STRANGER DANGER!!

Absolutely not! I forbid it, young lady! What do you know about this… this… CHARACTER… you’re writing about? Nothing, that’s what! Well, I won’t have it! Before I allow you to write him, you’re going to figure out who he is!

Too much? Really? ‘Cause I didn’t th… Oh well, you get the idea.

Earlier in the week, as I was thinking about how to begin a short series of posts on characters for my Nailing Down The Essentials series, I came across this CuriosityQuills post. The author lays it out far better than I could.

Back in The Good Ole Days…

Way back, when I was a young writer determined to create a best seller, I wrote what I thought were extensive character profiles. Then I spent two decades just dabbling, while I focused on being all I could be as an Army wife, and a mother, and held down a demanding career. When I came back to serious writing a couple of years ago, I’d forgotten about character profiles.

I’m too old to waste time…

Okay, so I’m not ancient. 🙂 But, at 44, there are so many things I want to accomplish. I don’t mind taking the time to do something right, or to savor experiences. But wasting time, especially mine, really irks me.

I started writing my first weredragon novel with not much more than a vague physical description for Van, the hero. Really BIG mistake. I had no idea how or why he would act, what he might think or do in certain situations. I didn’t even know whether he was gay or straight, or what he liked. As a result, I spent a great deal of time writing scenes that didn’t ring true, and trashing them.

In frustration, I took another approach, that also wasted time and words. Every time I needed to make a decision about him (Was he modest, or comfortable with his body?), I wrote a scene justifying the decision (Slightly modest, as a result of his cousin’s cruel teasing when they were adolescents). I ended up writing dozens of scenes that I knew I would never use, but to be sure my decision rang true to his character, I wasn’t sure what else to do.

Why write character profiles?

Some writers might be able to write complex, multi-dimensional characters beginning with only the vaguest of details, and manage to keep every moment real. They make all those bits and pieces cement into characters that are more real and consistent than your college roommate. I can’t do it, though.

These days, I get to know my characters pretty thoroughly before writing the first word of the book, as part of my outline process. I’m not talking about their physical descriptions, or the list of events that make up their lives. I’m talking about the series of experiences that turned them into the people they are. I’m talking about WHY they make the choices they do, and react to certain situations the way they do.

When I know WHY, I can be sure all my characters’ decisions and actions will be realistic for them, that they will be consistent and multi-dimensional. After I point them in the general direction I want them to go, I can trust them to take care of the WHAT and HOW. It becomes their story. The events fit the character, rather than the character changing at the whim of the events.

Getting to know the stranger

HOW do I get to know them so well? Well, the process changes a bit with every new character. First, I decide the superficial stuff, but that could just as easily come after. The physical description, and things like: sex, age, race, profession, birth family structure, location, and etc., are pretty basic and generic.

Then we get to the hard parts. I write their backstory by first dividing their lives up to the present into stages – infancy, early childhood, childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, adulthood (sub-divided into regular intervals, depending on age, decades, half-centuries, centuries, and etc.), and if necessary, middle-age and old-age, subdivided in the same way as adulthood. For each of those stages/intervals, I write two influential memories, one good, one bad – just a brief little scene overview that can be fleshed out further if necessary.

My vampire’s having a rough day

For a one-hundred and fifty year old female vampire, I would write one good and one bad significant memory for infancy, early childhood, childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, and adulthood. The second interval of adulthood would begin at fifty years old, then one hundred, then each decade thereafter.

Maybe her old brother threw her down the well when she was six, and now she fears water and cramped spaces, after spending thirty six terrifying hours in the well waiting to be rescued. So, she isn’t going to willingly explore the narrow cave that’s actually a tunnel leading to the bad guy’s compound. She’ll need serious motivation, and no alternatives, to go there.

Since I know that, I know that when the bad guy’s henchmen try to force her into the cave at gunpoint, she’s going to fight hard, because she fears the cramped, dark, and damp cave far more than she fears a gunshot wound. I need her to get in that cave, though, so after she kicks the henchmen’s collective ass, I have to throw something else at her, something worse than the cave.

The vampire bounty hunter, with orders to bring her head to the bad guy, bursts into the clearing at the mouth of the cave. Enough? No, maybe she’ll take her chances and fight him too. Let’s add to it. The bounty hunter’s two assistants are with him. And the love of her life will die a permanent death in less than one hour unless she finds a way to save him. Maybe. Oh, and she has the secret weapon, the only thing on earth that can kill the bad guy and ensure her, and her lover’s, survival. She darts into the cave.

Adding it up

If I hadn’t known about the well incident, I might have sent her bravely forth into the cave, even after an earlier scene hinted at her fear. The phobia wouldn’t have been integral to who she is, just a passing fear. We’d have missed that kick-ass fight scene, and the additional conflicts and complications. The character would have been less complex, less real. Each of those memories can be used to add additional facets to the character, and new conflict or resolution to the story.

I don’t stop developing the character when the memories are written. I also create a short story for each main character, just a couple of pages, summarizing the story from their point of view, as if they are THE main character. This takes care of each character’s agenda and motivation as it fits within the larger picture of the whole story.

Now, not only do I know my character quite well, I know how she’s going to react to each situation. I know what else I need to throw at her, for the story to have the kind of impact I want it to have, while being logical and realistic for my character. She’ll be a multi-dimensional person, rather than just blinding going along the road I set for her, overcoming obstacles and making the changes I think she should. She’ll think and feel, and change on her own, and her character arc will feel natural and organic to the reader. She will have a REASON to be in the story.

Yeah, it took extra work at the front end, but it saved countless hours of floundering around trying to get characters to do things that don’t fit their personalities. The result is that I’m writing the story to fit the character, rather than writing a character to simply plug in to the story.

What do you do to get to know your characters before you start writing? Or do you jump in with little more than a vague idea what the character looks like?

Which Pants Are You Wearing?

Okay, so I’m not talking about clothes. But you knew that already, didn’t you?

Are you a pantser, or a plotter?

Translation: Do you write by the seat of your pants, with no plan, or do you outline and plot your project?

I used to be a pantser, but over time, became a plotter. As my writing evolved, so did I.

Have you ever taken a walk on the other side of the fence?

The debate about whether it’s best to outline, or not, often becomes heated. Anything so integral to our writing becomes intensely personal, with about as much emotion involved as debates over various child-rearing techniques. So “heated” is a gross understatement.

The point is, everyone thinks their way is best. Several writers, all using the same approach, will each individualize that method until it becomes their own, each finding what works best for them. And once we find something that works, we stick to it, sometimes to the point where writing becomes highly ritualized. Outlines longer than the finished book. Successive drafts in different colors or fonts. One particular location. A certain shirt. Hey, if it works, use it.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it…

I’m issuing a challenge. The goal is to adapt and expand as a writer.

If you’re a plotter:  Choose a plot question. A What-if? scenario. Something like… What if an angel fell in love with a serial killer?

Once you have your question, without any further thought, start writing. Don’t make any notes. Don’t think any further ahead than the end of the current scene. When you reach the end of the scene, start a new one, no notes, no thought.

If you’re a pantser: Choose your plot question, as above. Before you start writing, name two characters and decide their roles in your scenario. Write down one major, and one minor conflict. Begin with inciting incidents, the course of the conflict, and the resolution, with a minimum of one sentence to summarize each. Then write your story.

Whether you end up with a short story, or a novella, or even a whole novel, maybe you’ll have a few new tools in your repertoire. And just maybe, you’ll find something to add to your current technique that will help you be a better writer. Hell, maybe you’ll even have a little fun.

 

Are you a pantser, a plotter, or something in between?

National Novel Writing Month

November. Each year in November, tens of thousands of writers from all over the world chain themselves to their keyboards for the entire month. It’s National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, and the goal is to write 50,000 words in 30 days. It breaks down to 1667 words per day. Those who finish get bragging rights and a nifty badge to display.

Anyone who ever dreamed of writing a novel can use NaNoWriMo to realize that dream. Beginners can get caught up in the excitement, and with the support of other NaNo-ers, both in real life and on line, and before they know it, they’ve written a book! Experienced writers can use the momentum to help them break some habits that stand in the way of productivity.

Some writers get hung up on making sure each sentence is perfect before moving to the next, so they have a hard time meeting word count goals. In NaNo, there isn’t time to edit. Even if it’s crap, the words have to get on the screen. Editing comes in December. Others have a hard time writing on a consistent basis, but most people have to write every single day in order to complete NaNo. A month of establishing productive habits can be long enough for the old habit to be broken.

Some agents and editors regard NaNo as a waste of time, probably because their inbox is inundated with NaNovels on Dec 1st, sans editing. If I were on the receiving end of all those submissions rife with typos, spelling problems, bad grammar, and plot holes big enought to drive a tank through, I might not be such a fan of NaNo either. Remember, the hard work starts Dec 1st.

This year, I’m using NaNo to finish the stalled first draft of Blood Dragon II. I have around 13k written, so I’ll need 63k total to finish NaNo.

It’s not too late to sign up! If you’re interested, head on over to NaNoWriMo and get started. If you’d like to be Nano buddies, here’s my profile.

Now, it’s 11:15pm on November 1st, and I still haven’t written my first NaNo2011 word!

Six Sentence Sunday

This week’s SSS is from BLOOD DRAGON.

Kiellen and Jaden are getting ready to confront James Redinger, the antagonist. Redinger was involved with Jaden’s kidnapping and torture.

And there was Redinger’s motive. He was in love with Rhee. Did the contradiction signal a larger, concealed split of his mind? Did she know what a monster her hero slash boss slash friend was? She probably wouldn’t be discussing the merits of breastfeeding her children with him if she did. Or so willingly be alone with him.

The outline for BLOOD DRAGON II, is almost finished.

Bright, Shiny, and New: A Sneak Peak

Since finishing BLOOD DRAGON, I’ve taken a couple days off to catch up on some other stuff. I’ve read a few blogs, caught up on some forums, read a couple of books… And gone absolutely stir crazy.

Apparently, not writing is something I can’t easily do. I seem to recall coming to the same realization when I finished the last one, and couldn’t wait to get started on BD.

I’m forcing myself to wait before I start writing the new idea. I know if I start before I have a good outline, it just won’t work. Oh, it might start out fine, but soon, I’ll stray from the story line, and it’ll turn into something completely different from what I planned. It’ll go on forever and take eons to revise/edit. So, I’ll content myself with outlining, for the time being.

For the next few days, I’ll be figuring out my characters – their physical traits, backstory, what makes them tick now. While I’m doing that, I’ll also be working out what kind of trouble they’re going to get themselves into, and what they’ll have to do to get out of it. This one’s going to be a blast to write!

I can give a little hint about the new story – which, btw, has a working title – Blood Dragon II. I haven’t made final decisions on the characters’ names yet, so I’m going to refer to them as the Hero, Heroine, and Bad Guy for this.

The Hero, a vampire, is a famous musician, just home from a nationwide tour of the US. He’s had stalkers in the past, and isn’t bothered by his newest one. Until the Bad Guy breaks into his apartment and vandalizes it, leaving a little surprise. The Hero’s manager pulls some strings with the Inter Racial Council and arranges for an Enforcer to investigate and apprehend the Bad Guy, and protect the Hero.

The Enforcer the IRC sends, the Heroine, can’t believe she’s being sent to babysit some spoiled vampire, especially one who daily risks revealing the reality of vampires, as well as her people, weredragons, to the human world at large. It doesn’t help that when she meets the Hero, he’s the hottest thing on two feet, or that he makes no secret of the fact that he can’t wait to get her in his bed. And it really doesn’t help that she would like nothing more than to lick him head to toe.

I’ll add further details as I work them out – little things like… Oh, the characters’ names, and the Hero’s instrument, hell, even what kind of music he plays. Though, at the moment, he’s leaning toward heavy metal. But that’s probably because I prefer heavy metal myself. He could even be a country singer, I suppose…

© Copyright Kenra Daniels 2011

The Beginning?!

This past week, an online community for romance writers that I belong to, RomanceDivas.com, hosted  what they call “Not Going To Conference Conference”, for those of us not fortunate enough to go to the RWA Conference in New York.

There were several online workshops on various writing related subjects. The presenters gave their information, and participants could ask questions on the forum and be answered by the presenters. There were tons of doorprizes, free books, critiques, ads, even a tarot reading, and other things. Participants commented in the thread mentioning the prize within a set period of time, then the winner was randomly selected from among the commenters. I won a copy of KJ Reed’s Faithful To A Fault.

There were also a number of editors from different publishers accepting pitches. Writers posted their pitch, usually a three sentence summary, in the comments of each editor’s post. Editors then PM’d the writers to ask to read their manuscripts, or posted in the comments in reply to writer’s pitch to request the submission. Editors representing Carina, Lyrical, Ellora’s Cave, Wild Rose Press, Entangled, and Liquid Silver Books accepted dozens of pitches.

I wasn’t quite finished with my final round of edits for Blood Dragon, but on a whim, I quickly put together my three sentence pitch, and posted to the editors from Carina. I still had a couple days’ work to do on the edits, but I wasn’t worried about it, since I’d put so little effort into my half-assed little pitch. It sucked and I was quite certain it would be ignored at best, laughed at probably.

Imagine my surprise when I received a PM from one of the Carina editors asking to see the full manuscript! So I replied to her that it would be a couple of days, but I would be thrilled to send it. At the same time, another editor was accepting pitches. Just for the hell of it, I posted my little pitch, minus the typos this time, in her thread. And she requested to see the manuscript!

By the end of the week, I had three requests for full manuscripts, an invitation to submit, and a request for more information. Something from each of the editors I pitched to. I missed pitching to the Liquid Silver Books editor, didn’t see her thread until it was already closed. If I’d seen it, I might have had another request. Of course, if none of the others work out, I can always submit to LSB through their regular process, at least.

When I got the request from the Carina editor, my first thought was that everyone who pitched received the same thing. I looked back at the pitch thread, to see how many people had posted. Several people posted follow up comments that they had gotten requests, and others posted back congratulating them. From the comments, I learned that I was one of a few, about 1/3 of those who pitched, to get requests.

Needless to say, I’ve spent every spare moment, since opening that message from the Carina editor, working on finishing up those edits. Now one last read-through to make sure everything is as perfect as I can make it, and I’ll be ready to hit send.

I can’t help feeling that it’s a momentous occasion. It marks the official starting point of my quest for publication. At this point, I’m fairly confident. I know I have a good story, and a fresh take on the creatures. I know my writing is passable, and I believe it’s actually pretty good. I even believe that one day, it’ll be really good, as long as I’m able to continue working toward improvement.

As soon as I have everything ready, I’ll take a deep breath, then click the “Send” button. I’ll be proud for a moment, maybe even eat some celebratory chocolate. Then I’ll spend the next few weeks in a state of absolute panic while I wait to hear back from the editors.

Then, to ward off the panic, I’ll jump right into the next novel – another weredragon/vampire paranormal romance. I have several outlined, so I’ll just choose one and start writing. Maybe I’ll also spend some time working on my new creatures, getting them ready to star in their own stories.

And hopefully, in a few weeks, I’ll hear from one of the editors that they would like to publish BLOOD DRAGON. Wish me luck!!