Saturday, November 18, 2017

Writing advice from Donna Drew Sawyer

Here is another blog especially for my writing and reading friends.

I met author Donna Drew Sawyer last month when she spoke about crafting characters that take on a life of their own. Whether you like them or hate them, her characters in Provenance, A Novel, definitely have distinct personalities.
Donna Drew Sawyer

Provenance was the winner of the Maryland State Writers’ Association 2017 Annual Book Award for Historical Fiction. Provenance also was a finalist for the 2016 Phillis Wheatley
 Award for First Fiction.

It also was been selected for the Go On Girl Book Club reading list in the novel category. The Go On Girl! Book Club, with over 30 chapters in 16 states is one of the largest national organizations dedicated to supporting African-American authors. Every year they choose 12 authors to read, discuss, review and champion. Sawyer’s was chosen for May 2017.

In this blog, I have varied my use of her name, sometimes referring to Sawyer (what my journalism training taught me) and other times as Donna, because she was so friendly and seemed like an instant friend.

She reminded the writers present about never building a character based on a single trait. Ask yourself why they are the way they are. You want to create understanding, she said. Even if your character isn’t nice, you at least might want to create some empathy.
They should make readers feel more than one emotion. They may surprise you while you are writing and surprise your readers.

“No one is any one thing all the time,” she said. “Layer your characters.”

Every character is on a mission of his or her own making. But you have to put the words in your character’s mouth.

Think about what makes a character breathe, including:
  • physical traits
  • emotions
  • secrets, questions and lies
  • engagement with other characters
  • time and place
  • action and reaction
  • thoughts
  • words or deeds
  • beliefs
  • life work or lack of it
Some quick notes mentioned by her are - Read everything, Observe, Empathize, Imagine, Write - Repeat and Live. I took that as meaning it is necessary to get away from your compute occasionally, get out, be with real people and enjoy life.

Our daily activities and personal observations can make a difference in making our books sound authentic, and of course, fiction depends on our imagination. I often set my stories in places where I have been. Although I don’t use real people, I use various characteristics and partial descriptions based on real people.

If you are participating in National Novel Writing Month, great. We need to write! Even if what we are writing is rough. We can edit and make it better later.

I am behind in my writing at slightly less than 26,000 words, but I am usually good under pressure, so there is still hope of reaching the 50,000-word goal by the end of November. Even if I stop today, I have 26,000 words toward my next novel and the basic idea has been moving along better than I expected.

My character has been asking many questions about a murder of someone she knew. Why was he killed? Who did it? Did my argument with him lead to his murder?

I can empathize with her, feel what she might be feeling. Also, I try to make the less-than-perfect victim a fully rounded character.
Donna Drew Sawyer and some of the members
and visitors at the October CCCMWA  meeting.

As I write, I think about some of Donna’s basic suggestions - Observe, Empathize, Imagine, Write. I look forward to reading more of her books and her blog.

She recommended some writing books, such as Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Rennie Brown and Dave King and The Modern Library’s Writer’s Workshop, A guide to the Craft of Fiction by Stephen Koch.

At our meeting, she said Provenance is about a legacy of lies. It will be followed by Promise in 2018. Check out this author, reader, and ruminator at

1 comment:

Thanks for joining me and feel free to share your thoughts.