• Who We Are

  • Schedule

    Mondays ~
    Tuesdays ~ Snarky
    Wednesdays ~ Dreamer
    Thursdays ~ Naughty
    Fridays ~ Dreary
    Saturdays ~
    Sundays ~

    Whenever ~ Smokey, Mighty, Eerie and Wicked

  • Snarky’s Tweets

  • Kinetic’s Tweets

  • Dreamer’s Tweets

  • Wicked’s Tweets

  • Eerie’s Tweets

  • Mighty’s Tweets

Reading as a Writer

Blue Colors

When I first started writing, I never thought it’d impact the way I read to quite the extent that it has. But it did. Now, I find there are books I absolutely cannot stand, simply because of the way they’re written… novels that, as just a reader, might not seem that bad.

For example, I recently started reading a new romance series. I was really enjoying the creativity of the world and the depth of the characters, until I realized the plot seemed non-existent. The more I paid attention to the plot, the more I was aware that there was no plot. Nothing drove these characters or challenged these characters, beyond the complications that just sprung up from chapter to chapter.

I still enjoy the series, but I find myself constantly thinking, my writing group would never let me get away with that.

But now, let’s talk about books I love even MORE as an author. Of course, my mind immediately snaps to Harry Potter, but I’d rather discuss a less well-known novel. Namely, Dragon’s Winter by Elizabeth A. Lynn. It is an absolutely amazing book! I think it’s the first novel I read where I realized it was possible to love and empathize with a character who may do some things that, by all logic, are unforgivable.

She spins the story of man who is unable to transform into a dragon, because his younger brother has stolen his amulet. He seems to have a great reluctance to confront or harm his brother, because he feels guilty for something that isn’t his fault… that he has inherited the ability to transform, while his brother did not. I empathized with both characters until his younger brother crosses a line, bringing cruelty on a level that is unforgivable on every level.

This book captured me, not just because of the unique world, but because of its main character, a complicated man who is riddled with flaws. I think it takes an incredibly skilled writer to create a character who crosses so many lines, but who the reader can’t stop rooting for.

What are some books you absolutely love?

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Rogues

Rogue

The world is not all black and white, at least not for every author. There are those authors who see a whole spectrum of grey, and try to create fascinating characters who exist in this grey zone. Recently, I finished reading a collection of short stories about rogues, which I found absolutely fascinating.

I’d assumed characters who existed in this grey zone were those who failed to live by any code of ethics. However, after reading these stories, I’ve realized I’m wrong. Rogues aren’t characters who lack a moral compass; instead, they are characters who live by their own standards of right and wrong.

Some of the characters did things that I wouldn’t personally consider the right thing to do. They might have been cowardly, selfish, gluttonous, or have any number of other poor character traits. But they were also loyal, hard-working, or followed a certain code of how they lived their lives.

In my own writing, I usually have an easy time creating a protagonist who has flaws, but is wholly good. My antagonists I usually like to make a little more complex, showing that even though what they are doing is wrong, they don’t see it this way. When we can see things through their eyes, we may also understand where they are coming from, even if we still think what they are doing wrong. These stories, however, inspired me to try to create a protagonist who exists in this “grey zone.” I think it’d be a bit of a challenge to create a rogue, with questionable behavior, but that special something that still draws a reader to them.

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Creating Interesting Characters: Part 2 By Tara Rane

interesting character

I love book and movie characters with surprising twists (see my latest blog post about this at www.tararane.com). In my opinion, the best kind of characters are complex and anything but stereotypical.

A common trap that writers often fall into is having one dimensional heroes and cardboard cutout villains. For example, the heroine is sweet/sassy nurse or teacher, while the hero is a stoic alpha male working in some branch of the military/law enforcement. The villain spends all his time harming innocents, and plotting the end of the hero. These characters (and the books they appear in) are often generic and forgettable.

My previous post provided some suggestions for developing interesting and believable character personalities. The next challenge is getting away from the default characteristics associated with the roles of our characters. In a recent writing workshop, Mary Buckham (a USA bestselling author of an exciting urban fantasy series and several outstanding books on the craft of writing), offered some tips on how to do this.

Mary proposed creating a list of characteristics often associated with disparate roles. For example, let’s take engineer, rock star, nurse, and escort. Below I’ve listed several attributes that came to mind when thinking about these roles.

Engineer Rock Star Nurse Escort
Nerdy Dramatic Caring Desperate
Analytical Self-Absorbed Hard working Risk taker
Antisocial Rebel Nurturing Materialistic
Intelligent Charismatic Generous Damaged
Focused Social Empathetic Uninhibited

engineer rock starnursesexy woman

The next part in the exercise involved flipping the roles. Also, if there is a stereotypical gender associated with the role, you can switch that too. What you end up with is a template for interesting and memorable characters. Who wouldn’t love to read about a nerdy, highly intelligent male escort or a desperate, risk taking female engineer?

Escort Nurse Rock Star Engineer
Nerdy Dramatic Caring Desperate
Analytical Self-Absorbed Hard working Risk taker
Antisocial Rebel Nurturing Materialistic
Intelligent Charismatic Generous Damaged
Focused Social Empathetic Uninhibited

Another exercise I enjoy doing (especially for my villains) is taking the stereotypical attributes associated with two (often) opposing roles, and mixing them. For example, let’s take the characteristics associated with clowns and psychopaths.

Clown Psychopath
Flamboyant Violent
Jokester Bold
Zany Cruel
Self-depreciating Lack of Empathy
Entertainer Amoral

If you created a character possessing both types of attributes you’ll have brought to life the nightmares of millions of children throughout the world. We don’t expect the evil villain to come cartwheeling into the room. Nor do we expect the bad guy (or girl) to wear a friendly face. There’s a reason why Joker in the Batman comics and the clown from Stephen King’s It stick out in our minds as the creepiest villains of all time.joker

You can create al kinds of  interesting character mashups. Stay at home mom and serial killer. Veterinarian and mad scientist. Sunday school teacher and cyborg. Play around. Mix and match. The combinations are endless and the results are unique characters that stick with readers long after they finish your book.

Ideaifying Pt 5: Concatenating

This week I promised to take the last few weeks of posts and re-iterate what we have come up with. So here we go!

We started with the word Evanesce.

I then ruminated on what that word meant to me, and came up with a few phrases and other definitions that resonated with me:

Fade Away

Angels

Screaming Masses

Which led to this singular phrase:

Mass of Angels, screaming as they fade into nothing.

This really felt right to me, and has been the phrase I come back to when I think about this world.

We then started with a character, given the angels motif we named him Peter. Then we started brainstorming.

Here are all the things I liked about the brainstorming:

Peter can see angels. The angels help people. They save lives. Unseen heroes.

When he was 15, these angels disappeared. Without their protective detail, crime has increased, death rates by accidents have skyrocketed, disease spreads much more virulently. Social order has taken a hit.

Peter is now twenty years old. He sees himself as the Black Angel. He is trying to fill the void left behind with the angels no longer around to protect humanity.

Peter also still sees angels, but they are just out of his peripheral vision. And they scream. They scream all the time.

One day Peter meets Celeste. Celeste is a little younger than Peter. While he’s around her, the screaming stops. Celeste can also see angels, but they are calm. They don’t scream. When she’s around him, the angels scream.

Both our heroes have “powers”. In addition to being able to see the angels just outside their vision, they have slight precognition to keep them out of trouble, faster reflexes than an average human, and don’t tire as easily.

Turns out Peter and Celeste are Nephilim, as mentioned in Genesis 6:4. They are two halves of a whole. Peter is the demi-spawn of a demon and human, while Celeste is Angel-Human.

Demons, after being cast from heaven have always lacked corporeal bodies, being relegated to spirits. Other than possession, they have never managed to truly own a body here on Earth.

There is one such demon here now known as Bael, who is related to why the angels suddenly went missing.

Peter and Celeste need to go on a mission to kill/banish him, and hopefully bring the angels back to earth to help restore balance.

So there we are! All the details that our brainstorming has come up with, all in one place. Now I have a lot more brainstorming to do, but I’ll do that off-screen from now on, unless my readers really want to see my brain-dumps.

What we need to do here though, now that we have our main characters, and the main “goal” of the story, is to start fleshing out, well, everything. Some people are outliners, some are free-writers (aka pantsers), I’m somewhere in the middle. I come up with ideas by free-writing. I then take a break and put it into a basic outline, which I call a proto-outline. It’s basically a brainstorming exercise in the form of a story start-to-finish. But before we get that far, there are a lot of details that need to be figured out:

These are: the magic, the world, Bael himself, Peter and Celeste and how they fit into this plot, and specifically how their opposite nature makes them the two best suited, or solely suited to resolving this problem.

That’s it for now. Do you have any specific questions you want addressed while we finish up brainstorming? Anything you want to see added to the story, anything you don’t like?

Till next week!

Exploiting Weaknesses

Last week, I talked about the character worksheet I created based on reading Writing with Emotion, Tension, and Conflict by Cheryl St. John. I focused on the motivation part of the worksheet, but I didn’t forget the other, equally important, aspects to creating an amazing character. Most people naturally create strengths and weaknesses for their characters, but I loved the idea of asking yourself how can someone exploit your characters’ weaknesses.

Example #1:

Jill can make any two people fall in love, but once it’s done, it can’t be undone. She tries to always make sure the two people should be together before she performs her spell, because she doesn’t want to force two people together who shouldn’t be.

How can this be exploited?

Barney uncovers Jill’s gift, as well as, her weakness. He tricks her into believing he is meant to be with the woman he loves. Later on, Jill realizes she has made a mistake and must do anything she can to undo it.

That’s a great idea for a story, but how can we take it further?

Jill discovers the woman she has forced to love Barney was actually in love with her own brother.

Ouch. But can we further the conflict?

We learn this isn’t the first time Jill has made this mistake. She actually destroyed her brother’s first love the exact same way.

So now, we have someone who has exploited Jill’s gift for his own uses (Barney), and we have her “weakness” her inability to undo the spell create a huge conflict. BUT we also have the internal conflict, that Jill has betrayed her brother again. Her guilt (another weakness) drives her to go on a dangerous quest to undo her mistake.

Example #2:

I recently finished a book where one of the main characters is a really honorable soul. As a result, he makes a decision for his kingdom that ultimately may be the wrong one logically, but not morally. Later, he is betrayed by someone who feels the main character has made the wrong decision for the kingdom, however, the main character is completely shocked by the betrayal, because he expects others to have the same moral code. In some ways, his “weaknesses” don’t seem like weaknesses, but given the situation, they are. People are able to use them to manipulate him, and that makes them weaknesses.

So when you are writing your own story, keep in mind not just who your character is, but how others can use your characters weaknesses to their own advantage.

Ideaifying Pt 4: The Brainstormening 1

Hello everyone! Tom here for the fourth installment in this very-experimental blog series. Last week we opened our minds, took the basic concepts, and started creating a world where this story can be told.

This week, we are going do some brainstorming, fleshing out more of the world, Peter, and the situation he’s in. To me, this is the real fun part of taking an idea into a story.

My method of brainstorming involves typing. Lots and lots of typing. I do this for a couple reasons:

  • I type fast, which allows me to play to one of my strengths.
  • Typing fast means I can get a lot of ideas down quick, allowing my mind to move from point to point and document the journey along the way. It’s sometimes quite fascinating the iterations my mind goes through when I do this.
  • It’s fun coming up with new ideas or twists on old ideas. Majority of what I brainstorm gets thrown in the garbage, What remains is what I’m after.

Brainstorming Rules:

  • Start writing—keep writing.
  • Write down everything (your mind thinks, no matter how silly or off-topic).
  • No editing. Other than the occasional misspelled word if I need to give my brain a couple seconds to dwell on a topic.
  • Stop when you’re done. This could be 5-10 minutes, I’ve had it go on for an hour as well. I just let it happen naturally. When my brain is done, I stop.

With all that said, let’s get started!

***Beginning of brainstorming dump***

I mentioned last week that the angels leaving the world was too big a concept to really tackle in this short story form, so we will use that for background to the world. The conflict that stemmed from it though, is interesting. Here we are, a few years after the angels left us, and the world has fallen into chaos.

Peter was 15 when the angels left, it’s five years later. Why fifteen? Because I want to have him do something, and in this gritty world where we have no protection from the divine, and people have all lost their moral compass, I feel like any story we tell will best be handled by someone in the prime of their youth. So Peter is 20. Yeah, I like 20. He’s also internalized the fact that he was the only one who could see them, and the only one that saw them disappear, so it’s taken it upon himself to fill the void left behind.

Peter is the Black Angel. Hiding in the shadows, the antithesis to all that was in the world.

He still hears the angels from time to time. Or sees their faces ebb and flow, constantly fading into sight, then fading out. The angels are screaming. Why? Well that might be best answered in a larger story, but for now, Peter still sees them, just outside of his vision, every one of them in locked in state of soundless terror. It’s a wonder Peter is still sane. At first he used to be freaked out by it, but he’s learned to largely ignore them.

That is until they stop screaming. That’s when he really notices. That’s when he springs into action.

I like that we are a few years later. I like the gritty Peter, and I love the imagery of him taking over the role of the Black Angel. I think it makes sense to have him older too, since he would need to be able to have the physical prowess to handle a wider variety of situations.

I also like the idea of him still seeing them and the imagery of them locked in soundless screams. That is very evocative, but not hearing. I think he’s got enough on his plate. It’s enough to have the image of terrified, screaming angels just outside of your field of vision. We don’t want him to be totally crazy. And maybe he doesn’t see them all the time, they fade in and out.

So we have a bit of a batman theme going on here. Kid, dressed all in black, hiding in the shadows, tormented by his past. Bit derivative but I’m okay with that for now. So what is our hook?

Well I love the bit at the end, when there is suddenly an angel that isn’t screaming. Something has changed. And one thing that popped into my head just now is: what would happen if he found someone else that could see the angels? That’s also an interesting idea.

Let’s say he meets a girl (it’s always a girl), maybe she’s getting mugged on a street where no one cares, Peter goes up to stab the guy when he suddenly realizes that the angels are no longer screaming. I think at this point I should have them actually screaming…why? Well…how about they scream because (at least as far as Peter knows) they can’t help people, and they are being tormented by all the injustices in the world that they cannot do anything about. Ooh yeah, I like that!

So Peter goes up to attack this guy from behind, to save the girl, and the voices stop screaming. It throws Peter off his game. The guy turns around, clocks him one and starts attacking him. Peter’s mind is racing, he’s torn between wondering why the voices suddenly stopped and saving his life.

***End of brainstorming dump***

Whew, that was a lot to get down on paper. It’s a bit jumbled, and I only edited misspelled words and some punctuation in that brainstorming dump section so it looked a little better to share.

So what do I like? Let’s list the things:

  • Angels leaving as part of the backstory
  • World in Chaos
  • Peter realizing he’s the only one that ever heard this (I especially like this because we can flip his world upside down when he realizes something he thought to be true his entire life was wrong)
  • Peter being the Black Angel – so much backstory and reasons
  • Constantly hearing the angels screaming all around him. This is a powerful image
  • I love them stopping screaming when the girl shows up. That’s even more powerful.
  • I love the idea of the girl too. His antithesis. Yin Yang etc…there could be something there…
  • Gritty story is good. I’ve not actually written much with grit, so this will be a fun exercise.

Things we still need to figure out:

We don’t have a hook. Something has to change, his world has to change completely for this short story to really have a good beginning. Remember my goal is to write a story out of this, so as much fun as world-building is, I want to constantly remind myself that the goal is a story, not hundreds of pages documenting a fantasy world.

We need to know more about the world, the magic system and how the angels and humans play into it.

What is special about this girl? This might make for a good initial hook at the start of the story, something to draw in the reader, but we have to figure out first what is so special about this girl. Why would the angels stop screaming when Peter is around her?

Well, I will leave that until next week. If anyone has suggestions on what she should be, why she’s special and why the angels don’t scream around her, leave them in the comments.

Creating Interesting Characters: Part I

Characters

This weekend, I attended a writing workshop led by Mary Buckham, a USA bestselling author, who feels that having interesting characters is the key to writing books that readers can’t put down. Since I was already mulling over the main character’s role in eliciting emotional reactions from readers and viewers (see my latest blog post on my website), I paid close attention to what she said.

Initially, she had us take a personality test (similar to this one). The point of the exercise was that we needed to understand ourselves before we create characters. If we don’t do this, we run the risk of creating characters just like us. How many times have you read books by authors whose characters are essentially the same in every book? The likely problem is that the characters are just extensions of the authors.

My personality type came back as Helper/Giver (no surprise to me). And upon reflecting, I’ve found that there are pieces of myself in all my characters. Since they came out of my head, there is no getting around that. But, overall, I hope I’ve done a good job of separating my characters from myself. From the beginning I understood that they needed to be internally consistent and true to themselves. My emotionally scarred rock star heroine couldn’t react like I would under pressure. And my alpha male hero sure as hell couldn’t think like me during an intimate moment with that rock star.

I’ve used personality types in character creation since I first started writing. Understanding the different personality dimensions is an excellent way to flesh out protagonists and antagonists and make them interesting. Some good ones to check out include the Myers-Briggs and the Keirsey personality types. I’ve also gotten good ideas from going through the different characteristics associated with astrology signs.

You can mix and match personality characteristics to make fascinating characters. Maybe your Scorpio (INTJ) villain is a rational thinking perfectionist type whose idyllic vision of the future is a great one (if only she didn’t go about killing people to obtain it).

Once you’ve decided on your character’s personality, put them in situations designed to challenge them. For example, throw your Pisces (ISFP) Artist Type heroine into a war zone and hand them an M16.

Conflict is at the heart of good stories and what better way of stirring things up than throwing together two characters with diametrically opposing personality types. For example, toss your Pisces (ISFP) artist type into a life or death situation with a Leo (ENTJ) commander type and watch the sparks fly.

These are just some initial ways to create interesting characters. In my next post, I’ll go through a fun exercise I learned through Mary’s workshop on bucking character stereotypes.

Characters Driven by Motivation

Where’s the emotion? The tension? The conflict? No one wants to read something that’s missing any of these elements. Sigh. Well, of course they don’t!

I’m usually drawn to books where the plot drives the story, not necessarily the characters. But for my next challenge, I want to create a character-centered book. And in making this decision, I’ve realized that I need to have a really clear understanding of what drives my characters.

A friend recently gave me a copy of Writing with Emotion, Tension, and Conflict by Cheryl St. John. When I first started reading it, I kind of felt frustrated. I know what all these things are, what I want is to learn how to develop them in my characters and stories! Luckily, that’s when I got into the good stuff. Based on her suggestions, I created some character worksheets centering around the most important things, I think, a person needs to know to create a character-driven novel.

These are some of the things I included in my character worksheet:

  • Strengths
  • Weaknesses
  • How Someone Can Exploit Their Flaws
  • Goals (Internal and External)
  • Motivation
  • Emotional Conflict Keeping Him From His Goal
  • External Conflict Keeping Him From His Goal
  • What Made Him Who He Is Today
  • Beliefs
  • Values

What I really liked about this is that it forced me to clearly identify my characters’ internal and external goals, and what is keeping them from reaching these goals. I find it very easy to write a story where a dragon is keeping a character from saving the person he or she loves. I find it harder to write a story where the character’s fear of fire keeps him or her from even attempting to rescue the person they love. But the truth is, a good story needs both types of conflict in order to really entice readers and keep them reading.

For example:

Story Idea: Amy’s father doesn’t believe she can learn to use her powers for good, so she sets out to prove him wrong.

This is a good basis for a story. We know right away what motivates the character and what her goals are. But what if, deep down, the character is terrified to use her powers. What if, the last time she used her powers she killed her mother. Now, that’s the basis of good plot! She may run into a number of obstacles, conflicts, that keep her from her goal, but none of these external conflicts will ever hold a candle to the internal conflict she carries with her each day. And your reader, they’re going to be holding their breath, waiting to see what happens when Amy finally has a chance to use her powers. Will she be too afraid? And if she does use them, will she repeat her past mistakes?

I’m so glad that each day I’m learning more and improving my skill as a writer, because mastering internal and external motivation seems to be the key in making a truly remarkable, unforgettable character-driven novel.

Characters on Cannery Row

CANNERY rowI am currently reading Cannery Row by John Steinbeck. I’m a fan of Steinbeck, but I have to admit I struggled with the beginning of this book. It was full of description: describing places, houses, people and even a couple pages on the Model T truck. By page 34, I still wasn’t sure what the plot was. But as I am now halfway through the novel, I realize how this Nobel Peace Prize Winning Author continues to draw me in—characters.

There are over two handfuls of unique, interesting characters in this book. While writing, I often want to reach for clique or average person, especially in secondary characters. But I want to challenge myself to dig deeper for those unique personalities that we want to read about.

Here’s an example of a secondary character, Gay, in Cannery Row that only participates for thirty five pages. And while, I don’t remember the color of his hair or body type, but I won’t forget this story anytime soon.

Doc asked, “How are things going up at the Palace?”

Hazel ran his fingers through his dark hair and he peered into the clutter of his mind. “Pretty good,” he said. “That fellow Gay is moving in with us I guess. His wife hits him pretty bad. He don’t mind that when he’s awake but she waits ‘til he gets to sleep and then hits him. He hates that. He has to wake up and beat her up and then when he goes back to sleep she hits him again. He don’t get any rest so he’s moving in with us.”

“That’s a new one,” said Doc. “She used to swear out a warrant and put him in jail.”

“Yeah!” said Hazel. “But that was before they built the new jail in Salinas. Used to be thirty days and Gay was pretty hot to get out, but this new jail—radio in the tank and good bunks and the sheriff’s a nice fellow. Gay gets in there and he don’t want to come out. He likes it so much his wife won’t get him arrested any more. So she figured out this hitting him while he’s asleep. It’s nerve racking, he says. And you know as good as me—Gay never did take any pleasure beating her up. He only done it to keep his self-respect. But he gets tired of it. I guess he’ll be with us now.”

 I laughed out loud when I first read that. Steinbeck paints gritty characters that stick with us. Two dimensional characters are easy, like neighbors that we wave to while our garage shuts. There is more out there, let’s tip over their trash and see who they really are. Let’s keep digging.

The Driving Force of WHO

As I am currently flushing out a minor character, who now is taking a major role in my story, I’m realizing the importance of character. When I pick up a novel, I relish the unique voice of a character. It is those characters that I choose to stay with for the next several hours. My favorite novels are character driven. There are three major items I focus on when evaluating my characters.

Do I know my character?

There are a million character sheets that will make sure we know our character’s eye color, third grade teacher’s name, and what is currently in their pockets. While those things may be of importance, I have to go a step further. I ask myself: what would it be like to sit down and have a conversation with this character? I often journal from that character’s POV, even if I don’t write in their POV in the story. This is going beyond a police sketch of your character and finding their unique voice.

Am I showing my character?

This is a hard one for me. As I currently edit, I constantly ask myself if my character is coming through with emotions, actions, and dialogue. And my critique group’s favorite word for me is MORE. But I believe that “more” has to come through showing a character’s emotional response, not telling us.

Character Arc 

As I am editing a completed novel, I look back on the path my main character(s) has made to make sure there is substantial growth. I want my character to be changed dramatically by the end of my novel. And this isn’t a character step, where in one second their lifelong phobia or hatred is changed. It is an Arc. Where we all slowly partake and understand how this character is changing.

 

I love characters. I may forget the exact plot of the Jason Bourne series, but I will always remember his desperation to find himself, his repulsion at discovering who he was, and who is ultimately became. Characters drive a story, and keep me flipping my pages.

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