Today is a day in America that celebrates independence. It is important to many in the country because of the price that freedom. A character in your story may find this holiday especially important if they are former or current military or civil servants. Using the celebration of holidays in your writing can help to add depth to them and their backstory. Having a character celebrate a little known holiday because of family tradition or because they are from another country can be a natural way to add more interest to your writing. (I mean who doesn’t like to learn new things when they are reading.)
Here are a few non-American, (as I am American) special holidays a writer can research to add layers to characters.
England – Commonwealth Day – March 14
England – Trafalgar Day – October 11
England – Punky Night – October 17
Ireland – Bloomsday – June 16
Ireland – May Day – First Monday in May
Ireland – June Bank Holiday – first Monday in June
Canada – Canada Day – July 1
Canada – Boxing Day – December 26
Canada – Family Day – Third Monday in February (not all provinces)
China – Qing Ming Jie (Tomb Sweeping Day) – Early April
I had an “ah-ha” moment while shopping at Target yesterday. I was looking for a particular color of powder in the make up section. I browsed, Classic Ivory, Ivory, Natural Ivory… Soft Honey, Classic Tan, Rich Sand, Amber Glow, Classic Bronze, Almond Glow, Toffee, etc. and the light switched clicked on.
What a great way to get details. I pulled out my notebook and began scribbling down the different color descriptions for face colors. The makeup industry has done a brilliant job coming up with amazing descriptive names for important details for writers.
When I got home, I popped onto a few cosmetic companies websites and started reading the descriptions of their products. Look at a few of these for ways add to your arsenal:
Soft, subtle lashes
sultry or smoky eyes
inked (eyeliner) which led me to this – boldly inked lines surrounded crystal blue eyes
bold, classy, trendy colors on her lips
I also thought about hair color, and oh, what fun. Check out some of these great hair color names I found:
You get the idea. Next time you need some help coming up with names for colors of hair, eyes, skin go to the professionals. Hit the internet or your favorite store and look for that just right color to describe your characters. Feel free to add those colors to your mood board too! Have fun!
As a visual artist, I found that creating mood boards were a wildly successful way for me to remain focused on my work. I have literally hundreds of them stored on my Pinterest account and other places that I used during my years in the Paper Art industry. It is that success that led me to create mood boards for my writing.
In the early stages, mood boards are an effective way to get the ideas moving and then to be able to keep them adhered to a central location. Here are some of the things I add to my mood boards for stories.
Begin with the seed: What is the idea? Find an image that may spark the memory of where the idea started.
Add a color scheme: Knowing color can so effect mood, choose a color scheme to represent your story or where you think that story is headed.
Gather some character images. Add them to the board to help you keep track of your character. You can also add images of specific things such as eye color, hair color or cut to better build a character image.
Finally, add some photos, pictures or graphics to help you grow your story. Allow yourself to add off the wall ideas too! Don’t limit yourself here, you can always take it off.
Mood boards are used to inspire. Adding and taking away images can help you to refine your story. One of the best things I have found mood boards help is to push through those times I feel stuck. I start to see the story better once I add to my mood board.
When I was in school, we had to choose from a list of books and write a literary analysis of the book. I had already read the books on the list that interested me. I asked my professor to recommend which of the remaining books on the list he would recommend. He suggested I try the book by Joyce Carol Oates.
While I am not an Oates fan, the book A Fair Maiden was memorable because of my memory of the vivid detail in the senses. That book taught me one thing other than confirmation that I am not a fan of Ms. Oates, it the importance of sensory detail. More than any romance book I have ever read. I did find that I was able to put myself in the scene because of the great sensory and concrete details used by the author.
It is that idea that gave me the desire to observe how things feel against my skin. Having a list like this can add to your growing list of ways to describe how a character experiences his/her world. I don’t want to get bogged down in sensory details but think of it this way. If your character is in the trunk of a car, and there is a blanket it can add a sense of dread. (Will my captor be wrapping me in the blanket, plastic tarp?) It can give him/her a focal point in a closet as a child. Blankets are usually meant for comfort, but not always. Try describing your blanket focusing on how a person would “feel” when it touches their fingertips.
I am writing a character’s emotional scar. Please note: This is slightly graphic. Not all blankets are a comfort.
XXXXXXXXX – Emotional Scar
It should be a comfort. The fuzz rolls under my fingers as I glide my hand across its surface. The dirty, dingy microfiber is an invitation to him. I slide my scarred naked body closer to the wall sparks ignite tiny shocks burn my flesh. The chain clanks my wrist still bleeds I try to become the soft spread beneath me, today maybe he won’t see me. The groaning of the bed takes his weight. I push my mind to feel only the soft fibers lulling my skin. The pain above me contrasts deeply with the gentle embrace I rest upon. My nails jagged rip into the microfibers as I push my screams down into the abyss. The moment is over as he grunts like a greedy swine. I coast my fingers across the spongy threads that hold days of dried tears. I have no more to offer, nothing more can be absorbed in the weave. He stands and leaves, I gather myself into the cushions of the folds. Hot with disgust I pull myself up and swallow my hatred for that damn blanket.
In this piece, my protagonist is confused by the fact that a blanket should bring her comfort but it only brings more pain. This EIO allowed me to contrast the soft comfort of a blanket with a horror that too many people have experienced.
Listening is a skill I am convinced God Himself wants mankind to master. I mean why else would He give us two ears and only one mouth? (Answer: So we listen twice as much as we talk.) Observing sounds of different kinds of voices can help writers with a few things.
Developing better ways to describe the sounds of voices. For example, a nasal accent that reminds me of my time in the northeast.
Helps us to gather great dialogue. For example, “It’s food for my brain.”
Helps writers to learn to give characters personality through both sound and voice. For example:
“For real, just chill out scrap! You know that chick is crazy.” – NYC slang
“Brah, we just go talk story yeah.” – Hawaiian Pidgin
“Fair play, mate” – Irish slang.
“The bed was sitting catty-corner to the dresser.” – Southern Slang
I think when observing voices we can tell a great deal about the character or speaker. Learning to listen with intention of learning the many different ways people speak. Here is my entry for this EIO. I did not focus on dialogue for this exercise, but for the way, voices move and elicit reactions.
Two voices fill the space. They are all but void of accents but in the very corner of one soothing voice, there is a little hint of the south. He holds some syllables for a moment longer than his cohort. Droning the facts over a dull white noise that is only broken up by an occasional organ piping a familiar cheer. His voice beckons to the fans breaking up the monotony. At times, it almost blends with the white noise as they ramble on sharing every stat and fact available to entice listeners to hold on for a moment more.
Suddenly, the pitch rises high at the sound of a bat making solid contact, up, up, up it reaches the fans to feel his increased heart rate. The south sneaks out again as a whoop of excitement reports the ball has indeed found its way out of the park. A giddy laugh as the two lift vocal high-fives over the airway. The little boy in him lets out a solid expression of admiration for the man that now touches the final base. His voice smiles with excitement as he reports the 380-foot home-run.
The next batter steps up and suddenly a drop in his speech as he returns to the melodic lull, all business again.
NOTE: This EIO can also lead to great story ideas, as listening to voices can sometimes lead to a bit of imagination of what is happening. Many times when listening to voices I find myself lost in the what if’s of story making. (This example is one of those times I did. I can see a cute short story coming from this session of listening.)
I love music. Like stupid love music. When people ask me my favorite music I say “yes”. I really can learn to love any genera of music. My son loved when I picked him up from school because many times, I would let him play his music. When Dad was in the car it was a “no-go”. He listens to a very specific kind of music and if you know who, Fit for an Autopsy, Vanna, (the now retired) Expire, Stick to your Guns and Gideon are then you know some of his favorite bands. I learned to appreciate the sound.
For this EIO – I challenge you to listen to a song you know, (Don’t worry, you don’t need to choose one of the above bands) and try and isolate what you love about the sound of this music.
I am choosing a song that when I heard it the first time, I was waiting in my car for my daughter to come out of Subway. I cranked up the volume and when it was over, I went to Google music and purchased it. That very moment. I didn’t care what it cost, I loved the song. It’s one of my current favorite songs. Here is a link to the YouTube version. The song is Bulletproof by Citizen Way
Here were my observations of the sounds that I loved in this song.
Written while Bulletproof was playing on a loop (June 2018)
A hand runs down a guitar string and that scratchy sound escapes. That sound tells me this song is going to be fun. Soon after the beat is picked up by an electric sounding clap. I am sure it is from a drum machine and it confirms my initial thought, upbeat sounds there is a small crescendo than the vocals come in, the beat is quick and the sound staccato. It sounds like a party has started. The beat is catchy the underlying beat steady. Two minutes in the beat doubles as the message of the song is driven home. It is almost comforting. Then it comes to another drop and the song explodes into joyous tempo and I can almost picture a party. I love the happy beat and the message. I love the change in tempo for this song, the flow builds then drives home the lyrics. It is a fun song that makes me want to dance every time I hear it.
How does this help a writer? Well, this was a free write. I was trying to focus on the sound and not the lyrics. I can’t completely separate them because, well, that is how music works. What it does do is it allowed me to focus as I was attempting to isolate the sounds. This song was difficult for me to find the name of the sounds, that tells me I need to try and do better in my observations of sound.
Isolation of details is pretty important to writers. I learned one thing for sure, I need to do more of this kind of exercise!
Feel free to share your favorite songs and I will try and listen to them!
I love to look at faces and observe them. I have had some major breakthroughs in character development by studying faces. I sketch them sometimes and it helps to describe not just a face but to devote my observation to one aspect of a face and describe the different elements individually.
This helps to find ways to describe your characters. Today, I am doing mine on “noses” here is a sample of faces I observed. I did mine on the computer but I find that doing this exercise in real life is much better. Try doing this in your favorite coffee shop or cafe. The reason this is better on actual people is that you also may hear an accent or a turn of phrase from the person you are observing that may make its way into your character’s actual description. This EIO is something you will want to build on. You can do this in a doctor’s office, at a little league game, in the library and as you build your personal library of descriptions you can use the list to help develop characters. I suggest breaking up your list into facial characteristics and keeping those in separate columns.
a sharp 90-degree angle, a long straight line that battled his angular jaw for attention
bumpy from top to bottom it reminded me of a well-worn road
flair at the bottom, wide strong
Dainty, upturned to a heavenward point
It fell from her eyebrows to a small round end
His nose stood off his face. It almost appeared to be trying to escape
her nose sloped down into a flat smile
A characterless nose, it lacked all distinctive attributes
A flat nose that lifted his cheeks
Glasses hid the small bridge that exploded into high nostrils
A perfect triangle on his face.
A divot divided his nose matching the dent in his chin
This is not all my observations, but as you grow your descriptions you will have many fallbacks when you need to describe your character in unique and engaging ways. Start those facial feature list as soon as you can, work on them anytime you have a few moments because every face is unique and just waiting to have a writer give it immortality in the pages of his or her book.