Monday, May 21, 2012

Happy Birthday Sedona!

On Wednesday, Big Bear turns eight! Eight? Wait a minute. How did that happen? Who said she was allowed to grow up?

It's out of my hands. Eight and about to finish second grade. Things have changed quite a bit since I was her age. Today she was excited about learning multiplication in school, something I didn't learn until fourth grade.

Plus, she's graduated from the two-hour birthday party with cake and balloons to a spend-the-night bash. I've gotta prep the house and my eardrums for a whole evening (and morning) of squealing, shrieking, running girls. I don't know who I feel sorrier for: me or my elderly cats. At least they can hide under the bed without seeming rude.

But seriously, I'm very proud of my munchkin. She may show the 'tude of a disgruntled thirteen-year-old complete with eye-roll and 'whatever' at home, but out in public, she's an angel. I so jazzed she's already caught the reading bug. This girl has blazed through the following series: Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Junie B. Jones, Franny K. Stein, Araminta Spookie, and the first thirteen Secrets of Droon. In addition, she scarfs down my Baby Blues comic books left and right. Yes, she'll do anything to push back her bedtime.

So, Happy Birthday Sedona. You rock! And you're a cover girl. Her YMCA camp picked this picture for their brochure. (She's the one in the blue t-shirt.)

What was your favorite birthday memory as a kid?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Making A Character Likeable

Puppy Hugs
Image courtesy: Brian Auer

Hi blogoverse, it's been a while. My children have a plan, a devious plan. They've been contracting new illnessnes in a staggered pattern to keep me busy. However, I'm sure this deluge of sniffles, sore throats, and ear infections now will ensure that no one gets so much as a hiccup on our upcoming beach vacation. Right?

Now on to task. What makes a character likeable? How do you create a character people will follow through 300+ pages? It's not enough to make them attractive and nice. In fact, if you make all your characters sound like supermodels who are perfectly pleasant every moment, the reader may hurl while hurling your book into the trash.

Here's one trick: have other characters in the book like them. If someone is loved and/or admired by other characters, the reader will notice. You see this in advertising. Actors tell you how wonderful a product is so that you'll believe it's wonderful as well and buy it.

Trick number two: go for the sympathy vote. I'm immediately sympathetic to a character that's lost a child. Other calamities might not be as extreme, but broken relationships, lost jobs, and physical injuries work to keep a reader's interest as the character struggles to adjust and recover.

Trick number three: given the character a surprising or formally unknown talent. In Anita Shreve's Body Surfing, the main character is hired to tutor a teenage girl who sounds like a D+/C- kind of student. When the tutor accidentally finds out the girl is an artist, it's fascinating to read how that talent is drawn out and what it leads to.

Trick number four: have the character want something. This idea comes from Stein's On Writing. The character's want drives the story. Ideally, the reader should be unable to put the book down because they need to know: does the character get what they want? What happens if they do? What happens if they don't?

As I work to make my characters likeable, I'm taking a hard look a characters I really like. Consider The Time Traveler's Wife with Henry and Clare. Henry travels through time, but he can't control it and, boy, does it put him into some awkward situations since his clothes don't travel with him. This makes him fascinating and sympathetic. Clare meets him as a young girl and falls in love with him as she gets older. The difficulties of maintaining a relationship and a marriage with a time traveler give the reader sympathy for Clare. Her desperate want for a child adds to the sympathy.

Another book full of likeable characters is The Help. It starts with black maid Aibileen taking care of her white employer's toddler. The child's natural mother is a cold fish, more likely to slap her little girl for the least infraction than to give her a moment's warmth. Yet Aibileen is patient and nurturing to this tiny person, even though she has lost her own child, even though her employer treats her as less than human, and even though the child is likely to grow up to be as intolerant as her mother. The opening chapter does more than make the reader sympathetic toward Aibileen. It makes this character noble on a heroic level.

What characters have you found likeable? Can you give me more 'tricks' to creating a likeable character? It's not easy. Just picking a picture for this blog was tricky, but who doesn't like kids who love animals?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Reflections on A to Z Challenge

As a first-timer this year, I was psyched at the beginning--ready to read and comment like a mad fiend. Forget visiting the suggested five blogs, I was going to blast through twenty! At least. Then I got caught in the polite commenter trap: several people would comment on my blog, I'd comment back, and then be too pooped to visit more blogs. Repeated the next day, and the next.

Despite the trap, I did find new blogs to follow and gained new followers. In addition, I gained some valuable information. I love it when a blogger tells me my virtual pants are unzipped. Here's two prime examples:

1. Turn off word verification.

I've always been impressed with blogs that use word verification. Like, whoa dude, I wonder how they set that up? Those folks must be computer whiz kids. I felt kind of slackerdly for not setting it up for my blog, so when the warning to turn if off for the blogfest came around, I felt all smug. Don't have to do that!

Then someone commented that I'd get more comments if I turned word verification off. Do wah? The joke was on me. Blogger had word verification as a default and I had no clue, because whenever I commented on my own blog, word verification didn't show up.

2. Set up your follower picture to link to your blog.

When you follow another blog, a little picture of your choice gets added to their 'followers' grid. Like duh, you know that. I love getting new followers and always make a point of clicking on their little picture so I can follow back. Except sometimes the window that pops up has no link to the new follower's blog.

At first I thought, "Hmmm, that's weird. I guess they don't have a blog. Oh well." I mean, you can get onto blog sites without having your own, right? Then I wised up a bit and tried googling the person's name plus 'blog' to find them. This works sometimes, but if the follower uses the name "Katie" then forgettaboutit. A google search ain't gonna cut it. So peeps, go to a site where you can find your little picture and click on it. If there's no link to your blog, fix it!

fashion statement

Image courtesy: tuppus

So, thank you to the bloggers who pointed out these little problems with my blog.  And remember, X, Y, Z, pdq because some people may want to follow you too!