Lessons Learned About Writing by Patricia A. Guthrie

Good morning and thank you for allowing me to be here.  I'd like to share some of the hard-earned lessons I've discovered over many painful years of writing and discarding novels. Just ask my computer. It has to store those painful memories.

After four failed attempts and two published books, "In the Arms of the Enemy" and "Waterlilies Over My Grave" I've learned many vital lessons. Probably the most important is:  

Research, research, research.  

After the first of the year and my yearly New Year's Resolutions, I decided to take my own (and others') advice and put myself to the test. I cleaned out and organized my computer. I cleaned out lots of old websites and blogspot addresses, many which no longer existed, and I waded through some of my (and others') old writing articles. I thought about the value of research and how much time it would save when we wrote our novels.

So here goes: the value of researching our novels.

We know (pretty much) what our major themes will be, where our novels take place, who our characters are and where they live, whether an apartment, house, cave, boat. Don't we?

We have a vague idea (unless we're really brilliant and we're a great panzer or have figured out the joys of outlining) what will happen to them throughout the course of the book. Where will the plot take these made-up beings? What is your story is trying to tell you. What is its theme? We do know that novels are trying to tell its reader something, don't we?

We also know that our characters have goals, why they have these goals and what stops them from achieving their goals. Then the all-important resolution. How do they overcome these conflicts. (the all important: goal, motivation and conflict. Thank you Debra Dixon for that title.)

But, do we know, I mean really know who our characters are?

What are their character traits? We all have certain traits, things we do out of habit or mind set. Why is that important? Because our habits and personality show us how we'll respond in situations. An example: My character Elena Dkany has a habit of walking out of uncomfortable situations, especially when she's angry. In "Legacy of Danger", she walks out on such a situation and gets kidnapped. If I didn't show that side earlier, it wouldn't have made her response to this flight and fight for her life scene realistic. We might think, "Huh? Where did that come from?"

There's also their manner of dress. You don't want a cowgirl type lady who wears jeans to suddenly appear in frilly dresses (except for special occasions where she wants to impress someone.) What do they wear? Is she especially fond of black?

What about their appearance? Does she have strawberry blonde hair and green eyes? So, will we forget and make her eyes blue in chapter 20? I know, because I did that to Maggie in "In the Arms of the Enemy." Had to go back and check those eye colors--and hair color. Strawberry blonde is not auburn, no matter how many ways you want to describe it and some brilliant reader will catch it. Trust me.

What about their histories? How well are they educated and where? Who were their parents? Alive? Dead? You don't want a dead father coming to the rescue in chapter 30. And being educated or not educated will give you volumes of dialogue opportunities not to mention how your characters will handle the challenges they face.  
Foreshadowing in a novel is important. In Waterlilies Over My Grave there is a constant foreshadow of water in the poem the killer keeps reciting "Annabelle Lee." Annie is staying in a house by a lake. In "Arms of the Enemy" the killer is foreshadowed in the prologue. That includes research, also.

What about the villain? Who is he? Why does he target who he's after? Is he a serial killer? What makes a serial killer? Research. What triggered their mad responses to life? Do they have any good in them? If you want him/her to be three dimensional and come alive they'd better have a good side as well as the bad. In Waterlilies Over My Grave, the villain Duncan Byrne saved a girls life when her sole support and a roof-over-her-head dies. The fact that he later tries to push her in front of a train doesn't help his image any and shows his insanity. 

 Back to where they are. In "Legacy of Danger" my work in progress, much of the novel takes place in Romania. Romania has earthquakes. As a reader, you need to know, maybe from dialogue and history that earthquakes took place hundreds of years ago and that they'd had one recently. That will make a later scene more viable when the characters run into one trying to escape. (great way to kill off a bad guy).

In other words, if someone is killed with a sword, you'd better show the thing hanging on the wall over the fireplace, otherwise, where the heck did it come from? (I read that somewhere and have remembered it throughout the years.)  

You get the idea. Research can be tedious, but it can also be fascinating. Writing about Romania has been a "writing" lifetime of experiences. I never was in that country, but I did live in Germany for a few years. And, I've done research on the culture. The old farmer driving his cows home in the shadow of a mountain with a cross and a small chapel on its peak. It was a glorious picture. 

So, do a casting call. Find a star or celebrity you could picture as your character and tack him and her on your wall. Write down your descriptions from the color of their hair, their eyes, their clothes, their hobbies, favorite meals and drinks, favorite colors, to their history and everyday lives and put the page(s) in a notebook or someplace you can get quick access. 

You'll be glad you did. 

Have a great day. 

My web address is:  www.patriciaanneguthrie.com

Thank you, Patricia for visiting us today.


Thank you, Marily, for posting this blog. I hope your readers enjoy reading the article.

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