Thursday, January 15, 2009

Which Comes First: the Conflict or the Character?

This posting regards a comment made on the previous post, which asked the question: when I write, which do I determine first, the conflict or the character?

Writers might all answer that question differently, and it may even vary from one project to another, as it has for me. I'll show you what I mean.

In my story The Casket Girl, the title came first. Wait, that wasn't one of the choices, was it? I was researching the French and Indian Wars when I accidentally discovered the history of the casket girls who came from France to New Orleans and parts of Canada to help settle ?New France?. I was so intrigued by the reference that a story began to grow in my brain. From there I would have to say it was the conflict which came first. What if one of these girls came to marry a certain man and he was dead when she arrived, and she was inadvertantly indentured to someone, and then ran away and was kidnapped by a courier-du-bois, and then a frontiersman rescued her, and then the Indian wars began and...? You get the picture. Conflict galore.

The same could be said of The Green Veil and its sequel The Red Fury, my current work in progress. In book 1, wanted to write about the logging era of my home state. I also wanted to write about a girl who lost a childhood love and wound up marrying an older man, only to have her childhood love return to find her when it was too late. In book 2, I wanted to continue the story of those I call the Lumber Kings, while investigating the devastating effects of America's worst fire: The Peshtigo Fire. In each of these books I've thought of the history, the conflict, and then set characters in the situation and watched them grow. One of my biggest hurdles as a writer is to allow my characters to flesh out and grow before I pop them in the story which is spriraling along like an old film in my mind.

However, all that said, I don't always start with the history/conflict model.
Book 3 of the same series, which I hope to begin yet this year and title The Black Rose, is growing almost totally from the dispositions of two characters I have in mind. Beyond them the setting and conflict will arise. My short story Not For Love fits that same bill.

In the final analysis, I'd say that most of my stories arise from their historical settings before anything else. I love to investigate the events and places of history that all our personal stories arise from. I am Naomi Musch, that tomboy turned writer/farmer/homeschooling mom because of where and how I grew up and live today. My personal story will be vastly different from the ladies I'll be rooming with at the ACFW conference, for instance, whose lives are rooted in different regions than mine.

And that's another cool thing about telling stories. Maybe they've all been told. Maybe their themes and plots have similar threads. But they're all written on the hearts of individuals as different as God's own snowflakes. For that reason alone, we'll never run out of characters, conflict, or setting to write about.

Praise Him!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Speak, Write, Now, (or) Speak Right Now

In the quest for writing excellence, we constantly train. We never "finish our degree" because we always seek to improve. We pore over self-editing books. We practice staying glued to our chairs. We participate in workshops on plot development. On the bookshelf within arm's reach, our Sally Stuart's Christian Writers Guide is dog-earred and filled with post-its. Our favorite novels are strewn with passages that are high-lighted, noted, and dissected in notebooks. And we speak.
What was that? Wait a minute. Did I say, speak? As in, publicly? Or more like talking out loud to the characters in our heads?
I meant publicly.
I mention this with trepidation, because I have few qualifications as a public speaker. I have little background. My resume of past speaking engagements is extremely minor. I have no calendar of bookings. But, yet, speaking is part of what I do, or rather, what I am learningto do by practicing in any small way I can.
To distance ourselves from speaking is to shortchange our publication and marketing efforts. We can blog all day, but we must also be willing to get out there with our voices and talk, not only about our books and articles, but about all the issues which with they are connected.
Speaking is all about inspiration and promotion. So I encourage you to get over your shyness, and put yourself out there.
This doesn't mean you have to start signing up for conferences. Who are you anyway? Especially if your like me, without much of a background to go on. But you have an audience. You have family and friends, and your church body. You have your child's school organizations. You can lead a Bible study, or teach a Sunday school class. You can develop a book club or guide a critique group. You can read at a nursing home. You can speak on behalf of others.
I once found myself working as a volunteer at a conference. My only job was to introduce a guest speaker. That doesn't sound very difficult, until you find yourself standing in front of 400 people with about 30 seconds to spit out some basic information in a clear, concise way (and, okay, with a little wit hopefully). It's a bit nerve-wracking.
But even that little opportunity helped me to develop my speaking skills.
I encourage you, as a writer, to speak whenever, wherever you can. Act in a play; take part in a reading; don't back down from opportunities to share your work with anyone who asks.
I would also like to recommend a great book. Speaking with Spirit: A Guide for Christian Public Speakers by Dr. Wanda Vassallo should go on every writer's (speaker's, pastor's, etc.) bookshelf. Using Jesus as her primary example, Dr. Vassallo engagingly helps us discover how to build self-confidence, how to engage the audience, how to stay on track, how to WRITE a speech as well as deliver it, and how to speak spontaneously. Get this book and start speaking out!