We Bloody Murderous Writers

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Many times, we worry about how to make characters as realistic as possible. There is a great deal of advice out there, including some tips I’ve shared with students and readers. Because we are writers, however, we will forever be plagued with doubts about convincing our characters are, among other details. How can you tell your characters are real enough? What are some sure signs they’re alive and kicking–on the page, that is?

You know your character is as real as they come when:

1. You hear their voices in your head. They never stop talking. Sometimes they talk to you, sometimes they talk among themselves. Sometimes they even talk to themselves, but make sure you hear them! It’s so bad you begin to think you are schizophrenic.

2. You carry on conversations with them. You’ll start answering them in your head, but soon enough, you’ll find yourself talking aloud to them. If anyone asks you, you can always claim it’s your imaginary friend or enemy or frenemy. Or you can pretend to be talking into your bluetooth device. Your choice.

3. They argue back. At this point, your characters are becoming more aggressive. They enjoy debating with you. The worst part is that they’re almost as good as you at arguing!

4. They have a mind of their own. They think they’re really smart and can solve their own problems. The problem is, they also create their own problems.

5. They do what they want. Just when you think you’ve got everything wrapped tightly, they’ll go ahead and do something totally unexpected. Sometimes you think they just want to spite you. Of course, they could just be teasing. But you have to remember they do have a mind of their own, so you can’t always control them.

6. They control your story. That’s right. Because you can’t always control them, they often end up controlling your story. They’ll literally pick up that figurative ball and run with it. No kidding. Of course they’ll get into trouble, then you’ll have to fix it for them.

7. They wake you up in the middle of the night. That’s right. It’s not enough that they keep you up late, they’ll wake you up in the middle of the night for the most trivial matter. Naturally, they’ll make sure you have to get up and hunt for that notebook or pad that should have been on your nightstand, but because they always wake you up, you’ve probably taken that pad somewhere else where you could argue with them in private, assuming you still share your bed with someone else.

8. They demand to be written. It’s not enough for them to just exist in your head. They’ll nag you until you write them into a story. Mind you, remember #6.

9. They want to live forever. It’s not enough that you write a story about them. They want you to write more and more stories also about them. This is called the serial temptation, when they haunt you and keep on coming up with all sorts of outrageous situations for you to write them into. Then they force you to solve their problems.

10. You value their opinions. If your characters are truly trustworthy and full of integrity, they might just be able to solve their problems on their own, in which case you are off the hook and all you need to do is let them control your fingers and do the typing or writing.

11. You talk about them as if they were real people. When you find yourself talking with other people about your characters as if they were realy people, then your characters are certifiably real! At this point, other people might even ask you how your characters are, what they’re doing next, what they think of certain things, and so on and so forth.

At a certain point, your characters will permeate your life so much it won’t feel right being without them. On the other hand, they could be taking over your life, in which case you might be drawn to murderous intent. There will always come a time to kill your darlings and we are all guilty, we bloody, murderous tribe of writers!

How Real Are Your Characters?

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Besides the physical challenges of being a writer and the obvious release it gives any megalomaniac tendencies you might have, writing also challenges the psyche. As a prolific writer, you have written several stories—fiction, of course—with characters you have either modeled on real-life personalities or whom you have created completely out of nothing. Every writer does that. However, you want your characters to be as real as you can make them so you treat them like real people. You give them personalities and let them exercise free will. You develop them, give them words, then give them triumph or defeat. You make them rise to the heights of success of fall to the depths of despair. You are their god, their creator, and you can do whatever you want with them, including kill them, as many a famous writer has adviced. On another level, you might treat them as your contemporaries and hold

On another level, you might treat them as your contemporaries and hold conversation with them—what better way to develop dialogue, after all, than hold a real dialogue with characters? You argue, fight, wheedle, convince, threaten, compromise, order, intimidate, contradict, and defy them. Quite naturally, they will argue, fight, wheedle, convince, threaten, compromise, order, intimidate, contradict, and defy you in return.

You can share secrets with them, confide in them, become their best friend and confidante, even become their lover and share sweet, intimate, sensual discourse with them. You encourage them, motivate them, sometimes even chastise them. In some cases, you will have had enough of your characters after a single book and shut the voices between the covers. In other cases, you will be haunted by the voices. Your characters will not leave you alone. They will keep you awake with endless debates, wake you up in the middle of the night, interrupt your most intimate moments, join you in the shower, argue over every meal, make you miss appointments or your stop so you end up riding the bus farther than you want to or need to. They will distract you and preoccupy your mind so your tv shows go by without your knowing what happened, you completely forget what you went to the grocery for, and people look at you strangely because, yes, the worst has happened, you now talk to your characters aloud in public. In that case, congratulations! Your characters are as real as they can get. Time to break out the champagne. Oh, and don’t forget an extra glass for your favorite character.

Authors Rule! (Mwah-ha-ha!)

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There is so much more to writing than the physical challenges. The immense strain we subject our bodies to when we choose to be writers, however, comes with a huge benefit that will satisfy even the most extreme megalomaniac among us. That benefit is becoming the supreme rulers of whatever worlds we create.

Exercise your imagination and indulge yourself. Have you always wanted to rule an island paradise? You can create one—or as many as you want! Do you want to be the ruler of the most powerful country in the world? Or perhaps, you want to elevate your humble nation or town into the most powerful government you can think of. It’s not only nations you can control. You can control worlds, galaxies, and multiverses.

And you’ll never be lonely. You can people your worlds with anyone you want. Bring all the kith and kin you want. There will be as much room for them as you declare. You can set up your leaders, heroes, and citizens and give them everything they desire—jobs, wealth, power, knowledge—whatever suits your fancy.

Of course, you can’t have a world without villains because that would be boring. This is your chance to take anyone and everyone you hate or has done you wrong in some way or another and show the rest of the world just how evil they are. The best part is you can give them the exact punishment they deserve! They can lose an eye, hand, foot, or any other body part you wish. They can be crippled. They can be as ugly and horrible and unfortunate as you wish them to be. Above all, you can subject them to the worst forms of humiliation, suffering, and torture and, in the end, you can kill them or condemn them to eternal damnation. At this point, you are allowed to hunch your shoulders, rub your hands together, and emit the most demonic laugh you can come up with!

If all that doesn’t fulfill your delusions of grandeur, then you’re really a megalomaniac and need to see a psychiatrist!

Physical Exercises for Writers

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Writing requires a certain degree of physical strength and prowess which can be achieved over time or through practice. Like any other physical sport, exercise is important to help writers develop strength and stamina to sustain them through countless rigorous hours of exertion. To help writers, I’ve developed a few exercises that are effective to this end.

1. Keyboarding. There are several finger exercises to help improve finger strength for typing. The best is to take an old typewriter with rusted keys and pound away at it for a couple of hours. If you are partial to music as well, use any keyboard instrument, but be sure you exercise in a soundproof room so the neighbors do not benefit from your exercise. If you have no keyboard or old typewriter, the good old finger tapping technique will do. Tap at different rates and intensities on a table top.
2. Twirling. To maintain flexibility in your fingers, practice twirling pens or pencils. Learn how to roll a coin or gumball across your fingers.
3. Squeezing. Keep a tennis ball at hand and squeeze periodically.
4. Baskets. If you don’t want your arm joints–wrists, elbows, shoulders–to stiffen and freeze, keep a small can (a trash bin makes a perfect receptacle) across the room from your work table. After each page you write, crumple up and shoot into the can.
5. Pencil darts. Throw pencils at a corkboard to keep your wrists flexible. Prevents carpal tunnel syndrome.
6. Neck stretch. Locate your TV set to either side of your writing desk and twist your neck around to glimpse the picture. You can also locate your desk so a window is to one side or behind you. Twist your head about to see what the neighbors are doing or which direction the ambulance or fire truck is heading everytime you hear noise.
7. Arm stretch. Set your candy, popcorn, or chip dish about three feet away from your pad or computer keyboard. Stretch your arm out to reach and grasp. Perform 10 times every 10 minutes for maximum effect.
8. Back twist. Challenge yourself and set your snack dish behind you. Do as you did in #7. For a special challenge, set the dish higher or lower than shoulder level.
9. Foot taps. Tap your feet to the rhythm of your background music. Good for keeping your feet from falling asleep, as well.
10. Leg lifts. Lift your sleeping dog or cat with your legs. Great resistance exercise and strength training. Also works with a small child.
11. Eye squint. Get up close to people as you talk so you have to squint to see their eyes clearly. If you don’t talk to a lot of people, you can get the same effects from reading food package labels. If you’re working on a computer, you can change the font size to anything less than 8 points to achieve the squint.

Perform the above exercises regularly and you’ll soon feel like a writer, even if you don’t write!

The Physical Challenge of Writing

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Many have dreamed of becoming a writer, being published, becoming famous, seeing their names in print, yet not very many succeed. For some, it is enough to see their name on a single book, which keeps vanity presses alive. For others, it is a lifelong passion, not infrequently an obsession, and while many labor long and hard at their writing, few rise above the sea of literature to be noticed, read, and accorded with accolades. This brings about the timeless question: What does it take to be a writer?

Above all things, you should like to write. Nay, you should want to write. But willingness and desire are not the only things that make a writer. There is a great physical challenge to writing as well.

Every bone in your body is poised and ready to remain in a single, stationary position for several hours each days, most days of the week, several week after week for months, every month of the year, regardless of the time, weather, or season. You exercise your fingers more than any other part of your body and you suspect your bottom has grown calloused, certain the thickening is from constant pressure against your seat, which, no matter how cushioned you make it, feels like a rock after some time. Depending on your writing implement, your wrists might get some exercise, although you are highly susceptible to carpal tunnel syndrome because your wrists are constantly subjected to the same abnormally twisted position hour after hour. Your neck and shoulders often feels stiff because your head is bent at the same angle from staring at sheet after sheet of paper, whether on a pad, in a typewriter (What ancient machine is that you speak of?), or on your computer screen. Your legs lose definition and strength, often numbing from being in the same sitting position day in and day out. Your eyes squint from dryness and strain because you forget to look up from the page to stare at something green 20 feet away every 20 minutes. It isn’t long before you need to squint at everything you look at. If you don’t wear eyeglasses yet, you soon will. Guaranteed. After a few years of practice, you acquire a writerly pallor in your skin from lack of sunlight and fresh air, moreso if you spend more time writing at night or indulge in burning natural aromatic substances to stimulate the imagination. Additionally, you may develop acid reflux from a steady diet of snacks or ulcers from the absence of regular sustenance.

If you are willing and ready to accept these stringent physical demands, you are one step closer to being a writer!

The problem with scrubbing floors

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A lady told me that she still scrubbed her floor on her hands and knees. I was dumbfounded. In this day and age, who still does that? That’s what long-handled mops are for! You certainly aren’t going to catch me doing that. In the first place, I’d have to get down on my hands and knees. I might be able to do that on a bed, but on the floor? I mean, not that I can’t do it. It’s getting up from the floor that’s the problem! Not to mention, after half a second on my knees, it hurts like hell! It never mattered when we were kids, crawling everywhere. Try that without padding on your knees! Then, you have to try to get up and find out that your back just won’t straighten out in one quick graceful move. No. You have to slowly stretch out like a rusty hinge. If you’re lucky, it won’t sound like a rusty hinge! Then, you have to raise one knee and plant a foot on the ground. That’s not too bad. It’s when you start trying to get that other foot flat on the floor that you discover your balance is somewhat off and you have to find something to hang on to so you can pull yourself up. If you’re lucky, there might be a chair or stool or table nearby. Warning: don’t use the bucket unless you want to get back down and sop it all up on your hands and knees. If there’s nothing around to hang on to, you’re left to pushing down on the knee that’s already up and slowly dragging the other foot so it’s flat on the floor. Then you have to raise yourself slowly so you don’t lose your balance before you finally heave yourself up and you’re on both feet. Hurrah! Another feat accomplished! And that’s why I use a mop on my floor.