Characters That Stay With Us

I have an odd assortment of good friends.  Most of whom are made of flesh and bone but a few are less solid, having been penned to life.  These paper friends visit me in dreams.  Wang Lung, a great-grandfather (at last count he had eighteen grandchildren) still visits tea shops and is able to walk over to his beloved fields. I often find him standing at the top of an emerald hill staring down at the place where he will come to lie below his uncle and his father and not far from his devoted wife, O-lan.  Having worked hard to claim for himself property and success he is still a man humbled by nature. There is so much I want to know, I say, but I dare not ask him. I wonder if he feels bad about the way he treated O-lan? I wonder if he still yearns for Lotus who was far prettier than his wife and slender as bamboo?  Does he, I wonder, still bend down to scoop up earth with his hands.   Does he appreciate each day on the good earth  with his sons and Pear Blossom who remain faithful and attentive?

I know Huck Finn is adventuring in another world but he likes to tell me about his grand adventures in the Wild West after he and Jim parted ways.  He tells me he crossed paths with Pawnee raiders and rescued more than one damsel in distress.  I have Huck to thank for introducing me to the evils of slavery, robbers and conmen and to floating down the Mississippi river on a raft.  Huck Finn is the reason I crave adventure.  He also gave me the courage to plan my own escape when I was seven.   I didn’t follow through with my childish threat to run away but I had a satchel packed and ready just in case my mother threatened to tan my hide again for something my sister did.

I once threatened to ‘tar and feather’ a bully in primary school, thanks to Huck.  She stopped bullying me after that.

Reverend Stephen Kumalo and I still weep for his son Absalom who was found guilty of murder and condemned to die in apartheid-era South Africa.  I wonder if he and James Jarvis have undertaken any new projects? James, who after his own son’s death was forced to face the racial issues that divided his country.  James who tried to make amends. I wonder if the good reverend’s village Ndotsheni has prospered or if the men are still leaving to find work in the big cities?  I think I know the answer to this question but to hear Kumalo speak of these things in person would be a precious gift.

Which book’s character/s continue to live with you? 

Learn To Write by Watching Television

If you had asked me ten years ago if I watched and followed any television shows I would have said ‘no’ and it would have been the truth.   I couldn’t be bothered to watch  anything on the small screen when I could catch up with friends, read a good book and browse the web.  Today of course I’m singing a different tune from a comfy corner on the couch.  I am something of a junkie albeit a Netflix ‘binge’ watcher and I probably should feel some shame for watching so much television and here’s why:

I should be writing in my so-called spare time. I have a story to edit (yay I completed the 1st draft of my story set in Downtown Vancouver) and fifteen more chapters (or so) to write for my WIP.

But I’m not embarrassed because watching the below shows has actually improved my storytelling skills and since I am a visual learner, emphasized the basics.   Things like Plot Structure (every good story has a Beginning, a Middle and an End); Setting;  Character Development (personality traits and tics etc) and Pace (cut out the non-essential)It’s got to the point now where I irritate my long-suffering husband with ‘plot predictions’.  I say things like “ok so this is the part where we discover they’re actually siblings or if this character is going to develop and stick around for Season 2, something needs to happen to her that will bring her to her knees or question her loyalty…” The funny thing is I am getting really good at predicting plot twists.  So good in fact my husband thinks I should write for tv.   I think I should just write more.

Here are my favorite TV Shows (in no particular order – I love them all equally but differently):

1.  Sherlock Holmes (the British version with Benedict Cumberbatch)

2.  Game of Thrones ( I am in awe of George RR Martin‘s imagination and skill)

white-walker-300x168 White-walker.

3.  Breaking Bad – read Vince Gilligan’s writing tips here

4.  Lilyhammer

5. The Killing  – Wondrously flawed characters and Season 1 so perfect that I wish I had written every word of it myself.

6.  The Walking Dead (I started watching this zombie drama because my eldest son is hooked and I was curious and well I’m hooked.  If  Daryl Dixon dies I’ll stop watching.  Just saying.)

What television show/s has you hooked? What writing elements have you picked up from watching tv shows/movies?

What makes a book REAL to you?

For me a strong sense of place makes a book or story REAL.  The novel I am currently writing does not take place anywhere in North America but in an isolated and pristine coastal area of Southern Africa.  I spent almost two months there earlier this year to get a ‘feel’ for that special place and more importantly to trace the steps one of my main characters would take in my story.  


One the many reasons I love writing is that it makes me, for a time, an expert.  I have to research and study topics and places if I hope to write with conviction and engage the reader.  I was born with an insatiable curiosity about most things and writing makes it possible for me to butt in and dig around and ask questions that most people avoid asking.  But to be honest I wouldn’t have attempted to write this story set in South Africa had I in fact not been born and raised there (which I was) and so I am intimately familiar with the people, the customs, language and landscape.   That said, I don’t believe writers are limited to writing only what they know. Do you?

Watch Tony Kushner’s unexpected advice on writing what you know:

So what makes a book real to you?  is it the sense of place or the characters’ real issues and dilemmas?  I would love to hear from you.