Archive for the ‘Bellevue College’ Category:

That Character You Love to Hate

Sometimes it’s the little things…

Writing antagonists can be almost too much fun. Of course, we don’t want to make the ALL bad. We need to show them as balanced human beings. But when you first introduce an unpleasant character, how do you show he’s unpleasant?

I thought we’d take a little stroll through The Summer of No Regrets, so you could meet a favorite nasty character of mine, Webster Lampson, the college advisor of Brigitta’s sister, Mallory.


A red Porsche was parked outside. Out of it climbed a tall, thin man with a brown beard. He wore a Greek fisherman’s cap and a tidy raincoat. Mom extended her hand. “I’m Clare,” she said. “I was expecting Alana. Are you here to see the dorms?”

The guy took her hand. “No, actually, I don’t know an Alana. I’m Webster Lampson. I’m here to collect Mallory.” He winced as a raindrop hit his face.

Mom’s smile wavered. “Ah!” she said. “Mallory is not here. She’s running some errands for me. Won’t you come in?”

Webster Lampson studied us, the driveway, the entrance of The Center. He was getting wet. “Yes,” he said, “I think I will.”

I’m not good at guessing ages, but this guy was old. Almost as old as my parents. He must have been like forty or something.

Dad was in his office tapping numbers into a ten-key when we came into the foyer. “Paul,” Mom stuck her head in. “We have a visitor.”

Dad came out wearing his wolf sweatshirt. His ponytail was held with this bone and feather thing that dangled from the nape of his neck. “Paul Schopenhauer,” he shook Webster Lampson’s hand.

“Schopenhauer,” Webster Lampson grinned. “Mallory tells me that great German mind was a relative of yours.”

“Distant cousin,” said Dad. “You aren’t here about the Indigo Children?”

Webster chuckled. “I should say not,” he said, “though I have heard of their movement. An article on pseudoscience in one of the journals.”

I disliked him more moment by moment.


  1. List the small actions that give you a feel for Webster’s character (e.g. wincing when a raindrop hits him.)
  2. How would you describe the way Webster speaks? List some of his distinctive word choices.
  3. List some descriptive details about Webster.  (clothing, belongings, physical characteristics)
  4. From what you’ve read above, how would you describe Webster to a friend?
  5. Now, choose two of your own characters. For each, list
    1. two small actions (e.g. nervous tapping)
    2. two descriptive details. (e.g. neon green sneakers, tattoo of a sailing ship.)
    3. two ways of speaking/word choices (e.g. polysyllabic words/ “multitude of reprehensible behaviors”)
  6. Write a short dialogue between your protagonist and another character, using these details to show the distinctive personality of each.
  7. Post it in the comments!
  8. Come join us at Bellevue College for Cultivating Complex Characters!

I have never told you

“I have never told you.” Five words that can deepen your characters, add page-turning plot elements, and shed light on motivation.

When I talk to my characters (and yes, I do this frequently–it’s a relationship that must be maintained), I’m gratified when they talk back. And they will, if you know what to ask them.

 

Try this:

  1. Go to a quiet place where you can concentrate.
  2. Open your story journal. Don’t have one? Use a notebook, or a Word file, or a Scrivener page.
  3. Summon up the character from whom you need answers.
  4. Begin the journal entry “I have never told you, but…” and allow the character to speak. Don’t write about the character–“Marigold is angry with her aunt”–write as the character–I am angry with Aunt Joy. So angry. When she talked about Mike in her nasty way, calling him a “slick, know-it-all peacock,” I nearly walked out. All right, I DID walk out. And I took her dog with me.
  5. Don’t worry that you must include what you learn in the story. You may, or you may not. And what your character says may shift and change as they talk–as did Marigold’s decision to walk out.

You’ll be amazed by what this technique brings forth. In our upcoming Cultivating Complex Characters class, you’ll learn how to make your characters nuanced, believable, and fascinating to the reader.

Here’s what students are saying:

“Katherine is fun and encouraging—she made the class a pleasure.”

The motivation, goal-setting really helped me produce and move forward in my work. It really helps to be in an environment that is conducive to the writing process.”

Do come join us at Bellevue College!

 

 

 

Teens Ask “How Do I Get Published?”

And no, it’s not a silly question!

In the Teenage Novelist: Publishing class, I always start by saying, “Read and read and read; write and write and write.” It’s pretty hard to write publishable material if you’re not reading. That sounds like a no-brainer, but I know plenty of people who want to write books, but get all their stories from movies and television. I love movies and television (and we watch a lot of them in Geek Fiction Writing for Teens), but you have to read good writing to write well. Really. If you can’t find time to read, think about swapping out some of your gaming or social media time, or even (gasp!) some of your writing time. I am a big fan of audiobooks, too–for some reason things I hear stay in my head longer. And if I listen and ALSO read the book? YOWZA! (Here’s where to get some free audiobooks.) How many books will you read/listen to this summer? I’m aiming for ten, beginning today.

Don’t forget that we have new classes each week at Bellevue College North Campus, starting Monday! Come take a bunch of ’em. So much fun with such great people. (We’re all a little weird, but definitely great!)

If you’ve got the reading thing down, here are ten steps that will move you along the path to publication.

  1. Get critique

I’ve told before about the first short story I submitted in college–how it came back with a big, fat “C” accompanied by comments like, “Cliche” and “One wonders why the protagonist’s  girlfriend would have any interest in him at all.” I was arrogant enough that my first thought was, “This professor does not know talent!” (By the end of the quarter, though, I realized he kind of had a point.) Critique is hard to hear at first, but good critique is essential to your growth as a writer. In my writing classes I strive to provide feedback that is specific, honest, encouraging and usable.

2. Form a writing group

You need a tribe to keep you going in this crazy endeavor called writing. Find some like-minded friends and get together every Saturday at a coffee shop, bookstore or library to read and critique each others’ writing. If you’re part of Epicwrite, you can also post stories on the Epicwrite Forum for others to read.

3. Take writing classes or workshops from a published author

I would be delighted to see you in my classes, or at Epicwrite, but there are plenty of other opportunities as well. Lois Brandt’s short story class, and Dana Sullivan’s graphic novel class, for starters, but also the teen program at Hugo House in Seattle, and The Greater Seattle Bureau of Fearless Ideas. Additionally, Go Teen Writers is a website for teens run by Stephanie Morrill, who was herself published as a teen. Local libraries also sponsor free writing classes with local authors.

4. Enter contests

Many contests that require an entry fee for adults have a free teen category. Winning Writers has a good list of Resources and Contests for Students and Educators. And don’t forget the prestigious Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. Contests are a good way to learn to write to specific guidelines, meet deadlines, and stay within a word count–all essential skills for the pro writer.

5. Go to writer gatherings

When you hang out with writers, you end up with writers for friends, and you learn what writers do. When what your friends do is publish books, it doesn’t seem like such a strange and difficult thing. There’s no reason to let age stand in the way of your getting involved in the writing community. Check out the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, the Pacific Northwest Writers Association, and the Write on the Sound writing conference, for a start.

6. Meet authors

As well as taking classes from local authors, don’t forget book signings. Check with your local bookstore , with your favorite authors’ websites, and with your library. Your presence at an event is appreciated by authors more than you know. Even very famous authors can find themselves in front of tiny audiences. Buy the book and introduce yourself to the author. Sometimes amazing friendships get started that way.

7. Start a book review blog

Did you know that you can get free books before they are released if you run a book blog? You have to work at gathering lots of followers, and you have to follow through on the commitments you make to read and review the books, but I know of many bloggers who learned their way around the publishing industry this way and went on to publish their own books. Here are a few successful book blogs started by teens: Peace Love Books, The Tale Temptress, IB Book Blogging. (What? You say they are all reviews for the same book? Don’t know what happened there…)

8. Pay attention to who publishes writing you love

Start a list, noting the title, author, date published, publisher, imprint, editor and agent. These last two may take some treasure hunting: Sometimes authors name their editors and agents in the acknowledgments. Other times, you have to do a lot of online searching to track these names down. Over time you will become familiar with who publishes what kinds of books, so that when it’s your turn to submit a manuscript you can do so more intelligently. Start separate editor and agent files as well, because editors and agents often move around as their careers advance and change. You’ll want to keep track of your favorite ones. Agentquery is a good resource for learning more about specific agents.

9. Submit to magazines, journals and anthologies

Make sure you’re writing more than just the Great American Novel. Write poems, stories, articles, and essays. There are many publications that seek work from teens. And there’s no rule against teens submitting work to publications not specifically for teens.

10. Self-publish

But don’t be hasty about it. One advantage of traditional publishing is that so many eyes have looked at your book before it is released to an audience. By the time a publisher has released your book, you have revised it many, many times, it has been through a difficult and competitive selection process, and you have revised it even more. If you decide to self-publish instead of going the traditional route, you’ll want to get a lot of competent critique, revise the living daylights out of the manuscript, and then take it by people in-the-know like a bookstore owner, a librarian, or a professional editor. Have a different set of eyes than yours do the final copy-editing, as well. Also, have an idea of how you will market your book. If you’re good with social media and have a large following on your social networks, this will help a lot. Smashwords, and Createspace are inexpensive options for self-publishing. (Cheapest Createspace printing option is here.) Teens I know who have self-published beautiful books are Maya Ganesan and Logan Fenner.

I’d love to see you in one of my classes!

Overcoming Bored Writer Syndrome

Bored AuthorWhen I first began writing fiction it felt like all of the characters were me. Of course, all characters come from someplace deep in our psyche, but when I had a character who sounded, acted, talked and believed like me, I was BORED. I have great self-esteem and lots of people love me, but really I am BORING. At least to myself. And a character exactly like me doesn’t intrigue me enough to sustain a whole novel, hence–for a long time–many, many unfinished novels.

I’ve had to find a way to go deeper–to unpack why a character may think and act the way they do, and then write that character from the INSIDE. Ironically, this has led to a lot of self-discovery, as I get into the mind of the character the way an actor would.

Are you are suffering from Bored Writer Syndrome? Ready to think hard? Here’s a place you might start.

What is Your Character’s Philosophy? What are their underlying beliefs about life? Are they hopeful about life or pessimistic? Do unforeseen events have a purpose or are they just random? Do they believe in revenge? Forgiveness? Do they want to champion the rights of others? Do they have a religious or political ideal that guides their life? How close are their ideals to those of their family and/or friends? If they are quite different, why?

What is Your Character’s Self-Perception? How do they see themself? Do they have a source of power? Do they see themself as a victim? Do they believe they are worthy or unworthy? What are they afraid of? What topic would they rather not touch? What do they see as their role in the family? Among their friends? In the community? In the universe?

We’ll explore more about characters with things like character interviews, story journaling, talking to our characters on the page, and unpacking how other authors develop their characters in Cultivating Complex Characters. Come join us!

Other classes include The Plot Thickens and Writing the Hidden Story.

When It’s Hard to Relate

DSCF1569As a writer you know you must allow your characters to live through you as they unfold on the page. But what if the character feels unlike you? A character you can’t relate to is hard to, well, relate. But you WANT characters who are different from you–whether they are sympathetic, antagonistic, or simply “other” because they are outside of your community or life experience.

When you find the connection point with such a character you expand your empathy, a characteristic sorely lacking in our culture, but one that is essential for a writer.

I call the following exercise “Dressing Like the Enemy,” though the character may not be a villain in your story:

    1. List some of your political/cultural/religious values. “I believe…”
    2. List some activities you do not, will not, or cannot do. If you just want to get your feet wet, it could be something like mountain climbing. To take the plunge, choose something that you have a visceral reaction to. Don’t automatically jump to something extreme like murder, but try for something that makes you uncomfortable.
    3. Write a scene in the first person that includes the following:
      • The viewpoint character is one who would ordinarily feel “other” to you: different race, nationality, sexual orientation, gender, economic situation, political party, religion.
      • The character is doing an activity you can’t see yourself ever doing, or making choices you would never make.
    4. Before you begin, imagine yourself sitting in your chair as that character, relating your story. Watch out for authorial moralizing, and let the character express themself in a way that is authentic and allows room for the reader to relate to at least some of it.
    5. If you have difficulty “getting in,” see if you can think of or imagine an equivalent situation in your own life. “What if my own child had died and my closest friend had just said something like that?” Spend some time inside that situation until the feeling “clicks,” then continue with your scene.

If you’d like to post a link to your scene in the comments, it might be fun to see what unfolds for different people.

We’ll continue with more of these in Cultivating Complex Characters, Wednesday evenings at Bellevue College. Feel free to enroll, even if you miss the first session. You won’t be “behind.” Check here for other classes this quarter.

 

Wordless Times

DSCF1561

I lost my father in July. Then in August, my husband underwent a high-risk surgery. And then last week, I had surgery to determine whether I have cancer. (It looks like I do not.) Now everything that has always felt certain is entirely up for grabs. We have been so well-loved and supported by friends and family that I am not frantic or filled with dread. In fact, the time feels distilled. But I am wordless.

Usually, if I sit very still, the words for what I believe and experience will slide into place. There’s a “click” and I know that the sounds and meanings I’ve gathered say what I want to say. But now is a time of half-completed phrases, of writing one word and replacing it with three more, none of them right. It’s a time of short, stiff journal entries.

Instead of writing, I am reading: Madeleine L’Engle’s A WIND IN THE DOOR, which I hear from childhood in my Nana’s voice; the stream-of-consciousness poetry of Jorie Graham’s OVERLORD, which made no sense to me ten years ago and now makes me weep without explanation; Mary Doria Russell’s THE SPARROW, which my husband and I read aloud, and are still unpacking. Right now questions are more nourishing than answers.

I think that I am lying fallow—resting and waiting to plant new words: lush and vibrant ones that will emerge when it is time for harvest. Deep underground my hidden story waits. I’m going to trust it to come when it’s ready.

I’d love to see you on Wednesdays, at Bellevue College North Campus, starting September 23 for fall classes: Writing the Hidden Story, The Plot Thickens, and Cultivating Complex Characters. Sign up ASAP to insure a spot.

 

 

 

 

 

Fall Writing Classes

Fill Your Wednesdays with Writing!

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Bellevue College, North Campus, Redmond, WA

*These classes are for adults; high school students may enroll only with instructor permission.

Writing the Hidden Story

9/23/2015 – 11/25/2015, 10:00 AM – 12:30 PM

Your characters live and breathe because of a hidden story—one you must go deep within to find. A work of fiction that is disconnected from YOU is nothing more than a clever word exercise. Mine your own life and the story will ring true. Discover the story you didn’t know you were writing and see how it can transform you—and your reader.

The Plot Thickens

9/23/2015 – 11/25/2015, 1:00 PM – 4:00 PM

In this course, students will focus on structuring the novel–often the most challenging part of novel-writing. Discover the three words that drive your entire story. Find out how to avoid mid-novel sag and how to keep your reader turning pages all the way to the end. By the end of the session you will have a complete outline of your novel, and a synopsis–“The story of the story”.

Cultivating Complex Characters

9/23/2015 – 11/25/2015, 6:00 PM – 8:30 PM

While a strong plot makes a story worth telling, it is multilayered, nuanced characters who make a story worth reading. Learn six techniques for developing vibrant and believable characters, each with a distinct and compelling voice. Course includes reading, critique and support from a community of fellow writers.

 

Summer Writing Classes for Teens!

Writers Collaborate

“Katherine brings life and excitement to what she teaches and interacts with me and the other students in a truly honest, personable way.”

–Samantha Meuller, BCCE blog.

Another reason I love my life: Every summer, I spend a month with several dozen glorious teens who write for the joy of it. Different classes every week. Many take several; some take every one. We laugh, create a lot, and I am privileged to know them. If you are a teen, or have a teen in your life, we’d love to have you join us!

 

Bellevue College Summer Teen Program

Week of June 29, M-Th
Teenage Novelist: The Novel in a Nutshell   NEW!
Geek Fiction Writing for Teens  
Week of July 6, M-W
Teenage Novelist: Scenes and Dreams   
Teenage Novelist: Live-Action Writing  
Week of July 13, M-F
Teenage Novelist: Plotting and Scheming 
Teenage Novelist: Re-visioning the Novel  
Week of July 20, M-Th
Teenage Novelist: Novel Intensive  
Teenage Novelist: Publishing 

 

 

Mists of Enigma

And of course, don’t forget EPICWRITE, our four-day live-action writing summer camp for teens, taking place at Camp Ramblewood in Sequim, July 9-12. (Epicwrite is not affiliated with Bellevue College)

Three Keys to Scene-Weaving

Cool, isn't he? I found him at Faux Marble Classics

Cool, isn’t he? I found him at               Faux Marble Classics

Make sure your scene answers these questions before your reader asks them, unless you are deliberately withholding that information to build tension. (For more keys, join us in the Scene-Weaving class! Or, if you’re a teen, try Teenage Novelist: Scenes and Dreams!)

 1. Where am I?

  • Orient your reader throughout the scene so that your characters are not just “talking heads”
    • Sensory detail
    • References to small, specific objects or parts of objects
    • References to larger objects or elements of nature

It was a small key, no bigger than a shelled peanut, and when Jenny placed it in his hand Karl had to sit down on the temple steps. Clouds drifted frustratingly across the moon, blocking the light so that he couldn’t make out whatever was etched on it. He ran his thumb over it. Jenny dashed off to look at the marble dragons while Karl breathed in the jasmine air, trying to figure out what to do next. His sandal brushed a poppy someone had planted along the walkway. It was too perky a flower and it irritated him to see it tonight when there were no answers, when Karl was so close to accepting defeat.

2. Who is talking?

  • Orient the reader by mentioning the character by name or having him or her pick up an object or do some small gesture.

Karl fingered the key. “Where did this come from?”

Jenny shrugged. “It was under the elephant.”

“Under the elephant? By this you mean under its foot? Under its bottom?”

“Just under.” Jenny traced the bamboo leaves distractedly. “You sure ask a lot of questions.”

“For all the good it does me.” Karl forced the key grimly onto his key ring. “Look, Jenny, if we want any chance of you catching that spaceship we’ve got to leave now.”

Jenny drifted across the stone steps looking up at the moon.

“Are you even listening?” He jingled the keys impatiently.

“What?” she said. “Oh. I was thinking about my mother.”

3. What is the forward movement of the scene?

  • Give the reader a reason to keep reading. Every scene has a purpose to move the action forward. It can do so by explaining crucial information or by showing direct action, but even an “explaining” scene should involve some change.

“You were thinking what about your mother?” The moon was back. Karl stood and held the key up to the light.

“It’s her birthday.” Jenny climbed one of the marble dragons. “I’m sleepy. Do we have to stay?”

Karl didn’t answer. In the far distance, maybe over the next village, he could see lights in the sky. They seemed to open and close like eyes. They were moving towards the temple.

 

 

Scene Weaving Class, and The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing

Sleepwalker's Guide to DancingWhen her father begins having conversations with dead relatives, photographer Amina Eapen returns to her parents’ home in Albequerque, and a past she has been running from. Confronted with memories of a childhood visit to India and the tragedy that resulted, and of the brother nobody talks about, Amina wants nothing more than to get back to Seattle and resume her career crisis. But like the unsettling images she captures on film and then hides away, the truth has a way of asking to be told.

THE SLEEPWALKER’S GUIDE TO DANCING is a brilliant debut novel by author Mira Jacob, and in our “Scene Weaving” class, we’re going to take it apart and see what makes it twirl.

I learn a lot by writing books, but I learn even more by reading other’s books with the eyes of a writer. Mira is a master scene-weaver, managing dialogue, backstory, description, and leaps in time, while setting off similes like sparklers.

Well-woven scenes are the heart of your book. When your scenes are ragged, even a spectacular plot can’t save the story. But when they are seamless, reading them is sheer luxury. Join us for “Scene Weaving” and make stories out of whole cloth.

Scene Weaving
Thursdays beginning April 16

In this course, students will focus on the well-crafted scene: devastating dialogue, authentic action, vivid setting. All of this comes from an inner landscape deep in the mind of your character. Appropriate for all genres of narrative writing: fiction, memoir, creative nonfiction. Classes include in-class writing and critique.

Also coming up at Bellevue College, North Campus

ADULTS

YA Novel Writing: Captivating the Teen Reader
Mondays beginning April 13

Geek Fiction Writing
Tuesdays beginning April 14

 

TEENS

Essay Writing for Teens: College Application
Spring Break: April 6-8

Young Writers’ Workshop
Spring Break: April 6-8