Tag Archives: characters

How important is it to listen

The human experience is so rich that we writers could write stories until the end of time about what makes us human tick or grate. On this Valentine week-end, I am pondering on how important relationships are to humans and how difficult they are. Seemingly perfect relationship are rarely what they seemed. The reality of every day life is: it’s hard to live with someone for a long time without facing some kind of conflict or friction. As writers, it’s important we educate ourselves about psychology to be able to build realistic characters and situations that readers can relate to.

When I trained as a hypnotherapist, I bumped into a fellow student who was an achieved screenplay writer. I wondered what he was doing there. I knew who he was because a few years before I had done his creative writing summer class, so you could imagine my surprise to find him at the hypnotherapy school. Seven years down the line, I understand much better how clever he was. Exploring the depth of human nature is gold for writers and what better way than to be paid to listen to people’s stories.

So if you are a therapist of some kind, it looks like your skills are precious for your writing. Keep up the good work. For other writers, I would highly recommend doing a listening skills course. Listening skills – deep listening – is so valuable for writers. I thought I was a good listener until I did a one year long training course focused only on listening skills. It made me realise how we human beings always interrupt others when they speak to chip in. Most of our conversations are not true conversations, they are parallel monologues. I found through this experience that if you really listen to people and refrain from asking questions, you will alway hear everything you need to know.

Similarly, I believe that if you learn to get into a meditative state and visualise your characters, and listen deeply, you will learn all you need to know about them. They will tell you their story. And when you put two of them together in your mental room, all you need to do is eavesdrop on their conversation. It will make your work so much easier as a writer. Yet, most of us are incapable of doing this because our minds are over active and full of thoughts. Most of us don’t realise how packed solid our mind is with thoughts. There is a voice in there that yaks yaks yaks. And it is only when we become aware of it that we can start to master it.

I liken the mind to a beautiful horse. Mine is pure white. I know very little about horses but I know this: if we let the horse into our lives with no training, it will wreck it. In order to keep our sanity as writers, we need to master the mind. There are many ways to do this but meditation and the practice of quieting our minds are paramount. I use to teach meditation and there are a lot of myths around it. You don’t have to isolate yourself in a room, sit in a lotus position and chant mantras whilst burning incense. Meditation comes from mindfulness and mindfulness can be found in every day tasks. Personally I find cooking, washing the dishes, ironing, hovering and painting (artistically) very good to practice mindfulness. All you need to do is to be totally in the moment and refrain from thinking about other things. You will, inevitably. The work is to bring yourself back to the task. It can take a lot of practice to even begin to be able to do these things mindfully without wanting to run away. That’s normal. We humans love to distract ourselves from what is essential. And when you quiet the mind, you start hearing that little voice that tells you what you really need. Most people are scared to hear that little voice. Yet, if they did, they would never have to ask advice from other people.

To your creativity

Ange de. Lumiere

Forget the writer’s sandwich

You know the writer’s sandwich: a story had to have a beginning, a middle and an end? Well, forget about it.

Here is another way: you play with the characters, the place for your story, the relationship between your characters until you have a story that holds the ground and has enough tensive quality (some call it conflict, but to me it’s too strong a word) that you know it’s going to make a great story. Let me illustrate this with the story I wrote for a film script.

I had this idea about the story of a woman who has a phobia of churches and who goes to a hypnotherapist to get cured. She is desperate to get over it because she is getting married in the summer. That was the first idea. Initially the starting scene was taking place in my house. What I mean is that I visioned the girl coming to my practice which was easy to imagine because I am a clinical hypnotherapist and this is routine work for me. So in my mind, I played with the idea for a while. This girl was a lawyer and really not the usual client for a hypnotherapist but she had been dragged in by her best friend, who swore by hypnotherapy. Great start. I thought. I still do. But as the story progressed, the venue wasn’t so right anymore, so I transported everyone to London (I live in a little village north of Bristol) because this lawyer was quite a high flying chick and that didn’t fit with my semi-rural England setting. London did. And I knew about living in London. I revised my first draft and played with the story some more.

Then, I realised that there was not enough tension in her relationship to her friend. It was too “nice”. Her best friend had quit smoking with a lady hypnotherapist, so she was dragging her best friend there. There was no potential conflict between them. No good. As I was playing with my story, I suddenly had an insight into their friendship. Her best friend was actually her Fiancé’s ex and she hadn’t really got over him. Only she was denying it so she would act out. Hey hey, I said to myself. Much better.

I am not going to reveal anymore of my plot here but you can see that I deepened my story not because of the classic writing sandwich: a middle stuck between a beginning and an end. My story got depth by me playing with the characters, the venue and the setting (modern England). I am sorry if the writer’s sandwich has worked for you up to now. And if that is the case, by all means continue to use it. But if you got stuck or if the sandwich hasn’t worked for you, try this more creative approach. Get to know your characters. See how the venue introduces a cultural element to the story that informs it. Change the venue and see how it changes the story.

to your creativity,

Ange de Lumiere

Bird by bird

I hope Anne Lamott will forgive me for using the title of her book but this quote happens to be one of the most powerful message that I retained from it and the subject of today’s blog.

When you embark on a journey to write a book, it can be daunting. The idea of writing between 40,000 and 100,00 words can be enough to put off anyone. Except someone like me because I am a nerd. I hope you will forgive me.

How do you get over that daunting feeling? By tackling it in small bites. If you consider that an average page contains 300 words and you aim at writing a book with an average word count of 60,000, this means 200 pages. If you write one page per day, you will take approximately six months to get your first draft done. If you had more times on your hands, however, you could write two pages a day and you would have a book in a little over three months. I am being very approximative here but hey, writing is not an automated process. Although some writers claim to be able to do that but that’s another story all together.

This is where planning (structuring) your book can be a boon. Imagine if you took a few weeks to let the story develop in your head. You first focus on your main character and what it is exactly that he (or she) wants. You start defining his character, his life experience, where he lives, what he does for a living, whether he is single, straight, employed, etc. In fact most of your first week should be to delve into this person’s life to such extent that if you were interviewed about him for one hour, you would be able to answer any questions the interviewer shot at you as if it was your own life.

Then you need to bring to life a “villain”. Fiction is always about conflict. A villain is someone or something that will come in the way of your hero’s goal or aspiration. Supposed your main character was a woman of fifty years of age who had just been left by her husband for a younger woman and who aspired to be in a loving relationship again. Brave woman. Her villain might be the fact that she has seven children at home. It can make it a little more challenging to find a partner when you have that many children. But if you will forgive me a small digression, I listened to a phone in three years ago on BBC Bristol on Valentine Day, and heard the most beautiful love story ever of precisely that: a man who bumped his trolley into the trolley of a woman (who fitted this profile exactly) and who immediately fell in love with her and swore to look after her and her tribe until the day he died. They were happily married fifteen years later. Now that is a good story for a book. Don’t you think?

If, however, they met right away and eloped, that wouldn’t make a good book. There has to be a journey. Where would you start the book? Probably at the time she found out about her husband infidelity. Then you would plan the story’s outline and define thirty or more scenes with who is in it, what is the action for each scene (each scene has to contain its own little conflict). Perhaps initially our heroine would give her husband a second chance and he would mess it up.

You can see that by planning and slicing up your story in small chunks, it can make it a lot easier to write it because you then only commit to writing a few pages at a time. And this is where Anne Lamott’s title comes into it. It is an anecdote from her book when she tells her father that she can’t possibly learn all that there is to learn and feels overwhelmed. I have to admit I can’t remember precisely what her anecdote is about. And her father, who is a writer, tells her “bird by bird”, meaning take one bird at a time.

To your creativity

Ange de Lumiere