Character Backstory: Lessons from Orange is the New Black

Wednesday, Mar. 23rd 2016

I recently finished binge watching Orange is the New Black (OITNB). I definitely enjoyed this series. I wouldn’t use the word “love,” but I definitely liked it, and I’ll be watching season 4 when it comes out in June.

What I DID love was the way the writers presented character backstory. 

Three takeaways…

1. ALL characters have backstories. Even minor characters. It’s easy to allow secondary or third-tier characters to wallow in the land of one or two dimensions. OITNB does a fabulous job of revealing character backstories through flashbacks. Now, I’m not sure this would work in a network show where you have to wait week to week for the story to unfold. But for a Netflix series where you can binge 13 episodes in a short amount ...
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Saturday, Mar. 19th 2016

I haven’t read Liane Moriarty yet. Everyone keeps telling me this is a good one. I love taking a deeper dive into my genre of psychological suspense.

Some writers worry about reading novels as they’re drafting, especially if the novel is in the same genre. I used to feel this way, but less so now. If it feels too close, I’ll stop.

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Radio & The Big Hairy Revision Monster

Thursday, Mar. 10th 2016

For #TBT, I’m digging into the radio archives. When I was a pup and still finding my voice, I worked for a Boston radio station as the producer of a morning show. This picture is from 1995-ish. I’m in the green. Next to me: morning show host Gary Dickson, the incredibly talented Moneen Daley Harte, and, yes, Tony Randall (google him, kids).

One of my many tasks included editing down long interviews (think 10 to 15 minutes) to 90 seconds. This was the best instruction a future writer could ever get on the subject of revision. My boss, Don Kelley, would remind me whenever I was whining that I couldn’t possibly cut out one more thing (because it was SO IMPORTANT) that only I would know what ...
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The Sadness of the Unread Story

Thursday, Feb. 25th 2016

The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it live: a live thing, a story. — Ursula K. Le Guin

I’ve tried explaining this before, but I wasn’t sure if I was alone in my feelings. It wasn’t until I stumbled upon this quote from Le Guin that I realized she feels it and, no doubt, other creative types do as well.

A story isn’t complete until people experience it. I’ll take Le Guin’s quote further and say it’s not just written stories, but also stage plays, screenplays, poems, paintings.

This is why it’s so important to me to share my writing with the world. It’s not about chasing money or fame or awards or anything like ...
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Why Fiction Writers Should Watch “Better Call Saul” as a Lesson in Character Development

Monday, Feb. 15th 2016

I watched Breaking Bad for the first time last fall and wrote a detailed blog post on character motivation, or the lack thereof for Walter White, the show’s main character. You can read it here.

Here’s the gist: While I enjoyed Breaking Bad overall, the lacking backstories for the show’s main characters sometimes left me questioning their decisions.

For me, character motivation is everything, especially in fiction (and more so in books than TV; I can be more forgiving of TV, like I was with Breaking Bad; more as to why I feel this way in a second).

Character motivation can make or break a story. If the character does something that doesn’t make sense to that character based on what we, as the reader, have come to know ...
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One Star, Five Stars, Rock Stars

Friday, Feb. 12th 2016

Check out the reviews on almost any book, and you’ll quickly see a pattern emerge: all the 5-star reviews read eerily similar. Ditto for the 1-star reviews. The 5-star reviews will often have lines like “I couldn’t put it down” or “I was pleasantly surprised” or “I loved this book.”

One-star reviews are famous for saying things like “Don’t waste your time and money” and “I won’t be reading anything by this writer again” and “I don’t understand all the glowing 5-star reviews.” (To see what I mean, check out two books that have over 38,000 reviews each: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and The Girl on The Train by Paula Hawkins.)

The most revealing reviews tend to fall in the middle: those well-written, thoughtful 2- and ...
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Walking Inspiration: For Me, Less is More

Wednesday, Feb. 3rd 2016

It’s no secret that many creative types talk about walking inspiration — the magic that occurs during daily jaunts.

I love going for walks (it’s my main form of exercise). For some time, I’d trek around my huge apartment complex (four loops is just shy of two miles). I’d always find interesting things on my walk and post these these daily finds to Facebook. See the image below of CDs seemingly scattered in the wind.

Here’s another shot of a table sitting in a small wooded area dividing the parking lot and main thoroughfare.

This past summer, I took my morning constitutionals around Callahan State Park, a lovely area about ten minutes away from me. Here’s a shot.

And here’s another:

Since the fall, however, I’ve taken to walking this ...
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WTF am I doing?

Thursday, Jan. 28th 2016

I was reviewing some notes I scribbled on various legal pads (and envelopes and receipts and business cards) for the book I just finished writing.

One stream of consciousness went like this: Is this a story about depression? Does this character have a child? WTF am I doing????

Made me laugh.

Writers constantly struggle between two extremes: feeling they are ON, every word they write brilliant, and wondering WTF they’re doing. It’s normal. And probably healthy. Because if you spend too much time on either side, you’ll eventually nosedive.

The middle ground is where I’m at most days. Except for the day I wrote that line, apparently.

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On Knowing Your Writing Weaknesses

Monday, Jan. 18th 2016

I think one of the biggest challenges facing a writer is figuring out her weaknesses. After all, who wants to dwell on weaknesses, which most of us can easily equate with negatives?

But the only way to effectively battle weaknesses is to acknowledge you have them. That’s the first step, anyway.

Once you acknowledge them, then you can set about trying to address these writing weaknesses in your prose. Over time, and with practice (and depending on what the weakness is), you might overcome the weakness. For example, if you struggle with punctuation, you can buckle down, take some courses, and edit for particular punctuation marks. With other weaknesses, you might never overcome them fully, but your awareness makes them less of a critical concern.

My biggest weaknesses? ...
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The Call of the Wild

Tuesday, Jan. 12th 2016

Jack London was one of my favorite authors as a kid. I remember loving The Call of the Wild and White Fang. And I remember adoring his short story “To Build a Fire.”

It’s apt that he was born on January 12, because when I think of him, I’m reminded of a winter’s night. That’s how I’d describe his writing: deep, dark, quiet. And I say quiet in a good way, the type of quiet that allows for introspection.

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