Researching the Person

Today I am happy to host a guest blog post by Tyne Griffin. He is a prolific writer, having written 11 books in the series he is currently penning and is here to share his personal research methods for writing layered protagonists. Here’s what he has to say.

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If you frequent any sort of place where writers converse, you may happen across questions. Things about poisons, wounds, events, and other things that they are pondering for the sake of realism. Often those things can be answered with a few simple internet searches. But there’s another type of writing research that is a little more in depth than that.

Some writers use the Myers Briggs test types to classify the personalities of their characters, and it works for them. But it never did for me. It never felt like enough, having four letters and a blurb to build a character off of. I wanted to write people vastly different than me who felt realistic and like their experiences were genuine. So today I share with you the method to my madness of writing eleven different first person narrations in a year.

For the sake of simplicity, I picked out four of my narrators to go over.

Narrator 1: He was my first real attempt at first person. I knew that he needed to be shrewd, cunningly deceptive, and in most theaters except romantic, a villainous person. I thought on people like that, and the first thing that came to mind were prolific serial killers. Masters of social engineering, I studied their mannerisms and tactics through numerous documentaries and case studies. I gained an overall greater understanding of that type of person after taking a Psychology class at my college that focused on them. I also looked over Hitler and people of the like to study the political charisma needed to win over the hearts of the masses. But the true challenge of creating his personality was to take that all into account, and make him a loving protagonist.

Narrator 2: For him, I did two very different kinds of research. He hailed from a Mexican gang, so to write that person as realistically as possible, I again turned to documentaries. But I went beyond just that by taking a Criminal Justice class at my college that had a detailed section on the gang type that his was based off of. Then the second half of my research for that narrator took place at a middle school. He eventually became a middle school English teacher so in order to understand the mechanics of that, I shadowed my previous middle school English teacher for months. I observed the way he interacted with his students and the type of respect they had for him, both things that I made very central to the character in my book.

Narrator 3: He is perhaps the furthest from me, personality wise. A high school bully in recovery, he was one that I had to look harder for clues. That type of person, in media, is generally portrayed as dull, blundering, and a mindless bad guy just there to be a brute to our high school hero. But bullies are people too, so I needed to get to the root of someone who thought that way. He is forced to take anger management courses so I decided to start there. I watched free courses online, read what I could find on the topic, and thought on the past bullies in my life. Someone once told me that the only people you don’t like are people you don’t know well enough (in most cases) so I chose that to be the core of this narrator. Everyone is the hero of their own story, everyone has their justifiable reasons behind their actions, even if they’re not the traditional protagonist.

Narrator 4: This narrator is tentatively referred to as the plant-loving sociopath. I had to do the most miscellaneous research for him. Though others perceive him that way, he is not a sociopath. For his narration I had to get into the head of people who sincerely and deeply romantically love more than one person at once. Unfortunately there wasn’t much out there for me to look into regarding the dynamics of that sort of relationship style, three people who sincerely love one another romantically. But I did the best I could with the information I was able to find. Along with his romantic life, I had to research more on gang mechanics for him along with restaurant dynamics, poisons, cocain cooking methods, and money laundering for his work life. That research consisted of asking questions to people I knew who work in the restaurant industry, more documentaries, news stories, and poison databases. Then finally for his school life, I had to do a ton of research into plants. He was the president of the gardening club at their high school, so he would have a vast knowledge on the subject that I did not previously possess. Lucky my significant other is my resident plant freak, so he could answer most of my questions, but I did find myself trying to find the scientific name of the plant sage one late night.

Some writers say that their characters ‘speak’ to them. I see it all the time, but it is beyond me. In order for me to write a person, I have to learn every layer that would come to play in the type of intimate narration style that first person is. Each narrator needs to be unique in word choice, emotional potency, conscience, and combination of love languages. So if I have to go out of my way and look like an oddball checking out four anger management books along with one on paranormal investigation to accomplish that, then so be it. Researching personalities and creating people is one of my favorite parts of writing because I feel like I made a friend in the process. And in the end, narrators are people at their core, and that is their most valuable and endearing trait to be explored.

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Tyne enjoys writing LGBTQ+ romance that is both character driven and has an exciting plot line. He’s currently working on a series that explores Magical Realism, unlikely romances, and world domination.

Hailing from beautiful Central Oregon, he was inspired by his lovely town and scenery to set his series there. Though outdoor sports are the pastime of choice in Central Oregon, he spends most of his time indoors. When he’s not writing, he can be found playing his violin, vlogging, or researching the paranormal. Tyne holds an Associations of Oregon Transfer Degree in English and Writing and will be furthering his education in the foreseeable future, but in what is unclear.

Using All Five Senses

The point of description is to immerse your reader into your story world and make them feel what your characters are experiencing. So vivid imagery is key to building each scene. The most common sense that writers use is visual imagery or the sense of sight. And it comes most naturally to writers, but it’s important to utilize all five senses in our writing.

What sounds are populating your scene? Is there the sounds of the city, cars passing and the hustle and bustle of people walking by or is there the quiet sounds of the country, wheat rustling in the breeze and the sounds of crickets in the night? Are church bells marking the time? Our lives are filled with sounds, so remember to include them in your writing to make your story world seem more real.

Smell is an important sense and is related to our memories, so it’s crucial to include. What does the scent of her perfume make your character think of? When your MC walks into a new house, does the smell of freshly baked cookies and vanilla remind them of their grandmother’s house? Does your MC feel on edge when they smell the metallic tang of copper that they recognize as blood? Scents can convey a lot of emotions and help with showing instead of telling.

A lot can also be conveyed using touch. Her silky skin underneath his fingers, the searing sun on his neck, the grit cutting into her skin as she is shoved to the ground. These sensations can really paint the mood of the scene and make it more vivid and real to your reader.

Taste isn’t always applicable to every scene, but it adds a lot of color to a scene. There’s the taste of blood in his mouth after a fight, the medley of spices that floods her tongue as she tastes curry, the aftertaste of coffee and cigarettes after an all-nighter. Don’t forget about taste in your writing.

Using all five senses really brings your writing to life and paints a full picture for your reader. What sense do you struggle to include? Comment below and happy writing!

Julia

Follow my column at Our Write Side and my Twitter for more writing tips and inspiration and find me on Facebook for weekly prompts and stories.

Writing a Strong Theme

It’s hard to say what makes a good story so good, but one reason is that certain stories stick with us because they made us feel a certain way. They formed a connection with us that was strong enough to stay with us for years. Why? These stories had a strong theme. Theme is found at the center of your story. It is the meaning that your story conveys. The truth your story reveals. It helps to streamline and focus your story and that’s what makes a connection with you as a reader. So how do we write stories with strong themes?

Keep from preaching. Readers are smart and can pick up on what your theme is without much prodding. So don’t give them sermons in the guise of dialogue or exposition. Your reader will notice and they won’t appreciate it.

Pick one or two main themes to work with. More than that and your writing will be scattered and disorganized. Theme is supposed to tie your story together, not wind down a dozen different paths.

Build themes connected to your characters. Theme should come out of your characters; their beliefs, personality, and character arcs. Your themes should be found in what your characters say and do.

Likewise, your plot should be connected to your theme. Your plot should be driven by your characters’ decisions and actions. So your plot should help to develop the theme. Otherwise your plot will seem random and unorganized.

Don’t worry about making your theme original. There are only so many themes out there. Instead focus on portraying your theme the best way you can. It’s that hard and that easy.

What story themes have stuck with you the most? Comment below and happy writing.

Julia

Follow my column at Our Write Side and Twitter for more writing tips and inspiration. Find me on Facebook for weekly stories and prompts.

From Idea to Novel

So you’ve got an idea bouncing around in your head for a novel and it won’t leave you alone. That’s great and also intimidating. After all writing a novel is hard work and you might not be sure this idea is enough to craft an entire novel from. So how to do we go from idea to novel? Let’s take a look.

First you have to have a strong idea. This may be a character you envision, a scene that keeps replaying in your mind, or a setting that intrigues you. The first step is to develop it into a story concept strong enough to build a novel on. I wrote about story concepts worth developing here.

Next comes brainstorming and outlining. Freewrite every idea you have for your story. Develop the idea into a 15 word synopsis. Then expand that into a five line paragraph. Begin character sketches for each of your main characters and a smaller sketch for minor characters. Give all your characters a flaw and a goal to work towards, even the minor characters. The protagonist’s goal defines the story and the conflicting nature of the protagonist and antagonist’s goals drives the story forward. Now you’ll need to pick your story’s structure. I’ve written about each main structure; the Three Act structure, Five Act structure, Fichtean Curve, and Hero’s Journey. Find one that works for you and start building your scene list. I’ve written on scene lists here. Decide on each plot point in your structure and then connect all your scenes.

Then create a writing routine. You’ll need to show up and do the work to write your novel. Novels are beyond difficult to write, but having a writing routine can save you from days of writer’s block staring at a blank screen and wondering why you ever decided to be a writer in the first place. Check here and here for more on writing routines.

Write. This is the most important step and there’s no skipping this part. It’s that hard and that easy. Write.

When you’ve finished that first draft, celebrate! Go out with the friends you’ve been neglecting. Eat an entire cake by yourself. Do a happy dance. And put away your draft for at least two weeks if not a month or more. Don’t look at it and try not to think about it too much. This gives you a well-deserved rest and ensures you’ll have fresh eyes to see it with when you’re ready for the revision process.

So now you know how to get from idea to novel so what are you waiting for? Start at step one and let’s get that novel written! Happy writing!

Julia

Follow my column at Our Write Side and my Twitter for more writing tips and inspiration and find me on Facebook for weekly prompts and stories.