RSS Feed

Tag Archives: reginamgeither

Creating Imperfect Characters for the Perfect Story

            Characters are the heart and soul of a story.  Any book, no matter how good the plot, how interesting the setting, or how clever the twist, must have characters that are distinct, believable, appealing, and imperfect.  Yes, imperfect.  Readers need to relate to the characters in a book within the first few pages.  They need to be able to identify with the character.  And one way a writer can do this is to give a character flaws.

            We’re only human.  Right?  Well, the characters in a book should be too.  No one likes someone who is wonderful in every way, because none of us are.  And having a flawless character will turn off a reader quicker than they can turn a page.  We all have good and bad qualities, talents and limitations, strengths and weaknesses.  And we like to read about characters that are like us–flawed and human. 

            A well-known and well-liked character such as Harry Potter is a perfect example.  Harry is likeable not just because he is kind and friendly, but because he’s just a little messed-up.  Harry is an orphan, he is mistreated by his aunt and uncle, he hangs out with the geeks of Hogwarts, and he has a dark side that he constantly has to wrestle.  We like him because each one of us can see a tiny part of ourselves in him.  All of us feel alone or rejected at one time or another.  Every person feels neglected by friends or family on occasion.  Very few of us are popular and hang with the “In” crowd.  And we all have a not so nice side that we struggle to overcome.  We identify with Harry Potter, and that is why we love him.

            Love or hate the books, we can all identify with the characters from Twilight, as well.  Bella is an ordinary girl who wants to be extraordinary.  She is clumsy and insecure and sees herself as plain and unattractive.  Sound like any teenage girl you know?  But Edward, the handsome, dangerous, bad boy finds her irresistible.  Even Edward, the two hundred year old undead vampire, appeals to our human side.  He is seen as evil by most of the world, except by the one who loves him.  And he struggles with his carnal urges because he is inherently good.  Don’t we all?  And of course there is Jacob who must protect the one he cares about knowing he will never have a real chance with her.  He also struggles with his carnal urges and even sides with the enemy to protect the one he loves.  Stephanie Meyers, for all the flack she has taken about her books, has the human psyche figured out.

            And what about the characters of the Hunger Games?  Can’t we all relate to one or more of them?  First there’s Peeta?  He is kind and good, but not so athletic.  He is a great talker, but not so skilled with weapons.  You just can’t have it all.  Then there’s Gale.  Gale is the strong, hard working, good looking guy who has to sit back and let the girl he loves make all the decisions.  He’s not in the driver’s seat, and he knows it.  Sounds like marriage material to me.  And of course, there is Katniss, our heroine.  Katniss is your typical strong female character, but with a twist.  She, like Bella, is in the middle of a love triangle and must balance her feelings with her obligations to family and friends.  She is stuck in the middle of the Capitol’s plans for control, and no matter what she does, she is set-up to hurt someone she cares about.  Talk about a no win situation.  I’d say that Suzanne Collins has our human nature pegged, as well.

            In my young adult novel, Island of Tory, Arella Cline is the main character.  She struggles with your typical teenage angst.  She is an only child who has trouble relating to her parents, and when her parents are killed in an accident, she feels regret and loss.  Arella doesn’t like rules or authority and rebels against them every chance she gets.  When she is forced to attend a stringent academy, she breaks the rules and then quits.  But in the end, Arella must make a choice.  She must decide whether to side with good or evil, and she knows that no matter her choice, someone she cares about will get hurt.  She is caught between a rock and a hard place, in fact, between a wishing stone and a cursing stone.

            So a writer must keep in mind that readers like their characters flawed.  Readers want to rub shoulders with fellow narcissistic, insecure, rebel loners who redeem themselves in the end by putting others’ needs first.  That’s what makes them human to us.  They are a reflection of who we are, or at least, who we strive to be.

            Island of Tory is available at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble online, and Joseph-Beth Booksellers online.  Autographed copies are available on this website.

 

Collaging: Finding Your Writing Muse

            I’m often asked where I get my ideas for writing. I wish I could say, “Off the top of my head,” but that’s not true at all. I’ll admit that I am creative, but I need a little inspiration to get the artistic juices flowing. Being a very visual person, I find my muse in pictures.

            I never considered my brainstorming methods to be collaging, until I looked to see what other writers did to come up with their story ideas. When I saw that many of them used a collection of pictures, maps, scraps of fabric, and key words or phrases gathered together in a visually appealing arrangement called collage, I suddenly realized I had been unwittingly using the same writing technique.

            There is no right or wrong way to collage. Talk to ten different writers who use collage to inspire their writing, and you will get ten variations on the “correct” method. But there are some basic components all effective collages have in common. So…here is the Geither recipe for a successful writing collage:

Canvas

            First, you need a base upon which to glue your collection of images. Poster board, tri-fold display boards, cork boards, shoeboxes, manila folders, or even spiral notebooks will work. There is no right or wrong choice. You need to decide which base works best for you.

            I prefer a tri-fold display board due to the fact that it is large, freestanding, and can be folded up and tucked under the bed when not in use. I have, however, also taken the manila folder route on occasion.

Images

            Next, start collecting images. Use magazines, greeting cards, photos, old maps, clipart, or images from the internet. Gather images of people, places, and things. Try to find a variety of pictures that represent setting, characters, and mood.

            When writing my novel, Island of Tory, I visited every Tory Island website I could find. I printed copies of maps, pictures of the points of interest, and photos of local people and animals. These images gave me a good visual feel for the island and its inhabitants.  I also printed pictures of Celtic art and symbols.  This helped me develop the mysterious and foreboding mood felt throughout the book. 

Arrange

            Finally, organize your images into categories–characters, setting, and plot. This is where a tri-fold display board comes in handy, because each section can be used to display pictures relating to one of the particular categories.

            Personally, I like to keep each category separate, but some writers like to mix it up. Again, the choice is yours. Just remember, whether you fasten your images with pushpins, staples, tape, or glue, your collage is not set in stone. Change it when you need to. Add, subtract, or start over as the need arises. Remember that your collage is a tool, not a ball and chain.

Utilize

            Look at your collage before, during, and after you write. Jot notes on it. Add comments and captions. Utilize your collage as a springboard, but never feel tied to it. The purpose of a collage is to stimulate and inspire creativity and help you focus on your story.

            Though I begin every writing project with a complete collage, the collage is rarely finished before my story is done. I constantly add new pictures and words as my story develops. I was still adding pictures to my Island of Tory collage even after I signed the publishing contract. And I even sent portions of the collage to my publisher to hand on to the illustrator, so I could make sure he had a good feel for the mood of my novel.

Muse It!

            With practice, collaging can help you develop, organize, and complete any writing project. Whether it’s a short story, essay, poem, or novel, a well developed collage can be just the muse you are looking for.

Collage used for CURSING STONE

Writing a Killer Opening: The Rule of Seven

            You have to hook your reader.  We hear it all the time.  But how does a good writer get a reader interested enough to read past chapter one?  The average reader, if you are lucky, will give your book the time it takes to read five pages before deciding to read on, or move on.  So you’ve got to wow them in the first half of the first chapter, or they’ll be moving on to the next book on the shelf without a second thought.  From instant messaging to instant coffee, we live in an age of instant gratification.  Readers expect no less.  I use the rule of seven to hook my readersand keep them hanging on until the very end.

            Rule number one, write an opening line that surprises, shocks, excites, or scares the bejeezus out of your reader.  Begin with a bang.  Get your reader on the edge of a cliff and make them willing to crane their necks just a little more to see what is on the other side.  Some excellent examples from famous books include:

      It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. – George Orwell, 1984

      He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish. – Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea

       There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it. – C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

        If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. – J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

        When the doorbell rings at three in the morning, it’s never good news. – Anthony   Horowitz, Stormbreaker

         Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. – J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

            Rule number two, create questions in the reader’s mind–questions that can only be answered by reading the rest of your book.  Intrigue your readers.  Dangle the proverbial carrot in front of their noses, but at the same time, give them enough information that they don’t feel totally lost.  A reader has to feel compelled to keep reading.  Make it worth their time.  A good writer is forthright with just the right amount of information.  Tell too much and there is no reason to read on.  Tell too little and the reader is discouraged.  It takes a delicate balance to walk this tightrope and not fall flat on your face.

            Rule number three, invent a protagonist that is interesting, unique, but at the same time allows the reader to relate to them.  Your main character needs to have depth and be flawed.  Real people are not perfect and neither are good characters.  Characters with distinctive speech patterns, personal quirks, or bad habits are believable and hold the reader’s interest.  Most of us can relate to the oddball or eccentric, the rebel or loner.  No one is really interested in a plastic Barbie or Ken.

            Rule number four, get the reader emotionally involved with your story right away.  Make your reader angry, or frightened, or excited, or tense, or curious within the first few paragraphs.  Put the reader on deck in the middle of a pirate ship battle, or on trial in front of an angry jury, or in the center of a great archeological discovery, or in the midst of a Nazi Jew hunt, or between the pages of a secret diary.  Make reading your novel an interactive experience that begins on page one.

            Rule number five, create tension or hint at a conflict.  No one wants to read about the guy that has it all, but everyone wants to read about the guy who lost it all.  Without conflict, there is no story, so give your reader a taste of the character’s anxiety right away.  Bait the hook with conflict, and once the reader bites, keep the tension on the line.

            Rule number six, give the reader a sense of time and place immediately.  No one likes feeling lost.  Setting is important, but clue the reader in with a little finesse.  Use time period language.  If your story takes place in the middle of the sixth century, the dialogue should sound very different than that of a story set in 1976.  Have your characters’ dress reflect the time period.  A Civil War soldier’s boots are going to look and feel different than those of a Texas rodeo cowboy.  Give your reader the information they crave without making it sound like you’re filling in a story elements map.

            Rule number seven, start your story at the moment your character’s life changes.  If you remember nothing else from The Rule of Seven, remember this:  your opening sentence should be describing the pivotal moment in your character’s story.  Do not talk about your character’s morning routine when you should be describing the food fight they started to avoid going to second period Biology.  No one wants to know about your character’s mundane drive to Pennsylvania if the real action starts the night they check into a haunted hotel.  Skip saddling the horses and cut to the chase.

            You may have a fantastic story to tell, but no one is going to read it if you don’t hook them in the first few pages.  If an editor says, “Ok, you’ve got two minutes, give me your best shot,” what part of your book would you give them?  If it is not your first few pages, the next story you will be writing will be of “the big one that got away.”

            Excerpt from Island of Tory by Regina M. Geither, March 2012:  I remember only fragments of the day my life was turned upside down and shaken into chaos.  With little more ceremony than a child flipping a snow globe, my world changed.

Disembodied Shadows

            Out of the corner of your eye you catch a fleeting glimpse of something moving.  You turn to get a better look…but nothing is there.  Chalking it up as just your imagination is the usual first response.  Tired eyes.  Time for a break.  The dark playing tricks on you.

            You go back to whatever it is you were doing without another thought.  But then it happens again.  This time, the shadow lingers for a few seconds longer.  Your brain registers a human shape before the entity disappears through a doorway.  Now, you start to worry.

            Thinking it’s an intruder, you cautiously follow the shadow into the next room.  Check the closet, behind the door, under the bed.  Again, nothing is there.  At this point, you start to question your sanity.  You think that maybe it’s stress.  Perhaps you’ve been working too hard.  Perhaps…but what if what you saw was real?

            Documented sightings of shadow people or shadow beings have become more common in recent years.  What once was an occasional ghost story told around a summer campfire, has now become a frequent, frightening phenomenon in the world.

            Of course there are many scientific explanations for shadow people sightings, including optical illusions, hallucinations, and medication side effects.  The human brain is designed to interpret the stimuli coming into it.  Sometimes the information is incomplete, especially when it is seen out of the corner of one’s eye.  When this happens, the brain automatically fills in the gaps with familiar data, thus making the distorted shadow of a lamp into the figure of a human, for example.

            Yet, there are many that believe that shadow people are real beings.  Most proponents of this theory think that shadow beings are ghosts.  In the 1999 thriller, The Sixth Sense, Haley Joel Osmert sent chills through movie-goers with the famous line, “I see dead people.”  But there are a growing number of people who theorize that shadow people are not human spirits trapped on earth, but are earthly visitors from another dimension.  Some even believe that shadow folk are time travelers from our future.  A few are of the thought that shadow figures are astral bodies projected while the physical self sleeps.  And then there are those who blame it on aliens.

            From my young adult fantasy novel, Island of Tory, due to be released in March 2012:  “The fog still swirled around me, but something was taking shape behind the gloom.  I stopped crying and watched as a human form materialized.  Nothing more than a shadow…”

Legends of the Tau Cross

     The cross is a familiar symbol to both religious and secular groups. But few people are familiar with the many myths and legends behind one of the earliest forms of this Christian symbol. The Cross of Tau or Tau Cross, named for the Greek letter T, is thought to have been the first cross used in Christianity, but its origins are believed to date back to the Egyptians. The Egyptian cross called an Ankh is a simple T-Cross mounted with an oval called the Ru.

     In its long history, the Tau cross was also the symbol of the Roman God Mithras and the Greek God Attis. In Norse mythology, the hammer of Thor is seen as a Tau Cross. The Bull as the Astrological sign of Taurus gets its name from the Tau and Ru. Even the Druids used the Tau when venerating trees by scrawling the symbol into the bark of their sacred oaks. The Tau Cross was first alluded to in the Bible in the Old Testament book of Ezechiel.

     As Christianity gained followers, the pagan symbols were converted into Christian ones. The Tau was used as the first cross of the followers of Christ and many believe that the cross of the Crucifixion was actually T-shaped, and many early Christians adopted the Tau as the symbol of their religious belief. St. Anthony Abbott (251-356), an Egyptian monk and one of the first Christian monastics used a crutch in the shape of a Tau. When he visited another monk, he would place the crutch outside of the cave, making it a symbol of communion with God. In 1095 the Antonines were founded by a French nobleman after his son was cured of a disease following a vision of St. Anthony instructing him to plant a Tau as an instrument of healing. As a result, Tau Crosses were used in amulets as a protection against disease in the Middle Ages. The most common reference of the Tau in Christianity is with the Franciscan Order of Saint Francis of Assisi who adopted it as his personal symbol of faith and used it as his signature.

     Today, few Tau Crosses still remain. The most well known is the Tau Cross on Tory Island in County Donegal, Ireland. Tory’s mica slate cross stands 1.9 m high. It is situated by the West Town pier and is a lasting reminder of St. Colm Cille and the monastery he founded on the island in the sixth century. Island legends say that a Cromwellian soldier by the name of Aindreas na gCros hated crosses and tried to break Tory’s Tau with his sword. Miraculously the Tau would not break, but the marks of his sword are still discernable today. Because of this, Tory’s fishermen believe it to have powers of protection and pray to it before going out to sea.

     In my young adult fantasy novel, Tory’s Tau is a symbol of the island’s mysterious past and the curse hanging over it. Arella Cline, the book’s main character, learns the means to breaking the island’s curse by discovering a Tau glyph on a map of the island in a mysterious book of prophecies. The Tau Cross becomes an important stop on her journey into the past, a journey she must take in order to return to the present. Island of Tory is due to be released in March 2012.

The Cursing of the HMS Wasp

            The Irish are known for their superstitious nature.  They believe in blessings as well as curses.  From avoiding black cats and ladders to making the sign of the cross to ward off evil, the Irish have a long history of believing in the power of the supernatural.  The people of Tory Island are no exception.

            Tory’s history is full of mystical stories of blessed clay, magic water fonts, secret charms, and enchanted stones.  But most people believe the tales to be nothing more than folk legends, told to explain the inexplicable and amuse the masses.  However, one tragic incident is still rumored to be the result of a true Irish curse:  the sinking of the HMS Wasp.

            In September 1884, the HMS Wasp set sail from Westport, County Mayo to collect taxes and deliver eviction notices to Inishtrahull Island off Malin Head.  She was on course between Tory and the mainland when disaster struck.  Around 3:45 am, the Wasp hit the rocks directly beneath Tory’s lighthouse and sank to the bottom of the ocean in less than half an hour.  There were only six survivors of the fifty men onboard.

            Was the lighthouse lit?  Reports are mixed.  Some say the light was on, but was purposely turned off at the critical moment the Wasp passed by Tory’s shore.  Others claim the light was never dimmed.  A Royal Navy Court Martial concluded that the HMS Wasp was lost due to a lack of care and attention (her boilers were down, she was taking a quicker but more dangerous course around the island, and junior men were at the helm while senior officers slept.)  No one was singled out for blame, and the case was closed.

            However, rumors soon began to surface, and stories of Tory’s inhabitants invoking a curse against the vessel started to circulate.  Tory was known to have a Cursing Stone called Cloch na Mallacht or Cloch Thorai.  It was believed to be linked to St. Colmcille and the pilgrimage route around the island called An Turas Mor.  On the pilgrimage, islanders would visit various holy sites on Tory.  At the conclusion of their walk, they would turn the stone upside down, a quite benevolent act.  However, a curse was said to be invoked if the walk was done in a counterclockwise direction.  Many believe the islanders used the Cursing Stone to doom the HMS Wasp for fear that Tory would be its next destination for tax collection and eviction.

            Fuel was added to the fire when the Cursing Stone went missing shortly after the night of the Wasp tragedy.  Many theories abound as to the Cursing Stone’s whereabouts.  It may have been buried locally or thrown into the sea, but all that remains today is its pedestal, Cloch Arclai, and the mystery of the sinking of the HMS Wasp.

            In my young adult fantasy novel, Island of Tory, the legend of the Cursing Stone and the sinking of the HMS Wasp are the foundation stones of the plot.  Arella Cline, an American teenager, finds herself trapped on Tory Island.  The island and its inhabitants are stuck in time because the Cursing Stone was used against the Wasp and its crew.  Arella needs to journey An Turas Mor to reverse the curse.

            Island of Tory is set to be released March 2012 by Loconeal Publishing.  Like Island of Tory on Facebook or subscribe to this site for updates.

The Magic of Irish Stones

            Since man’s earliest time, he has relied on rocks for his very existence.  Humans fashioned their first tools from stone.  They learned how to build fires for cooking, warmth, and protection by striking sparks from stone.  Stone walls were the early artists’ first canvases.  Later, great buildings and cities were constructed of stone.

            Given man’s continued dependence on rock, it is little wonder that stones would evolve into man’s earliest symbol of divinity.  At first, stones were worshipped as a manifestation of God himself.  Later, stones were considered God’s dwelling place.  Megalithic monuments were erected for sacred ceremonies all over the world.

            These ancient stone shrines remain standing as a testament to man’s belief that there is power in rock.  In Chile, massive stone statues keep watch over Easter Island.  The pyramids in Egypt tower above the sands.  At Carnac in France, rows of monoliths stand at attention over grassy fields.  And most famously, Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England reminds us that early man was industrious and clever as well as spiritual.

            But stones from Ireland have long held a mystique of their own.  Myths abound of the supernatural power of Irish rocks.  One reason for Ireland’s strong belief in stone magic could be attributed to the Celts and their religious devotion to rocks.  Ireland boasts of the greatest collection of wishing and cursing stones anywhere in the world.  The famous Blarney Stone near Cork, Ireland is a perfect example.  The legend says that those who kiss the rock will be granted the gift of gab.  Many visitors to Blarney Castle risk bending over backwards to reach the stone with their lips in the hopes that a little luck will rub off.

            Tory Island is no exception to the Irish rule.  As small as this island is, it boasts two magical stones–the Leac na Leannán or Wishing Stone and the Cloch na Mallacht or Cursing Stone.  The Wishing Stone sits at the top of Balor’s Fort.  It juts out on a cliff 100m above the Atlantic Ocean.  A wish is granted to anyone who is brave enough to climb on top of it.  Anyone lacking such courage may also be granted a wish by successively throwing three stones onto its crest.  The Cursing Stone was located at the west end of the island, but it is now mysteriously missing.  It was part of a holy pilgrimage called the An Turas Mór.  The last time the stone was seen was in 1884 when it was allegedly used to curse the English tax ship the HMS WASP and cause it to wreck on the rocks of Tory.  Now all that remains is the Cloch Arclai, the cursing stone’s pedestal.

            In my novel, Island of Tory, I use the legends of these magical rocks to weave a tale of the possible consequences of the curse on the island and its inhabitants.  I imagine that the islanders are stuck in time because of their malevolent behavior.  Because they cursed, they shall be cursed, an Irish version of karma.

            Island of Tory is due to be released by Loconeal Publishing in March 2012.

Tory Island's Wishing Stone

%d bloggers like this: