Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Writing class # 1

  • Have empathy for your characters, not sympathy
  • If you’re having trouble writing from a perspective other than your own, give your characters problems you don’t have
  • Create tension. Example: Betty lives to get married and can’t wait for it. Veronica hates marriage. Instant tension.
  • Non-fiction today is “This is my problem” followed by 400 pages and then “This is how I solved it”
  • Writing that someone’s eyes are darting around says something. It’s better than just saying someone was nervous.
  • Pick an appropriate name, it can say a lot about your characters. For example, two lawyers: one named Franklin, the other named Jim-Bob.
  • Know your character: what they had for breakfast, if they chew their nails, but don’t include it all.
  • Let the reader form their own opinions. For example, “Sally was biting her way through her fourth nail of the morning” is better than “Sally was nervous”. It engages the reader, gives them something to do.
  • Know the character’s goals – long term and short.
  • To make your story relatable, include a situation that everyone’s been through. For example, have your character just miss their bus and have to wait a long time for the next one. People will be like “I’ve done that!”
  • While reading other books, try to figure out what lured you in to books you like. Make notes about that and use it in your own work.
  • When writing about yourself, make sure you come from an authentic place. Present yourself warts and all.
You can find inspiration for characters anywhere. For example, this newspaper article from yesterday’s Toronto Star.
A grieving Mississauga father fed up with the repeated vandalism of his dead son’s highway-side memorial hired a private investigator to keep watch over the site and identify who’s responsible.

On Sunday, the investigator caught a hooded man on film dismantling the site with a hammer. He reported the incident to OPP Monday.

But in a cruel twist, the act of tearing down the family’s painstakingly reassembled memorial may not be a matter police will act upon, since the site isn’t on the family’s own property.

“It’s bad enough that a person has to live with the grief,” said Tony Jasinski, whose son Thomas was killed in April 2009 when his Jeep Wrangler careened into the ditch, went airborne and slammed into the Glen Erin Dr. overpass that crosses Highway 403 in Mississauga.

“I’m struggling every day. And then to have something like this happen, it just knocks the wind out of you,” he said.

It was the 11th time since June the memorial has been damaged or entirely removed — sometimes just hours after his family rebuilt it.

Matthew Romanik, an ex-cop and president of Star Quality Investigations, filmed the unidentified man ripping down flowers and a cross from a wooden post identifying the overpass. He also removed a lantern, candles and a model angel, all of which had been erected just hours earlier by Thomas’s mother, Ursula.

“He was ripping all this stuff off and shoving it into a yellow, plastic shopping bag,” Romanik said.

The former Peel police sergeant then approached the man, who Romanik said wore dark glasses, and asked him what he was doing. Romanik said the man told him he didn’t approve of roadside memorials.

“I would say he was angry, definitely,” Romanik said.

After two previous incidents, notes — one signed “concerned citizen” — were left at the site explaining it had been destroyed because of the perpetrator’s dislike for roadside memorials. Strangely, a cross taken from another memorial near Ajax was also once left behind, Ursula said.

She said she also left notes at the site after she rebuilt it, urging whoever was wrecking the memorial to stop, or at least accept a smaller display. On Sept. 1, after it was tampered with again, she said someone had written on the note: “Stop while you’re ahead.”

Romanik’s video footage, along with a description of the hooded man’s black pickup truck and licence plate number, has been given to the OPP’s Port Credit division.

But it’s not clear whether they will pursue the lead, since police don’t take third-party complaints, said a police spokesperson. They only respond to those filed by the owners of the damaged property — in this case the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, which owns the highway.

Regardless of what police do, Jasinski says he will stop at nothing to prevent this vandalism from continuing.

“I don’t intend to have a shrine,” he says. “A little picture, a little tree growing right by the pole, that’s all I want.”

There are a lot of characters you could write as from this story. You could write as the parents, the detective, the deceased as a ghost, or the man taking the memorial down. With all the characters we understand their motivations, it’s clear why they’re doing what they’re doing, except for the man taking the memorial apart.
You could write from his perspective. What motivates him? Perhaps he knew the deceased and didn’t like him. Perhaps he had a close relative or spouse die in a car crash and seeing this every day near his house reminds him of it. Perhaps he killed someone in a car crash and is feeling the guilt. There are many different ways it could go.
1. Think about someone in your life you really care for.
2. Write a description of their hands.
3. Write about something they are doing with their hands.
4. Write a metaphor about a remote, far-away place. (Don’t get too hung up on definitions – write whatever you think a metaphor is).
5. Ask the person with the hands a question.
6. Write their response in a way that shows they weren’t really listening.
7. Write for 10 minutes.
Sarah’s hands are young but scarred. They look their 23 years but only at first glance. Look deeper and you will see more.
She twists her hands, one in the other, thinking, waiting. She wishes she weren’t here. Somewhere else. Like Hawaii.
“What are you thinking” I ask.
Sarah looks up, noticing me for the first time. She looks lost, confused.
“Sorry, what? Did you say something?”
She looks around. At me. Through me. I don’t exist.
“Nothing, never mind,” I say, and she’s already back to the hands, and the turning. Over and over. I’m not there.
How long can results take?, I wonder
I’ve seen them in the Dollarama downtown. First response, for when you need to be sure. But how can anyone be sure when your test kit costs one dollar? I suppose they may be good for teenagers, young kids on an allowance. Thirteen and fourteen year-old girls who can’t face the truth, can’t tell anyone and can’t afford a proper test. Getting all the piece of mind $1 can buy.
Sarah was there once. But this is different. She’s older now, happier. Part of a couple. We’re in a real doctor’s office now.
But there are times in life where you look at the woman and see the girl. She who she was before time marched on.
And sitting here now, I watch her waiting, and I see the youth at heart.

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