books

On Creating Characters

Nguyen 1
I’ve been reading a lot lately. I love reading because it allows me to fall into another world where everything and everyone in it feels so real. It lets me lose track of time, so I don’t even notice when hours have passed and my mind spins, still lingering in that fictional world. I think that’s what’s so amazing about writing and storytelling: Simple words on a page can make us care for places we’ve never been to and people we’ve never met. It’s like saying goodbye to a friend when the book closes and the story ends.

With the start of my own project, what I’ve found most challenging so far is just that —  trying to create characters that feel less like they’re made of adjectives and more of flesh and blood. I first wanted to explore the story of Vietnamese Americans in this project, because I think often in literature, ethnic identity can become the entire defining feature of that character’s identity, erasing any other interesting facets of who they are. I find this often sad and disappointing, as readers are robbed of the chance to gain a fuller perspective of other people and cultures that they may not know a lot about yet.

While working on ideas for these short stories, I’ve already spoken to my grandma and friends for inspiration, but the process isn’t always so easy. Sometimes, I feel ready to write with ideas and characters bouncing around in my head, but when I rush to a computer, my mind goes blank, as if those ideas had already floated away like balloons. To try to hang onto them, I’ve been carrying around a small journal with me everywhere. I seldom write about my day at length in journals, but I’ve actually scribbled and drawn in it a lot lately.

They’re never fully formed thoughts or sentences. I just want to capture moments of possible inspiration from my day: something funny a man said on the bus, an argument between a girl and her mother at Giant Eagle about squash, or a couple of Comcast guys gossiping about other Comcast guys. (I swear I’m not a creep!) And then, when I sit down to write later in the day, I can look back at these pages and find a glimpse of a seed, a character ready to burst free and be heard.

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Hello Friends

photo-1458925140641-48569e57da75My novel, for the purposes of my thesis, will be done tomorrow. I will submit it to my advisor, who will submit it to the department head who will then send it on to the Dean’s office. I can’t believe it!

The last few months I have been working on editing, rewriting scenes and trying to fully define what I wrote so I can describe it when people ask that much-dreaded question “So what is your novel about?”

Now, I can safely answer, “I’m working on it.”

I am so thankful for the opportunity that Dietrich College gave me to write a novel. The time and the resources provided have given me the chance to prove to myself that I can do it. But more than that, it has shown me that I love long form fiction.

This time last year, I asked my friends who were finishing their theses what they had learned during the process. One friend, who had been working on a historical-fiction novel, candidly said, “That I don’t like novels.”

That response stuck with me. But for me, this experience has been the opposite. I have emerged from this year secure in my knowledge that I really enjoyed writing my novel and I can’t wait to write another one.

I am excited to share my work at Meeting of the Minds and with all of you who have supported me through this process.

Thank you!

Learn more about my project.

Big Bite: A Student’s First Novel

Creative writing major Eleanor Haglund has written plenty of short stories and even one novella before, but never tackled something as long and involved as a novel. Until now.

Haglund, a Humanities Scholars Program student with a psychology minor, has embarked on writing her very first novel. She spent the summer figuring out just how to do this as part of the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences’ Honors Fellowship. The fellowship allows students to get a head start on their Senior Honors Program thesis work.

eleanor presentationHaglund presented her work so far earlier this week – about how her story switched focus and how she made so much progress (100 pages written and counting!)

“My novel is a coming of age story about a girl in college,” Haglund said. “The girl is struggling with school and her family as she comes into her own. It’s totally fiction.”

Haglund was advised by English Professors Kevin González and Jane McCafferty not to outline as she began the writing process.

“But I love structure and schedules, so I freaked out,” Haglund admitted.

However, she said by not having a pre-determined path, so many doors opened for her.

“I would have focused on events and plots – and wouldn’t have focused on characters,” she said.

Haglund said that she needs to write every day, and even blogged about her quest to find the perfect location. But she’s writing and not looking back.

“It’s really hard to revise a large project as you’re going, so I plan on revising later,” Haglund said.

She plans on having a completed first draft by November.

“Then I will start with what Jane said, ‘re-envisioning what I’ve put down,’” she said.

Learn more about her novel.

How do you find Inspiration? You stop trying.

haglund1Hello!

I’m back after my vacation on Vancouver Island and in Vancouver city. During my time there, I went hiking, surfing, caving and, of course, did some eating. At the beginning, I thought I would write during this time, just a few hours in the morning. But after the first few days, I realized that what I was trying to accomplish was both impractical and not conducive to my writing.

So, I decided to take a real vacation. I stopped trying to cram writing time into the mornings and let go. And suddenly, I was flooded with ideas. Each new experience brought me a new narrative, begging to be told. Inspiration flowed in from the peace of being below ground, seeing a chance sculpture on a walk, being pummeled by cold ocean waves and listening to the stories of the people who call Vancouver their home.

Flowstone from my caving experience.

Flowstone from my caving experience.

My mind is now filled with scenes, characters and themes from the short time I spent in Vancouver. I did not make much, if any, progress in my novel, but writing is so much easier now that I have been refreshed with all of the incredible experiences I had.

Side note:

One of the really cool things about Vancouver is that it is where Ruth Ozeki, one of my favorite authors, lives for part of the year. It is also where she chose to set her novel A Tale for the Time Being. Experiencing the natural beauty of British Columbia that she describes was breathtaking. I also found the name of A Tale for the Time Being’s main character, Nao, carved into a board on a bridge I was walking across. It has absolutely no relation to the book, as the name beside it is Mike, but it was a fun coincidence.

haglund2

Learn more about my project.

Alternatives to the Guidebook

Another few weeks have passed and I’m almost to 75 pages! Which is almost to 100, which is almost to 150! Yes. Let’s go with that. Stay motivated.

I feel like my time has been flying by this summer. On one hand, I like that, because I can see that the writing I do everyday is coming together and building up. On the other hand, I want it to slow down so I can enjoy my experiences and savor the summer before I go out into the unknown world. The jump from the safety of college to the freedom (but also confusion) of the real world is a big transition for myself and for many of my fellow students.

Something I really appreciate about the fellowship is that it gives Dietrich students, students who don’t necessarily have a straight and narrow guidebook to what we will do after college, the opportunity to create a project that we are interested in and give it our all. This gives us the chance to figure out whether or not we want to be doing something similar once we graduate.

I really appreciate that I have been given the chance, within the safety of college, to attempt novel writing and see how I like it. One of my friends wrote a novel for her thesis last year and she came out of it knowing that she never wanted to write a novel again. College is the time to discover these things and learn about ourselves.

So far, I have loved the novel writing process. I have enjoyed sitting down, every morning, dreaming up new scenes and immersing myself in the world of my characters. It is a dream come true to be able to write my first novel and I hope to be doing it for many years to come.

Read more about my project.