First paragraph of Haunting of Hill House

“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”


Characterization Rules

Here are the prompts. Name the character. Use myself or someone I know discreetly. And I do, of course, want to have friends, so I’m very careful about how I use other people in my fiction. Borrow from a newspapers story. I’m a big fan of local papers where there’s lots of sort of gossipy little items about who stole somebody’s cabbages. Give the character a house, a flat, a doorway, or a car that I know well. Send her to a careers counselor. Let her talk. Follow Aristotle’s advice and make her act. Save someone. Jump into a river. Give us a sense of her role and position in her family and in society. Show her relationships. We may all die alone, but hardly anyone lives alone. And lastly, describe her appearance insofar as it’s relevant.

Then I have some rules. And I try to keep to these in everything I write. I have five rules: Good characters must have some failure or vice. So a good character might have bad handwriting or hate flowers. Bad characters must have some strength or virtue. Maybe my villain will have perfect pitch or the ability to recognize edible mushrooms. Every character should have something she shares with me. Perhaps it’s a landscape we both like. Perhaps it’s a liking for macaroni and cheese. And every character should have something I absolutely do not share, which might be the ability to recognize edible mushrooms, or, I’m afraid, perfect pitch. And lastly, if the character is a stereotype – the bad sister, the Absent Minded Professor, be sure to make her not only a stereotype.

>>[Text on screen]Admonitions

And here are the admonitions. When creating a character very different from myself, I often need to create from the outside. I give the character a house, I find them a job, I give them activities and friends. And in the course of doing so, I figure out their inner lives. On the other hand, the clones and the doppelgangers, those characters who stand in for me, or whom I want my reader to think stand in for me, I create from the inside out. I know how they feel, I know what they want, I know what they fear. And then I go looking for an apartment for them, and a job, and perhaps a bicycle if they’re lucky.

NYT article about Workshopping

This NYT article discusses what makes a successful group, and I think it speaks also to what makes for a successful workshop.  

As the researchers studied the groups, however, they noticed two behaviors that all the good teams generally shared. First, on the good teams, members spoke in roughly the same proportion, a phenomenon the researchers referred to as ‘‘equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking.’’ On some teams, everyone spoke during each task; on others, leadership shifted among teammates from assignment to assignment. But in each case, by the end of the day, everyone had spoken roughly the same amount . . . Second, the good teams all had high ‘‘average social sensitivity’’ — a fancy way of saying they were skilled at intuiting how others felt based on their tone of voice, their expressions and other nonverbal cues.

Word Saturnine




adjective: saturnine

    1. (of a person or their manner) slow and gloomy.“a saturnine temperament”
  • synonyms:
  • antonyms:

        • (of a person or their features) dark in coloring and moody or mysterious.“his saturnine face and dark, watchful eyes”
  • synonyms:

          • (of a place or an occasion) gloomy.