Monday, February 14, 2011

Embracing Life: With "French" and "Bonjour" Author, Jamie Cat Callan

Author Jamie Callan at Cafe del Industrie
Engaging author, instructor and happiness expert Jamie Cat Callan was inspired by her French grandmother to return to France and discover the secret to joie de vivre at any age. She shares those secrets in her latest book, Bonjour, Happiness!, which serves up the latest adventures of one woman on a quest to rediscover her ooh la la through all things French and some things not so French. Bonjour, Happiness! will be released on March 29 by Citadel, Kensington.

Submit a comment on your writing ooh la la to Word for Words. The winning selection receives an signed copy of Jamie's French Women Don't Sleep Alone.

AMA: You already lead a well-traveled, experiential life. What was the most influential lesson you learned while researching your prior book, French Women Don't Sleep Alone?

JCC: The French taught me how to let go of the sometimes debilitating idea of perfection.

AMA: That's a tough task in a demanding world. What's the secret?

JCC: I've learned the art of the French shrug! Rather than apologizing (something I used to do for a lot often, for no real reason), I will now lift my shoulders, look heavenward, smile slightly, even mysteriously, and pronounce "c'est la vie!" This tiny gesture has truly changed my life. I believe I am a kinder and more forgiving person to myself, to my friends, to my family and to the world at large.

AMA: Sounds like a great approach, especially to the writing life, and very French. How do they embrace life in general?

JCC: Things happen. We live. We learn. C'est la vie!

AMA: Living, learning and life not a bad way to embrace Valentine's Day, and the rest of the year.

Jamie Cat Callan is also an expert in drawing out the writer's creative side with The Writer's Toolbox: Creative Games and Exercises for Inspiring the 'Write' Side of Your Brain.


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

One Potato, Two Potato: The Art of Describing Characters

Two potatoes sat on a counter looking largely the same, but are they? They're both Idaho Reds, and both about the same size, each with small points at one end. But look closer, even without a magnifying glass, and it becomes clear these potatoes are different. As a writer, you'll want to pay attention to detail to take your character descriptions from workmanlike to work of art.

Take our two potatoeswhat do you see? One has more eyes and is browner and chubbier. The other is shorter and thinner and has more scars. It also has more pink areas and a bit more stem attached. Is it starting to seem, based on these distinctions, that the potatoes are getting a bit of personality? The same can be true of describing your characters.

The best way to reveal a character's traits is in a scene, where in addition to prose there is dialog, preferably with tension, and characters are revealed organically as they react under pressure. But for those softer moments, when you're describing the character through narrative prose, it's helpful to have done a bit of homework first.

Many writers advocate creating character descriptions before writing the story, and that can work well. But I'm increasingly a fan of the imagery approach, where you close your eyes, imagine the scene, then write it, Consider doing the same with your characters. And when you close your eyes (and silence your internal editor) and see those people you're writing about, don’t be afraid of a little description, especially in the first draft.

Describe those protruding eyes, unsightly scars, chubby bodies, pinched looking noses. Then take the description a step further. Consider the arched posture or the slouch, the feminine curves or lack thereof, not only for what they show about the character, but for what they tell about him or her. What does the slouch or portly shape say about self-confidence? Those traits may not be saying what you think. The slouch could belie a spinal condition, the rotund belly a wealthy lifestyle.

One thing is sure, the detailedand knowledgeabledescription with the right details in the right place will reveal the characters not only to your audience, but also to you so that you can continue developing them throughout the story for that important arc that can raise your characters from couch potatoes to fine dining.

Resources: For more information getting to know your characters, see the Writer's Digest article "9 Questions to Ask Your Main Character," and at Writers Digest University see "Character Description Exercise."