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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.

Like my blog?  Feel free to follow my personal blog at: https://lisamorrowbooks.wordpress.com/

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.

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.

Learning Lessons from the Greats

I’ve just started reading Stephen King’s novel On Writing. It is a fascinating and well-written book that has the feel of an autobiography, with writing advice if you pay close enough attention. However, what I really love about this book is that it is inspiring. I just finished the section of the book where he discusses getting Carrie published. Through his recollection of this, I learn a lot about his life, but also about how the publishing process worked at this time. But even more than that, I learned something I felt I could apply to my own writing.

Stephen King mentions that the first version he wrote of Carrie wasn’t very good. He throws it away, only to later be inspired by his wife’s interest in it. The problem is that he knows very little about high school girls and doesn’t feel particularly connected to his main character. He goes on to explain how he “fixes” this problem.

I think we’ve all had a character or a situation we tried writing about, even though it wasn’t in our comfort zone. Just recently, I really pushed the boundaries of what I write, to see what I am capable of creating. But I think I learned the same lesson Stephen King learned, although I didn’t get a multi-million dollar book out of it. It is fine to write about things we are unknowledgeable about, but until we do some research, and find a way to connect personally with our characters and topic, the piece will never live up to its full potential.

Have you ever written something that was out of your comfort zone? And if so, what did you do to better understand and connect with your topic or characters?

Stop Apologizing

One of my characters is angry and hateful.  My fellow writers loved this character.  As the story progressed, the other writers started to have more and more trouble connecting with this character.  No one could put their finger on what was wrong at first, until someone finally figured it out.  My character was starting to continually “apologize” for all her negative traits.  It made her suddenly less interesting and less real.

I find myself constantly apologizing for the things I don’t like about myself, but this doesn’t mean that every character I have needs to be the same way.  If anything, it means the exact opposite.  Sometimes people, just like characters, simply need to accept their flaws and move on with their lives (or with the story).  Not doing so often holds people back from fully living their lives.  I also think it holds characters back.  It makes them seem like they are trying to be perfect.  And as much as people might thing otherwise, most people love characters, and people, for their imperfections more than anything else.

Therefore, I have decided to try to embrace my own flaws and allow my characters to embrace theirs as well.  Reading a book with a constantly apologetic character could get really annoying, really fast.  And if there is one thing I don’t want to do, it is to annoy my readers.

Character Assassination

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Greetings and Salutations,

It was nice of J. D. Tyler to visit The Swamp. Those guys she brought with her from Alpha Pack were kind of scary. It’s no wonder she was put off by the zombie horde shuffling around. Even the muses seemed to slink off in the face of those guys. I’m still getting used the changes around here. With All Hallows Eve just around the corner I better do it in a hurry. the weeks are shorter here too. Thursday and Friday seem to be the only days you count on. And Fridays are definitely suspect. Let’s get to work.

Continuing on with the theme of fictional characters. I promised you a personal example, but first let me share what Jami Gray said, was one of her favorite characters. Kate Daniels from Ilona Andrew’s Magic Bites

“I sat at a table in my shadowy kitchen, staring down a bottle of Boone’s Farm Hard Lemonade, when a magic fluctuation hit. My wards shivered and died, leaving my home stripped of its defenses. The TV flared into life, unnaturally loud in the empty house.
I raised my eyebrow at the bottle and bet it that another urgent bulletin was on.
The bottle lost.” –Ilona Andrews, MAGIC BITES

In five sentences I know a great deal about Kate. Despite her flaws, her humor (aka voice) pulls me right in and I keep reading.

books

Thanks Jami, good example. This gives the reader a real taste of what’s to come.

I will offer up another example if I may? This is Raine McCord, from Shadows Edge by Jami Gray.

With a quick twist of her wrist, Rain slipped the blade between Quinn’s ribs. His heart gave one last desperate beat then fell silent. He slid slowly down her body to his knees in a strange, lover-like tableau.

Wrenching out her blade with a soft grunt, she held him in a gentle grasp, carefully lowering his lifeless body to the cracked concrete floor of the deserted warehouse. She closed his now dull brown eyes, knowing they would join the handful of others haunting her dreams.

In a few short sentences we have met a deadly killer who, took the time to close the eyes of her victim and acknowledged those eyes would haunt her dreams.

shadowsedge_hr

What follows is the first paragraph of Zombie Transformation, my current work in progress.

Alston slalomed his Honda Accord around the light poles that stood sentinel in the vast empty parking lot of MARS Engineering.  The once bustling Philadelphia Naval Shipyard was a ghost town ever since the government shut it down.  He enjoyed driving recklessly across the acres of empty parking on his way to work everyday. Down-shifting he locked up the wheels and skidded into his assigned parking spot.  Designated parking was absurd since the lab employed less than a dozen people.  Everyone parked more or less next to the door.  Bolting from the car, he waved his badge at the reader.  Forcing a smile and waved at the camera hoping Emily was on duty over in the security building.

What do you think? Do you want to know why Alston’s so happy? Or, are you looking for the nearest Goodwill store to dump this book on? Let me know what you think.

Next up. Do you think fictional characters should have some redeeming values? Even the bad guys have something about them that is, if not well-meaning, at least understandable. Right?

There is a crop of dramas being played out every week on television that would contradict that. I’m not an avid watcher myself, but on the rare occasion that I join my wife to watch with her, I am amazed  at the total lack of morals demonstrated by the characters. Even the main character is often cheating, scheming, and manipulating for their own gain.

The popularity of these shows would indicate that the reader might be okay with morally reprehensible people populating a novel. What are your thoughts?

As is the custom here I leave you with the words of someone wiser than myself.

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”  ~Anton Chekhov

 Write On,

Eerie Dwarf

Live in the Moment

Every phase in my life thus far has been both difficult and wonderful.  And, it seems, the older I get the more difficult and more wonderful each phase of my life is.  This recent revelation has made me think a lot about the challenges I create for my characters and about how important it is for me as a writer to really embrace many of these challenges.

Because I haven’t fought a giant scorpion or other such creature, I sometimes struggle with really bringing home the many things that my characters must be thinking and feeling in such a situation.  Sometimes I read things over two or three times before I realize that I haven’t really fully allowed my character to live in that moment by speeding too quickly through it.  This might be how life often is, but I don’t want that to be completely reflected in my writing.  Yes, I want my writing to be realistic, but if I don’t allow my characters to fully experience their challenges, then my readers won’t fully embrace their challenges either.

Therefore, I have decided to remember how important it is to live in the moment both in my world and in my writing.  Allowing myself to fully feel sad or happy will make life feel less like a massive blur, and allowing my characters the same privilege will deepen my characters even more and truly make them feel like real people.  Now that doesn’t mean my character will be weeping over someone drinking the last of their coffee, but it does mean my scenes should pack an even more powerful punch.

FRIDAYS ARE BACK

Greetings and Salutations,

I am back from my hiatus. I missed you all. I hope the feeling is mutual. If you didn’t miss me, lie to me. I’m sensitive after all.

The Swamp looks pretty much the same with the exception of the new interview facility constructed to accommodate Wicked’s endless cavalcade of authors who have taken time from their busy schedule to let the warm muck ooze between their toes. A visit to the swamp is a real stress reliever until the questions start. Wicked’s inexhaustible catalogue of questions is enough to raise the zombies hypertension. And that my friends isn’t easy since, they are already dead.

Many thanks to Elle Kennedy for stopping by this week. She seemed a little squeamish about strange creatures. I wonder what she made of the shambling horde of zombies we maintain to keep the trolls fat and happy? As if a troll is ever happy.

Let’s get started. Writing, is something almost everyone does. We write lists, memos, letters, cards, emails, blogs, reports, journals, notes and things I haven’t thought of. So, when you declare to a friend that you’re a writer, you get this quizzical look. So, who isn’t?

Story tellers is a better description of what writers do. We tell stories in the hope of entertaining someone. Of course we write these stories down, which is where the confusion comes in, but we do much more than write.

Writers create characters, who readers will love or hate, luke-warm is the death knell for a character. Writers create worlds where these characters must endear themselves to the reader. Worlds of endless sidetracks and total derailments to keep the character fighting for, honor, glory, God and country, or the girl.

In my humble opinion, character driven stories are the most compelling. No matter how rich and diverse your world, what turns the pages for me when I’m reading, is the characters that populate that world.

In the coming weeks we’ll discuss what makes a character likable or unlikable. What is it that compels you to read long after your logical brain tells you to put the book down, because you have to get up early. What gives your characters a distinctive voice or do they all sound the same? Are they conflicted? Do they even know what they want? Do they want what the reader wants for them? Are they motivated or just doing what’s expected?

What do you think? Are characters important to you when you read? Or do you prefer a verbal description of a landscape or a bowl of wax fruit when you pick up a book?

I’ll leave you with this little gem from Elmore Leonard. “Psychopaths… people who know the differences between right and wrong, but don’t give a shit. That’s what most of my characters are like.”

Write On,

Eerie Dwarf

Disappointed with Love

Recently I discover a new TV series with a kick-ass female lead, a sexy love interest, and supernatural elements.  From the moment I started watching it, I was in heaven!  There is something almost magical about a book or show where the main character is compelling, draws you to them, and really makes you want to root for them.  This character did all these things, but what was more, watching the two main characters relationship develop was incredible.  They were sexy to a dangerous point, but they also had to put aside their issues to allow themselves to fall in love with each other.  I felt drawn into their relationship, and experienced so much excitement at the idea that the character I’d fallen in love with, had fallen in love too.  But just as everything seemed to come together for my very deserving character, the man she loves is ripped away from her in a way that stinks of permanence.

A shockingly familiar feeling hit me, reminding me of the first TV series I’d gone crazy over in my high school days.  It had also drawn me in with its passion, fantastical elements, and strong lovers, and it too had crushed me.  So, even though my husband begged me not to, I went online to investigate whether this new series would let me down too.  My husband said I’d ruin the show for myself, but I knew I’d regret putting more time into this show if the couple never got back together.  And unfortunately, it sounds like the producers of the show decided to go in a different direction.  Thus, killing any hope that these characters might have a happy ending.

I was disappointed to say the least.  How could these writers make me love this couple so much and then dash all my hopes for a happy ending?  But once I got over my disappointment, I also remembered my solution for this issue in high school: fan fiction.  It may sound silly, but it was such an important moment in my life when I realized that through my own writing I had the power to write life the way I wanted it.  It changed me from being just another person who enjoys a good story, to a person capable and willing to write my own story.

So even though I may no longer have a steamy new show to watch, I have something better, a reminder of why I love writing so much.  And what’s more, a reminder that in my own stories, the girl can always get her guy.

 

Problem Between Muse and Keyboard…

What do you do when your plot backs you to the crumbling edge of your story?

Do you throw your hands up and wave them like you just don’t care? (Sorry, the 90’s were visiting this week!)

Do you wrap your rappelling rope of character motivation around your leg and step back, praying it holds?

Do you scream like a little girl and jump?

Or do you push back?

Unfortunately, my storyline took me to task the last couple of weeks.  I’d get a couple chapters ahead, then she’d slap me back a chapter and a half.  I’d dodge around her, when she wasn’t looking, only to find myself face first in the dirt.

How did this happen to me? Well, it’s not because I’m a panster, because I do have a general outline of where my story needs to go, I know my characters and what drives them, and my world is very, very familiar. 

Nope, can’t pin it on any of the normal suspects.

So who was the culprit?

Um that would be the person between the Muse and the keyboard.  Will call her ‘The Operator’.  Seems The Operator decided we needed to do an entire scene of Q&A’s in this Paranormal Suspense. No matter how much the Muse or the characters threatened bodily harm, horrific turns of fate, The Operator determined a long, drawn out Q&A needed to be RIGHT HERE.

So Muse and the characters got together and managed to infect The Operator with a lovely serum of Second Guesses.  Since The Operator refused to listen, they decided to skew her POV. They sent her out on a ‘was’ hunt, because we all know ‘was’ is not a verb

Battered and bloodied, The Operator made it back to the dreaded chapter of contention. Tired, she decided she needed a shower to wash all the gore off.  In the midst of washing the was right out of her hair, a brilliant idea formed. 

Why not skip the Q&A? Why not just recapped it in a paragraph and move on.  Since it’s first person POV, readers could discover the information with the main character.  Besides, most of the characters’ pulses had leveled off, it was time to get their adrenalin pumping and move to the next BIG THING. 

Ecstatic, The Operator, dashed out of the shower, careful to keep a protective hand over her eyes, fumbled for a pen, jotted the idea down and realized the inside of her head had finally fallen silent.

Muse and characters didn’t let her hear their cheers, but they’re ready to proceed now that The Operator stop being a boob!

 

Feel free to share your trembling moments of impending disaster and how you escaped!

-Wicked

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