:
Greatest weakness:

I’ll post mine in the comments, so we can all keep track of the characters. 🙂

Body of Art

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It’s a coloring contest for adults! Well, youngish adults, but still. I’m going to doodle my novel all over a hoodie and send it in! Worst comes to worst, it’s free advertising. ^^

For those interested in participating, you can find out what states (US only, sorry!) are particpating here:

I’ll post my picture as soon as it’s done! You gotta hurry, cause this ends pretty soon!

Talent vs. Skill


Is it possible to become a great writer without having any talent whatsoever? Is it possible to have so much talent that learning to write is unnecessary?

These are good questions, and I’ve seen them answered hundreds of times, falling on both sides of the debate, on hundreds of different blogs. There’s no real way of saying which is correct, but recently I think I may have found the answer.

Now and then I go with my mother-in-law to get a pedicure, laugh, talk, and in general get away from the guys. (We love them, but their men. You know?)

The time before last was for my wedding, and the woman who did my nails just splatted on the paint any which way, leaving gaps here and overpainting there. She gave me a pedicure, did everything she was supposed to, but without any heart whatsoever. I made her go back and fix ever single detail she got wrong, and we both parted ways silently fuming. I don’t apologize. It was for my wedding, and I shelled out $20 so I wouldn’t have those gaps.

With some reservation, we went back a couple months later to the same shop, different pedicure lady. Same pedicure. Same service. Should have looked the same, right? She did my nails, than went back and stared at each individual toe, and fixed everything herself. I didn’t say anything. She added a little bit of color there, rubbed a bit of paint off there, did some complimentary designs on my big toes, and left my feet looking fabulous. She seemed surprised when I gave her a big tip, asked for her name, what days she was off, and promised to request her next time.

What does all that have to do with talent vs. skill?

The true answer came to me as I was admiring my feet. It doesn’t really matter whether it’s talent or skill. If you love what you do, you’re going to be good at it. If you don’t have the talent, you make up for it with skill. If you have the talent, but not the skill, you read books to force the skill.

Passion is what makes good fiction, or good anything really. Even if it’s just a really good pedicure.

Maybe it’s the push-ups.


A few days ago, I decided I would inflict upon myself a writing bootcamp. It seems like all I’ve done since the beginning of this blog is report on how things are not going well on chapter 3…4…5…6…and so on. It’s not that things go bad, it’s just that I take forever to get a chapter done. Yesterday I sat in my chair and forced myself to finish chapter nine.

There! I thought to myself. I’m just being lazy. When I’m not dodging writing and actually doing it, things go a lot faster! I turned triumphantly to chapter ten, and then turned right back to chapter nine because I had to fix it. Nothing happened in the entire chapter. I completely missed the fact that Elizabeth has had no less than four major tramatic experiences (including kidnapping) and not one single mental break down. I was so busy trying to force myself to finish the chapter so I could finish the draft, that I missed the point of editing in the first place. Now I’ve got to rewrite the chapter again. This time carefully.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that forcing yourself to write only works on the first draft. What do you think?

Author Update


Its been a while since I posted an update, not in terms of blog time perhaps, but in real time. I’m now on chapter eleven, and its just as easy as chapter’s 1-10 were. This time when my fingers hesitated over the keyboard and I couldn’t figure it out, I just left it alone. I came back to it every day, twice a day, searched myself, and left it over and over for a week.

Today, I started typing. The solution to the problem spun out from under my fingers, nestled onto the page, and made me slap my forehead from the sheer obviousness of what I should have done. The story connected neatly to a piece I’d written earlier, and now I’ve got most of the chapter written. I have no doubt the process is going to begin all over again, with me bashing my head over a brand new part, waiting and hoping the right answer will come.

Is this normal? Is this how you other writers do it?

Anyone here in Etymologist?


In second grade, I waged war with my teacher over words. The task she took great delight in failing me at seemed simple to her. Take the list of words she provided such as large, and small, and match them up with words that were the same. Looking back, I think what she wanted me to do was match them to words like big and tiny. At the time, this escaped me.

I don’t feel this was a mark of unintelligence, although my teacher certainly thought so. To me, the words weren’t the same at all. After all, if they were the same one of them would be taken out of the language as redundant. Right? If she’d asked me to find similar words, I might have handled this a lot better, but that’s not the point.

Many, many years later, I still don’t think big is the same as large, and I still look up words I know but infrequently use to be sure of their meaning. Most recently, it was the word, “Offal.”

For those who don’t know, “offal” is the culinary term for the guts of an animal. I wasn’t using it that way in the idea I was exploring. The quote from my notebook is something like this:

“Dragon hunters,” Madam Seet said. She spat on the ground to cleanse her mouth of the word. “They throw out the best parts of the pig. They treat it like offal.”

Sounds good, except from Madam Seet’s perspective, offal is the best part of the pig. >.<

I haven’t figured out how to fix it yet, and since it is going into my idea box anyway I’m not going to push it. I’m not really sure about anything right now. I’m not even sure this is where I wanted to go with this blog post. (After all, an etymologist studies the history of the words, and here I am studying their meaning instead.)

Oh well. I’m content to leave things as they are. Tomorrow: The Idea Box, my cure for writer’s block. ^^

Do you draw?


All the sketches on Ink in Progress are done by me. Most of them involve the rejection penguin, my puppy, or a story I’m writing. I use sketches to help me focus on my writing. (I have trouble writing visual detail. Seeing a picture helps me become aware of details to put in the story.)

Not every writer is capable of drawing however, and I wonder what non-writing things you do to help bring along a WIP. Feel free to share. ^^ I’ll leave this one to you.

Looking Back

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The first novel I wrote here in Washington was a cliche fantasy I serialized on a blog early this year. I felt good about the book as it went on, but gradually as comments started to come in (most supportive, some not so much) I began to lose confidence in the story. Then I began to hate it. Then I became grateful I was writing anonymously and stopped posting.

I wasn’t quite expecting the response I got. At first nothing much. Then someone posted a link wondering what was going on, and then my mother-in-law asked if she was ever going to finish, then two friends from California, and so on. People I didn’t know, past reviewers, tons of people, tons of talent, all looking at a story I thought was invisible.

My sister made me promise to post the rest of it up, and today I did. As I was going through it, looking at each chapter, I found to my surprise the ugliness I remembered wasn’t there. I loved the book. Sure, it needs work. I can see lots of room for improvement, but the hopeless feeling I got when I looked at it is gone.

There’s some very good parts in it. I found myself wincing in sympathy for my poor character, and the trials I forced her to face. I actually can’t wait to go back and revise it, to turn it into the novel it was meant to be. It’ll be a great break from Life of a Suburban Unicorn, once this almost-revision is complete.

Distancing yourself from a book can be so hard, but it’s worth it. I feel better about my writing looking at it. Better than I have in a long time. How do you feel, when you look back?

Evil Weasel Words!


The word “moment” appears in my first four chapters 12 times. I noticed this as I was happily typing along, adding the word moment roughly twice a page, when I realized I’d typed the word twice in the same sentence. I went back and did a highlighted search for the word “moment” and there they were. I didn’t dare search the rest of the document. The first few chapters are enough.

Fortunately, I caught this one, and I have written myself a reminder to do a word check before calling the manuscript complete. If you suspect yourself of weasel words (and don’t worry. It happens to everyone.) Paste a section of your document into a word cloud generator, and see which words are biggest. Does the word “look” dominate the picture? You probably need to take a few of those out.

That’s it for now. ^^ Happy writing all.

What’s Your Character’s Theme Song?


Life of a Suburban Unicorn has a fluctuating play list, but right now if I had all the money in the world for a book trailer, A Different Kind of Pain by Cold would be my choice for theme music.

Each one of my characters has a theme song. My favorite being Genie in a Bottle for Dunya and Dirty Little Secret for Mom.

Rarely do I get struck by a character’s theme song before I invent the character. Today I had to make a new folder in my Favorites entitled, “Future Characters.”

This song here was the first to go in. Who could walk away from a character like that? O.O And what did she do to deserve someone praying like that?

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