Thursday, 24 April 2008

Fight or Flight - What do your Characters do?

The Flight or Fight theory is something I ponder with all of my characters before I write them.

I wonder if my fellow writers consider this theory. I'm not just talking on a confrontation type of situation with limited consequential value. I mean in a life or death situation because I think in order to understand our characters we need to venture there with them (not necessarily in our stories but before we develop them).

Over the years I have seen people at that pure raw emotional level. And I learnt early that first impressions such as looks, build, age and sex of the subject isn't necessarily an accurate guage.

The thing is, given enough time - everyone will break down to pure raw emotion under certain circumstances. That animal instinct where we fight or flight.

So imagine your characters broken and at that raw emotion type level. What is their natural instinct? Do they fight or flight?

We need our MCs to have a vulnerability. But, we shouldn't just make it a 'cosmetic' vulnerability. We need to dig deep into our character's lives and start by figuring out what their raw emotions would be. Then give them a reason for those emotions either way.

I find starting with the raw emotion and building upon it doesn't 'cheat' the reader in the end. You know the feeling you get when you say 'I knew he/she was evil/good', that's because of the raw emotions you start with. After that you can twist and add to suit your needs for the story.

For me, this is truly understanding your character and allows you to build their personality upon it.


Friday, 18 April 2008

Types of Questions

Regardless of the occupation or personality of your characters, it is an advantage if you are aware of how to construct questions. Or, how your character should construct questions in order to ilicit the information they require. This doesn't just pertain to Detectives or Journalists (although I would argue many Jounalists could use a course in questioning techniques). It can be used by everyone and anyone to gain some information. Here's why:

Let's firstly look at types of questions:

Closed question. A closed question generally means an obstructive person or shy person will only provide a yes or no answer if given the choice. It is what it is - closed. It may be used effectively when leading someone to a point before reuqiring detail or when confirming detail. For example: Did you kill the maid? The answer can only be yes or no. There is no room for expansion because you haven't asked for expansion.

Open question. The best type of question to ask in order to get the other person talking and ideal as a first question to get the other person to explain their story. For example: Descibe in detail how you killed the maid. You see how there is no room for a simple yes or no answer.

Leading questions. Most favoured by Journalists. Personally, not my favourite because they lead a subject onto a topic that you want to hear about. Unlike probing (which I'll get to), these do not allow for a conversation to naturally, or skillfully, flow by letting the subject tell their story. Foe example: You said an email to the maid that you desired her; and it is apparent that this may be questionable intentions in the context of her murder - who do you think killed her?

Probing questions. As opposed to leading questions, their is no accusatory conotations regarding an incident. It's not going as far as a leading question. You get the subject on track and then follow up with an open question. For example: You said in an email to the maid that you desired her - what bearing do you think this has on the case?

Mirror questions. Simply put - you repeat the previous answer given and then ask another. This should not be overused because it is an obvious attempt at buying time to ask the next question. For example: Subject. I have no recollection of that night. Interviewer. So, you have no recollection of that night, why?

Multiple choice. Another one for the Journalists amongst us. No need to explain in detail here. The main problem is that you must know what choices are avialable. By that I mean if the reason for something happening is outside of the choices you are given, then you are showing your hand that you don't know. For example. Do you prefer killing with a knife or a gun?

That should jsut about cover off on the type of questions available for use. This information, coupled with questioning techniques that I will blog about another time, may help when considering how your characters will ask questions. Although the examples I provided are basic, I hope they put the type of questions in context.

Let me know if you have any questions or points on this post.


Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Using Body Language in our Writing

When I was in the Military, I spent some time teaching Body Language Analysis in interviewing and interrogation. This involved reading the subjects body language as well as using the interviewers/interrogators own body language to get the optimal results.

Research suggests the relative proportion of information is passed via three elements:

Verbal - 7% (what is said);

Vocal - 38% (how it is said); and

Non verbal - 55% (facial expression, posture, gestures).

In normal conversation, the verbal element is primarily used for passing the facts or opinions that a speaker wishes to convey to the listener. The vocal element is used to support the words and may also be used to support the non-verbal element which is used primarily for showing attitudes and feelings, though it can be a substitute for verbal messages, for example where there is a language barrier.

As you can see the non-verbal component, which is more commonly referred to as body language, is the single largest component of person to person communication.Each gesture is like a single word, and a word may have different meanings. It is only when the word is used in a sentence with other words that its meaning is fully understood. Gestures come in sentences/clusters and may indicate the truth about a person's feelings or attitudes.

We are generally unaware that posture, body movements and gestures can tell one story while the voice may be telling another. Suffice to say that if you work at understanding body language the better chance you have at understanding what is really being said.

So how does one transfer this information into their writing? Firstly, using body language indicators is a great way of 'showing' the information instead of 'telling' the reader what is happening. And, when using dialogue, accompany it with some sort of physical movements. Let's face it, do you just sit or stand still when talking to someone? Do you stand closer to someone you are more comfortable with? Do you touch the arm of someone you care for just before speaking with them?

A word of warning though. Don't have a physical movement at the end of each dialogue tag. Remember, everything we write must add value to the story somehow.

If you have a particular question on body language that you would like me to blog about, just let me know.


Taking the Tip

I'm taking the tip from the fabulous Kristin Nelson as mentioned in her pubrants Blog. Mum's the word when it comes to mentioning anything about my novel or the process involved whilst on submission.

Why would one want to take a risk at their publishing future by letting something slip. So, I'll have to keep blogging about something else until we have an outcome for The Interrogator.


Friday, 4 April 2008

I Have an Agent

And not just an average agent - a fantastic agent at a wonderful agency.

So what happened?

Well, at the end of last year I sent a query off to The Cameron Creswell Agency. Not long after, I received a request to send my full manuscript. The thing is, they were a bit inundated just before Christmas and requested I post it in in January. And I did. During the wait I worked on trying to improve my query (as you can read below). Then in February, I recieved this email:

Dear JJ,

We are reading your manuscript and enjoying it. We'll need a
bit more time to get through it and will get back to you as soon as possible.

Best wishes,

Great agent.
Now, the email had me jumping all around the place in expectation. Still, what a teasing email. I spent countless hours re-freshing my email account and checking my inbox. I spent the next week checking and checking and checking my email. That was a tough week. And then it came -an offer of representation.

I had spent considerable amount of time researching agents and agencies looking for that perfect fit and The Cameron Creswell Agency was my number one Aussie pick. I hit the jackpot. The hard work had payed off. For the last few weeks I have had plenty of exchanges of emails and regular updates with great advice from my wonderful agent, Sophie Hamley.

Sophie has finished her proposal to publishers and will start submitting next week. Nervous times ahead. Mind you, from my interactions with her, I have every faith in her ability to gain a great publisher. And the pressure is now on her because I've blogged about it. LOL.

I'm amazed that I have made it this far and feel blessed to be in this situation. Thank you everybody for your support and I promise to be back to blogging more often.