Tense and Sensibility and Tea with Imaginary Friends

by Angie Hilbert
( November 23rd, 2014 )

You know that movie, Stranger than Fiction with Emma Thompson, Will Ferrel, and Dustin Hoffman? Here’s a quick trailer if you don’t. It’s a playful look at the relationship between writers and their characters. It’s about (as Faulkner advised) killing your darlings. It’s a playful farce that experiments with tense and point of view. Though the city is never specified, wander-writers will be interested in learning the movie was filmed in Chicago.

I used to have a writer narrating my life too. I never mentioned it to anyone, partly because I knew and trusted the narrator and partly because I didn’t want people to make fun of me. I was 12 years old and the narrator was me.

“Angie heard her mother call her to dinner. She slowly closed her book and went downstairs. She knew what was coming—carrots. Angie hated cooked carrots. ‘The only good carrot was a raw carrot’ she thought.” and so on. I narrated each mundane detail in my head as if I were the main character in an epic hero’s journey.

Now, I don’t know if this is a common thing for all adolescent girls (who already think their troubles and turmoil are at the center of the universe) or if it’s a literary phase all bookworms and writers go through but I never quite grew out of it. I don’t narrate my own life any more, but I narrate the lives of others when I’m people-watching. I even assign them snippets of dialogue. I have found it a useful way to experiment with point of view and narrative tense.

Stranger than FictionI think my most damming symptom of this mental illness called “being a writer” is my tendency to have tea with the characters of my work-in-progress. I literally do pour a cup of tea, get out my notebook, and (if I’m alone) I’ll imagine I am one of the characters in my story. I’ll look across the table to the empty chair and pretend I’m talking to the writer. I pour my fictional heart out to my disembodied writer-self using first person past tense. I imagine I have already lived through  the story and am now sharing my experience with a trusted friend in a safe environment where I can be completely honest.

Not only does this help me develop a voice for the character, it helps me identify their motivation. It makes them real to me so I can make them real on the page. It also helps with the plot. Which scenes does the character have to be in? What does each character do and know when? Once I have this little tea party with each of the important characters, It’s easy to identify which character’s point of view should be used for which scenes.

Of course, your milage may vary, but if you’re stuck with a bit of writer’s block or struggling to make your daily word-count. Try inviting one of your characters to tea. You might be surprised at what they tell you. But be careful and keep it to yourself.

Between narrating the lives of strangers and having tea with imaginary friends, one just might wind up in a straight jacket.

Read ~ Write ~ Wander


What techniques do YOU use to get inside the heads of your characters?

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Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

by Angie Hilbert
( November 4th, 2014 )

Let the Right One InLet the Right One In is the story of a bullied schoolboy and a lonely new-girl becoming friends in the working-class suburbs of Stockholm. Oskar, who lives with his divorced mother, occasionally sees his alcoholic father on weekends. He meets Eli, a new girl who moves in next door with a man presumed to be her father. They meet on the stark, cold playground of their apartment complex, become friends, and help one another through the trials of being young and vulnerable in an adult world. It sounds like a sweet coming-of-age story but it is not!

Oskar is just inches from snapping and murdering his classmates in revenge. Eli… well… Eli is a vampire. (Not a spoiler, the reader figures this out pretty early.) Each in their own way stirs both pity and horror in the reader. This book is the anti-Twilight. Sure you have your vampire/human star crossed lovers, but they are both more threatened by human horrors than supernatural ones. Being a vampire is not Eli’s only dark secret. Oskar finds her second secret far harder to accept. Think “Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” meets “Tuck Everlasting” and you have the weird tone of Let the Right One In just about right.

What Wander Readers Will Love:

  • Let the Right One In does a great job of letting you into the every day lives of working class Swiss people. The school system, transportation system, infrastructure, police, mainstream media, all feature at least a cameo.

  • In addition to the lives of Oskar and his parents, you also get a glimpse of the working class lifestyle in Sweden from several families and individuals. Their lives overlap and interact but each has it’s unique dynamic.

  • I don’t know where you sit as you read this, but here in Ohio, people are already grumbling about the approaching winter. In Let the Right One In, you get to know people for whom winter is normal and even enjoyed. It might help you anticipate the approaching cold with a little less dread.

What’s your favorite vampire story? If you read Let the Right One In, let me know how it ranks in the Vampire cannon for you.

Read ~ Write ~ Wander


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NaNoWriMo Countdown!

by Angie Hilbert
( October 28th, 2014 )

I’m grounded. Going back to school full time (in addition to my full time career) has left me with little in the way of travel resources. I’ll be sticking exclusively with armchair adventures until I finish my second degree. Not that I mind that much. I have a boundless imagination and easily get swept up in my books. But one of the greatest literary adventures is just around the corner. NaNoWriMo!


National Novel Writing Month

     It’s only a few days until NaNo-eve! (Some call it “Halloween”) The night when WriMos from all over the world will stay up until midnight, put everything else on hold, and begin to write 50,000 words in only 30 bleak, November days. It’s a literary adventure unlike any other.

     For those of you new to this kind of literary abandon, allow me to elucidate: NaNoWriMo was established on the principle that you (yes, YOU) have a novel inside you. But your story can’t find it’s way out because you are so busy with work, school, family, The Walking Dead, and, you know, life. So you make a change. Not a forever-and-always kind of change, just a for-the-next-thirty-days change. You give your story 30 days of prioritized, undivided attention. The goal is to write at least 50,000 words (the bare minimum to be considered a novel length manuscript) and see what your story can do on the page.

     You aren’t allowed to erase words or edit until December. Just let it all pour out in a catharsis of prose. By the end of the month, you will have written a great 50,000 word mess. But it’s all yours. You will have some bad writing to edit but that’s still way better than a great story locked away in your head. You will have developed a writing habit. You will have learned to set writing goals and make writing a priority. And if you are very lucky, you’ll have the first draft of something special and embark on a revision.

     Since I will not be taking a trip this November (as is my usual custom). I am more dependent than ever on writing to take me away. I’m going to let my NaNoWriMo project take me back to Cambodia. For those who want to follow my journey or to add your own project to the manifest, you can check it out HERE. You can also keep track of my progress on the widget in the upper left corner of the blog.

     It’s an amazing journey into your own subconscious. It’s an intellectual marathon. It’s an excuse to swill coffee and eat chocolate! The possibilities are boundless. Come join us.

Bon Voyage!

Read ~ Write ~ Wander


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