Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Best of Seekerville from the Archives and First Fives Page Critique

Characterization with Madam Zelda

Yes. It is I. Madame Zelda.
I am delighted to be here in Seekerville today.
(And after last night's New Year's Eve Party you could call this a miracle)

I thought I'd open up with a little fortune teller humor.

When two fortune tellers meet it goes something like this:

"You are fine. How am I?"

[insert laughter]

So what does a gypsy have to do with characterization?

Good characterization is all about channeling your characters.
And who better to explain this than Madam Zelda? Trust me, I know I quite a few characters and believe it or not I am a writer myself.

And because Madame Zelda is generous (you thought I was just beautiful, didn't you?) she is going to share some secrets to characterization from a few other experts on the topic. Madame Z is smart enough to realize that while she sees all, she doesn't actually know all.

Channeling Your Characters by Madame Zelda

Why channel your characters? Because :
  • it eliminates two-dimensional characters
  • it uncovers motivation for the characters
  • motivation leads to writing scenes based on those character motivations
  • it provides deep point of view (pov)
By doing the above you take your characters to a level of connection with the reader. At this level the reader bonds with your character and cares about your character or, in the case of a villain; they are interested enough to keep reading in order to find out what happens.

Simply put, if you want the reader to invest in your characters you must elicit emotion by creating believable characters. That investment is not made simply telling them who a character is, but showing them.

Once the reader knows the character then they will also know how a character will act or react. At this point you have a responsibility as a writer. The reader now expects that the motivations of the character will be unique and consistent to the character you have created.

How to channel your characters:

First you need a dark room and plenty of candles. It might help to watch Whoopie Goldberg in Ghost too.

Kidding-- just a little gypsy humor.

Channeling is simply an exercise in visualization. You become the character.

I utilize this technique often when I am not sure where to take a scene or if I do not actually know for certain what the character's exact response should be in a situation or if I have written a draft of the scene and am ready to proof the emotions and layer more in.

This requires a no interruptions, and a quiet environment.

Run through the scene in your head with your eyes closed and/or by reading the scene aloud like a script. Acting out the scene may also be beneficial.

My character is a divorced thirty-something woman who has ex-husband issues, family issues and lack of viable sperm issues.

I begin channeling Sophie by closing my eyes and crossing my arms across my chest. She's tense, and frustrated. I try to feel these emotions. My jaw clenches and my back becomes rigid as I get into Sophie and think about the issues she is dealing with right now. I begin talking aloud as though I am Sophie, simply stream of consciousness rambling...

" Am I asking for too much? All I want is normal. All I have ever wanted is normal. Instead I have a mother who refuses to marry my uncle and give up her crown of widowhood and a goth-chick little sister with a Peter Pan complex. Dear Lord. "

I sigh loudly as I know Sophie would.

"And what am I going to do about JACK? I can't save everyone."

So far in the scene, after an interaction with the hero Jack, the door bell rings...and now I realize exactly who should be at the door as I channel Sophie's inner angst.

She peeked out the peep hole, then hung her head and tried not to sob.

First Homeland Security. Now this.

Alan Winston James II

Not today.

In fact, never, would be good. But definitely not today.

Generally Sophie refrained from even using his name. But it was hard to ignore her ex husband when she was looking up his deviated septum. She hadn’t seen the man since their day in divorce court. Today, of all days, he had to turn up on her doorstep?

Her life wasn’t screwed up enough? She raised her hands skyward. “Why, God? Why?”

The buzzer rang again, this time with more insistence.

Sophie swung open the door. “Al? Something I can help you with?”

Alan cringed. He loathed nicknames. “You haven’t returned my calls.”

“I never return your calls.”

He adjusted his silk paisley tie, seemingly at a loss for words.



She beat a staccato rhythm with her sandaled foot on the tiled floor of the entry way. “What do you want?”

“Aren’t you going to invite me in?"


A word on deep point of view (pov) from Madame Z:

Deep pov can also be thought of as is a dimension of channeling to create intimacy between the characters and the readers. It involves using the sensory realm as you channel. A word of caution from the gypsy: do not feel obligated to use all five senses all at once. Use the senses that are naturally dominant in that particular deep pov scene.

No one writes deep pov better than the author who coined the term, Suzanne Brockmann . In an interview on Writers Write, she explains deep POV:

"Deep Point of View was a phrase that I came up with when I was trying to explain my writing style. Point of view can be subjective (picture a hand-held camera on top of a character's head) or objective (picture something like a security camera, bolted into place in the corner of a room). In my books, I use subjective point of view, but I'm not satisfied with merely showing the reader what that camera sees from its perch atop a character's head. I bring the camera down, inside of that character's head, so we see the world through that character's eyes. We hear things through his ears. We smell what he smells, feel what he feels, think what he think. With deep POV, I write using words that that character would use. I tell the story with that character's voice. "

If you want to learn even more about deep pov, Madame Z refers you to Camy Tang's in-depth posts on the topic.

Characterization tips from some other experts...

1. A practical guide is Linda Seger's Creating Unforgettable Characters.

"Characters need to be consistent. This does not mean that they are predictable or stereotypical. It means that characters, like people, have a kind of core personality that defines who they are and gives us expectations about how they will act. If characters deviate from this core, they may come across as incredible, as not making sense or adding up."

2. The classic for writers: Fiction is Folks, by Robert Newton Peck.

" We writers fall into the N.D. (narrative drag) whenever we rip the camera out of the hero's head, demanding that we, not he, tell the story to a reader."

3. The definitive word by Dwight V. Swain, Creating Characters: How to Build Story People
"Specifically, in the act of thinking through a story, the writer temporarily suspends his own standards and adopts those of someone else. That's what a writer does when he creates a character. Because he's in the character creating business, he must learn to put his own beliefs and attitudes in limbo temporarily and adopt those of someone else: the person about whom he's writing, the character he's creating."

From GMC: Goal, Motivation and Conflict by Debra Dixon

"Keep in mind that the reader is supposed to identify and empathize with your character from the moment the character makes an entrance."

I hope Madame Zelda has given you something to think about as you create your characters. Now let me look into my crystal ball to tell you what I see... I see that I am going to share the secret recipe for my famous Gypsy Cookies with Seekerville.

White Chocolate Chip Gypsy Cookies

1 stick butter, softened
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup white chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F

In a large bowl, cream the butter with both sugars until smooth. Then beat in the egg. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt before gradually stirring into the creamed mixture. Mix in the white chocolate. Drop dough by teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake for 10 minutes or until it starts to turn golden brown. If you like nuts, then chopped macadamias would be a nice addition.

You may have to slap Mary's hand if she doesn't share.

This post first appeared in Seekerville October 6, 2008.

Don't forget...

Today is the last day to be considered for our weekly critique.
More info here.


  1. Yes, Madame Zelda, you gave us a lot to think about. And here we thought you would be too tired to entertain us today!

    Fresh coffee's ready for the morning crew.


  2. Ah, Helen....

    You are a gift from God!

    Madame "Z's" words are as true now as ever.

    Thank you, Zee-ster. You rock and I loved the line from Robert Newton Peck (doesn't his name sound so smart and scientific and sexy? Like you put Isaac Newton and Gregory Peck in a bottle with Robert Redford, shook, and came out with Robert Newton Peck??? Love it!)

    Anyway.... his line about narrative drag, when we jump OUT of the hero or heroine's head...

    I do that all the time and then have to re-insert myself into proper character, because NO ONE needs that much Ruthy.

    I'm just sayin'...

    Z, cookies look great.

    How many hours until Monday and rational food choices kick in? More than forty, right????

    Turn on the oven!

  3. Thanks Helen. I have a salt hangover. Feeling like a blimp. I could start eating healthier again but it's the weekend.

    Z, What exactly makes those cookies 'gypsy' Did you 'steal' that recipe? Ha ha ha oh, I guess that wasn't very nice. Sorry. Just kidding.

    Big writing day ahead. And pork. Am I the only one who grew up thinking you had to eat pork on new year's day? Is that a gypsy tradition, too, Madame Z? (Oh, she's not talking to me now. I'm in sum beeg trouble)

  4. Deb, we always had pork on New Year's too!

    Or turkey, if they were on sale, but usually a 'fresh ham', a big butt or leg end of ham, unsmoked, ready for roasting.

    My grandpa Logan would bring it by between Christmas and New Year's. I wonder where it springs from?

    Go Google it and see, sweet thaaaang. I'm too lazy. And I still have eggnog here and I CAN'T WASTE it.

    That would be wrong.

    Babies are still sleeping. Got 2.5 hours of work done already, including a synopsis that needed tweaking.

    And we all know how we love to figure out a decent synopsis...

    More coffee, please. Badly needed.

  5. Okay, assignment complete and it rings true with statements I recall from childhood.

    The story is that the pig cannot walk backwards and therefore always moves forward!

    I also recall something my great grandmother supposedly said about 'the last part to go over the fence' but I'm clueless what that was all about.

    okay I'm off to work on Characterization. Last night while the world celebrated I studied old
    'craft' posts and workshops because so many of them deserve a re-read. Many of my keepers are from you talented woman (and I have Vince's post on reward points in reading)!

  6. Oh my stars, the most GORGEOUS sunrise here in Western New York!

    Pink, coral, peach, orchid, vermillion, gray, gold....

    It's amazing how the hint of cloud cover has fractured the light into an amazing array of sheer beauty.

    Our world is a miracle.

  7. I just saw it as well and I looked at the clock. I swear it was later this morning by 20 minutes. A little too much celebrating last night?

    I'm feeling a Fiefel moment here (An AMerican TAil) Ruthy. I thought no one else saw it but by the description it was the same for you. I guess an hour or so by car is not so far in 'light' of a mega star.

  8. Deb, we're connected, like the mouse and his Italian parents.

    Which means a connection to Teeeena as well, considering her WNY roots.

    Not her hair roots, either, her geneological roots.


    And yet cosmic.

    Characterization. You go, girl. I love great characters.

    Toasting you with coffee. Baby is awake and wants snuggling.

    Must obey. I'm teaching her how to NOT dangle participles.

    As if I KNEW what a participle was.

    Oh dear.

  9. Thanks, Helen. I still have a sugar hangover from partying with the Seekers last night.

    Glad you gals have gotten writing done. I now need to put Christmas ornaments away while I ponder my "one word" for the coming year.

    Happy New Year, Julie

  10. Oh wow!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I won a copy of The Fire in Fiction. I'm gobsmacked -- realy -- because you'll never guess what 'my one word' for 2011 is....FIRE!!!!

    I know it's an odd word choice but I couldn't settle on words like Hope, Imagine, Believe...they just wouldn't stick with me. And then fire came to mind so I did some research and found all kinds of interesting symbolism -- like it represents comfort - truth -- Holy Ghost -- energy (which I desperately need) -- quickens the mind (need that too). Fire is creative and cleansing - it banishes darkness. Well, I could go on. Anyway, I decided Fire is my word and then the first day of the new year I win a book entitled "The Fire in Fiction". How cool is that????????

    THANK YOU SEEKERVILLE!!!!! You might just say I'm all fired up! LOL.

    Oh, and thank you Madame Zelda for imparting even more wisdom and especially for the cookie recipe. Making those this afternoon. Yum.

  11. Thanks, Madame Z, for sticking around long enough to share some more wisdom after the party. Deepening characters is always something to work on -- I'm just trying to teach the kids that Mama's not completely crazy if they walk in during a 'channeling' session!

    The recipe looks yummy -- DD and I might have to try it out this weekend!

    Today is my big un-decorating day since a virus knocked me down earlier in the week. Pondering my 'one word' for 2011 and planning to get in some writing time later.

    Happy new year, all!

  12. Loves 2 Read Romance - LauraJanuary 1, 2011 at 8:58 AM

    Thank You Madame Z for sharing some great tips and being a great hostess for yesterdays party. Don't enter me for the critique. Happy New Year everyone!!

  13. Kav, that's a goose-bump moment.
    too cool. I mean hot.

    Helen I've got to make more coffee, because you know how small that decaf carafe is.
    Helen and I are FB friends now. She's so cute in a bigger-than-a-dime photograph.

  14. Happy New Year, Seekerville! (Yes, I'm still here. I bought a annual pass for the Seekerville Cruise Tour and visit every now and then. Though I missed info on that five page crit. If it's not too late, sign me up, shug.)

    Thanks for the wonderful post, Madame Zelda. This craft of writing is a perpetual care thing, pun intended. Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge.

    The boat is fixing to leave so I gotta run. Best wishes to all for the coming year!

  15. Thanks for hosting such a wonderful party last night Madame Zelda and then providing this great blog post!

    Like Julie, I'm still working on my one word for this year but I didn't set my writing goals for 2011 yesterday.

    Now, I'm off to take the tree down.

  16. Kimberli, so good to see you!

    Thanks for stopping by, chica.

    And Rose, it's always a mixed emotion removing the tree. (Okay, in my case: trees)

    Another Christmas past.

    Another year lying open before us, fresh and new.

    Toasting you with fresh coffee.

    Eggnog later.

  17. Kav, I love that you said Holy Ghost!!!

    Come Holy Ghost, fill the hearts of your faithful, and enkindle in them the fire of your love...

    Such a sweet old prayer.

    Which only shows my age.


  18. *Yawn*

    G' mornin' all!

    Will think on these things when more awake... *yawn*

    Even May (who is in my lap) is yawning...

    I think it was the STORM that passed thru, not the partying so much... ;D

    Ruthie - I thought my "word" was going to be breakthrough... but instead - maybe "vermillion" would do it! ha!

    congrats to all the winners. I've not even looked! Heading there now!

    happy 1/1/11!!

  19. Kav, that is fantastic! What a Godincidence! It is a good reminder that while we may think we pick the word, God definitely has a way of telling us we chose the right one!

    I am leaning toward ADVENTURE, not just because it is a great way to look at life, but because I think about adventurers as also being guides for others. Still praying about it though...

    And I friended ONEWORD on great to have those daily reminders.

    Peace, Julie

  20. AWESOME advice. LOVE Seekerville (and the LOVELY M Zelda). Eating peanut butter crackers. Anyone??

  21. Happy New Year Seekers and Seeker friends! May we all have as many contracts as we can handle this new year. That means more for Ruthy than for most of the rest of us.

    Love all the characterization info, Madame Z. I can use all the help I can get.

  22. Good morning all and Happy New Year! Madam Z, you are looking fine and chipper this morning. What's your secret?

    I can't believe Ruthy and Deb have had a coherent conversation already this morning. I at least slept in until 7:00 this morning.

    What a great post to remind us of digging deep into our characters. It's so easy to just tell the story the way you want to, but then those with experience and credentials drop the *C* word on your lovely work of art...CONTRIVED!!

    As Madam Z said, if you look at the world through the character's eyes, feel what they're feeling, do a little rumba in their brain, you know EXACTLY who is at the door ringing the bell.

    Great stuff to kick off the new year!

  23. KAV, I love your word. FIRE. Says plenty. Keep that fire stoked all year and in every book.

    Julie, ADVENTURE is a great choice. Talk about stepping out of boxes and stretching into the unknown. I like it!

    My first donation of the year goes to Helen and the coffee fund. You are such a life saver in the morning! Yum. Do you have a fund jar anywhere? How about tips. This about his Helen. Great side job!!

    Thanks for being faithful with the java every morning!!

  24. Ah, Madame Z, I thank you for the reprise of an excellent post!

    Why am I talking in your voice???

    I think I've channeled you!

  25. Debra, we have greens and black-eyed peas. The meat varies. Interesting traditions!

  26. Happy New Year everyone!

    Wonderful advice to ponder today.

    Just wanted to tell Tina and Audra that I read both their books this past week and LOVED them both!

    Thanks for the lovely stories! Looking forward to more this year.

    Hubby was away last night, driving my MIL home, so I spent the night editing (and watching the countdown with my son - daughter was partying). Not a bad way to end the year.

    Have a great day all!


  27. Audra, I was hunting around to see if adventure and scripture really go together. Amazing the number of articles that pair the two. Adventure and journey are used interchangeably so off to my scripture references to see what verses pop up!

    Black eyed peas, turnip greens, pork tenderloin, sweet potatoes, are at the table. Cornbread and biscuits for those who can eat em too!

    Peace, Julie

  28. This really was a great post. I'm very impressed with Madam Z's "morning after" perkiness. Does she have lot's of experience recovering from wild, all night parties? Hmmm...

    I often use the Blog Archive list to navigate through Seekerville. I went first this morning to catch up on the end of the party last night. When I looked at the archive list just above the New Year's Eve Party, I didn't see this morning's post listed. I nearly panicked because I knew it was supposed to be there. Then I noticed the new 2011 link on the Archive list. It always takes me a few days after the new year to start looking for the right numbers. : )

  29. Madame Z, you hosted a fantabulous party last night, and you're here this morning passing on great info. You be the woman! I'm impressed.

    Happy New Year! We woke to a dusting of snow in the Sierra Foothills of California, which pleased my daughter and birthday gal to no end. But it's sunny in Pasadena for the Rose Parade. =)

  30. And it's a bright new year and a wonderful post to reprise. However, if I channel the character and talk to myself in a coffee shop, are people going to look at me funny?

    I took off the first week of January to write. Will make it productive.

  31. We woke to rain here in Atlanta.

    Would love to wake tomorrow to winning a critique.

  32. wow hats off to all of ya'll who are awake and functioning and actually know what the weather is like where you live! :-) I just got up with a scratchy throat and just finished eating canned soup and some fruit and about to open the back door to see if I should stay up or go back to bed!


  33. Oh, my, why are you all awake and talking? Madame Z kept me up until midnight PST.

    Susan Mason, thanks for the kind words..since you already have my book please pick another Seeker book of your choice for your prize from last night's party.

  34. Debra, for some reason Madame Z has a soft spot in her heart for you.

    I can't explain it and frankly to try would be dangerous.

    She's finally asleep in the guest bedroom. I am not waking her.

  35. /yawns and waves/

    We were up until nearly 3 last night... My son was up until at least 230 the last two night. Ugh.

    Fortunately, he slept in this morning so hoepfully we'll be back on a normal sleep schedule instead of him falling over to nap too late in the day and then not wake up until like 830 :p.

    The two girls who were home slept in some but they can also take care of themselves mostly when they get up.

    YAY!!!! to all the winners!

    So very cool!

    I'd love to have the critique. I also need to learn to channel my characters better - at least some of them...

    HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! ;)

    carol at carolmoncado dot com

  36. Happy New Year Seekerville!!!!

    Sorry, I wasn't at the party last night. We have a "party" at church every year, and ring in the new year with preaching and singing, testifying, more singing, (did I mention LOTS of singing?) and then we eat at 12:30 AM.


    Full meal deal at 1 in the morning.

    I went to bed at 2 and slept 'til 9:30.

  37. Thanks for hosting the New Year's party Madame Z! This article shows you are a gypsy of many talents, no? =) Congratulations to all the winners!

  38. You better believe I am a woman of many talents!!!

    Lady you sleep? You must be exhausted from training all those dragons. What is the going rate for a trained dragon?

  39. Is anyone here good at cooking soups? I live in TExas and LOTS of texmex food and I cannot find a good recipe for chicken tortilla soup. I'd like it to be sorta healthy-ish. One restaurant makes a really delish one. I know it has chicken breast shredded up, teeny baby chopped veggies(squash, zucchini, onion) think I saw some teeny cubes of carrots and a piece of corn on the cob and rice..but it's the broth that's throwing me. I can't get the broth right. One recipe says tomato sauce and another says diced tomatoes(I don't remember seeing a bunch of tomatoes in it though) but I dont' know what seasonings to use. anyone have a good recipe? or any good soup recipe I guess - it's finally staying cold down here(ok maybe in the 50s but that's cold for here!)





    But yes, you know I love a challenge and I obviously have WAY TOO MUCH to say.

    Pass the beer nuts.

    Hey, great Penn St. and Florida game right now.

    Just sayin'...

  41. Walt, honey, everyone I KNOW already looks at you funny.

    Who cares?

    Writers and college professors are SUPPOSED to be eccentric. I think you're right on board, my friend.

    Susan, weren't they wonderful books???? I loved them, loved them, loved them!!!!

    Awesome stuff!

    Keli, a dusting of snow. How pretty that must have been, and I turned on a little of the parade while I was working in the living room.... I loved seeing that when I was little. We didn't have a color TV but it was still so beautiful to me. The floats, the flowers, the artistry of the whole thing.


  42. Julie, I'm coming for supper!



    Sounds wonderful and I've (admitting this openly) have never eaten a black-eyed pea.

    Do they taste different than regular green peas?

  43. Carol, I love your posts. You take me back (and not all that many years ago!) to the days of kids in the house, craziness, juggling night schedules, day schedules, school, sports, events, church, games...


    Oh my stars, what a joke. I had a friend who insisted if you could make it passable with group effort in a twenty-minute window, it wasn't all that dirty to begin with.

    I love her.

    You are just a too cool woman. I wanted you to know that.

  44. Oh, Susanna!!!

    (couldn't resist)

    Oh don't you cry for me!!!!


    Use chicken base (the pasty stuff) for the chicken broth and then flavor from there. For the tomato part you could use crushed tomatoes (they mostly break down in broth once cooked, so you'd get 'bits' of tomato, not chunks), tomato puree (which will just thicken your broth to a saucier consistency, no chunks), ketchup ( do not laugh, ketchup is a sweet version of thickened tomato sauce and is the base for sooooo many good sauces) or chopped/diced tomatoes. It's all about consistency.

    If it's Tex Mex style soup, what about going in with cajun seasoning or tortilla seasoning mix (very easy and has ALL the right spices, just open the packet and pour into the broth)

    I love experimenting. Tell us how it comes out.

    And pshaw.... Woman.... 50's is NOT cold.

    It's in the 40's here and we're thinkin' we've got a heat wave.

    It's all in the perspective! Hugs to you. Enjoy this day!

  45. Ruthy - I think I would like your friend...

    The house is currently presentable [except for the basket of laundry in the hallway that I have to figure out what I'm going to do with - it was stashed in my [locked] room last night...]

    I'm a writer and a college professor [er, adjunct instructor] - can I be extra eccentric?

    Now that I'm caught up on all the blogs and Facebooks and assorted other time wasting stuff, I should probably go edit something...

  46. Thankyou for your insights on creating unforgettable characters:) Totally the help I'm needing in the process right now!
    Also please enter my name in the hat for the '1st 5 page critique'...awesome:)


  47. Ruthy, black eyed peas taste more like beans. They are definitely hardier than green peas.

    Looking forward to seeing Seekers on my Kindle now that the attic is half emptied and Sunday is a day of rest.

    Peace, Julie

  48. Well its now Jan 2 here and I did sleep in a little longer but not long enough!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    I ate or drank to much sugar or stuff and am now heavier than I have been in over 2 years! Not happy. I know some will go quick but considering I was going to be about 5 kilos lighter than I am now its depressing.
    So after I finish this soft drink its back to water for me!
    I like todays post it was fun.
    dont enter me.
    even my word verificatin tells me im fat its reads faticr!

  49. I think I have a trip to Europe in my future!!!!!
    My word verification is dinero

    well, the point of me posting was to defend Ruthy on that bean/pea issue. I never had them till a few years ago when I started trying more southern recipes and made my first 'hopping john'. I believe they are the same thing as cowpeas.
    Does that seem right?
    It would help a bit if ya'll called your beans beans and not peas but then again we have sponge candy and that could be misleading...

  50. Ok have to ask Debra what is sponge candy?

    think i am going to be in lights it says necon

  51. Thanks, Ruthie. It's been a good leave of absence. I had some learning to do, and some humbling to have, but God is faithful, and I'm finally on track.

    Happy New Year. Have a great 2011!

  52. Kimberli!!!! Welcome back. Great to see you!!!

  53. Thanks, Tina! It's very good to be here again. Thanks also for the helpful post and that cookie recipe. I need to try that (when I run out of the break-apart Pillsbury cookie dough squares, that is.)

    Happy New Year!

  54. Happy New Year! Thanks for a wonderful post, Madame Zelda. Please enter my name in the first five page critique. Have a great day!