I’ve Moved!

You might remember that I’ve mentioned several times that I planned a major overhaul of my blog. After deliberating about it for several months, I’ve moved it to a self-hosted site.

The flexibility offered by self-hosting better meets my needs as a writer, despite the amount of time required to execute the move when I already have sooo many commitments, both professionally and personally. I keep telling myself that in the long run, it’ll save time, and I think it will. I’ll have a solid foundation in place when I find a publisher, and be ready to go full steam ahead with the whirl of social networking, marketing and promo, while continuing to write new stuff.

If you’re a follower, please go to my new site and subscribe there to continue getting updates. The site is still in development, but the blog is up and running, with all the posts and comments from here imported. I have lots of great content planned for the whole site, not just the blog. I hope you’ll all come along for the ride! 😀

Who IS This? Making Minor Characters Useful


Last week Nailing Down The Essentials continued the Character Development Series with Heroes. I’d planned to talk about the Heroine today, but home life has been incredibly busy (also the reason I’m so late getting this post up), and a post for less significant characters took far less thought than one for a main character. So, this week, it’s minor characterd.

Hotel clerk, bar tender, cab driver, friend of a friend. Anyone can be a minor character in your novel – it’s an equal opportunity career. The minor character is one who is only present for a short time in the story. They can make one appearance, or several, but the reader doesn’t see much of them. They often have a vital bit of information to pass on to the protagonists, and when they accomplish that, they can disappear. Some hang around a little longer to take care of less important tasks, but they don’t get a great deal of attention.

The temptation is to bring the character into the scene, let him do his job and leave, without bothering to do more than name him, if we even do that much. The trouble with that approach is, it can minimize the importance of the character’s job to the reader, causing her to miss something important.

A moment’s more work can add new layers of significance to whichever conflict the minor character is part of, and even introduce the potential for more conflict and tension. Suddenly, this one-off character can reveal some aspect of the protagonist’s (or antagonist’s) personality that we may not even have been aware of. The reader’s experience will be richer, the other characters more multidimensional, and the plot can become more complex.

How do we achieve this miracle? Simple. Give the character 2 or 3 unique traits, and reveal those traits judiciously. Put a couple minutes’ thought into the traits, and into how you can get the most mileage out of them.

In Blood Dragon, Kiellen’s mission is to find Jaden after her friends reported her missing. He goes to the motel her friends say she intended to check in to with the man she met at the nightclub. The clerk brings out facets of Kiellen’s personality the reader hasn’t seen yet.

The clerk is young, and insolent, which reveals Kiellen’s impatience in dealing with humans. His tension escalates as the clerk takes his sweet time answering questions. In a scant hint of foreshadowing, Kiellen begins to wonder why his emotions are surfacing with this mission. With his habit of emotional distance from his missions, dealing with anger and frustration while trying to keep a clear head is new, and frustrating as well, introducing a new source of inner conflict.

Of course, I could have revealed all that in other ways. But the clerk provided the opportunity, and to have wasted it would have simplified Kiellen. I could have used another trait for the clerk to either reveal more about Kiellen, or the plot, but I chose not to. Too much of even a good thing can ruin the story.

Give it a shot. Write a scene where your Hero and Heroine are out to dinner. Have the waiter flirt openly with the Heroine, while sneaking snide remarks. Using the Hero’s point-of-view, explore his reactions to this insignificant character. Does he realize he’s jealous? Try to hide that fact from the Heroine? How else does he react to his jealousy? How does the Heroine react? Perhaps this is where the Hero begins to realize he has feelings for the Heroine?

The key to using minor characters this way is striking the balance between giving them enough significance that the reader notices what they do, without making them seem more important than they are.

How do you use minor characters? Do you make them stand out, or just let them fade into the setting?

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?

Happy 2012!!!

It’s finally here! January 1st!

Happy Birthday, 2012!

My family experienced a great deal in 2011. Some very good stuff, some not-so-good stuff, and lots of just stuff. In the past few weeks, I found myself reflecting on it all. From my current perspective, the good outweighs the not-so-good, and for that, I’m profoundly grateful. As the year closes, my loved ones are relatively healthy, safe, and happy, with enough. I’m sorry more people can’t say that.

As I contemplated what 2012 might hold, I planned a few goals, both personal and professional. I can’t call them New Years Resolutions because in elementary school, we were made to write down 10 Resolutions each year. Because we weren’t taught the significance of a resolution, and it was treated very casually, I promptly forgot them as soon as I turned my paper in. So now, I have that little “homework assignment” connection in my brain, and I haven’t been able to break it, but I always break New Years Resolutions. If I want to follow through and achieve them, I have to call them goals.

So, here we go. First, the personal stuff. It’s a fairly short list, mainly because I’m focused pretty exclusively on my family and on writing. Yup, I’m boring. 😀

  • I want to be more accessible to my family, especially my daughter, who’s going through some pretty intense personal stuff right now, and my little grandsons, who need all the stability and love they can get.
  • I want to be sure the boys have a solid foundation for education, so I’ve started supplemental home-schooling for the eldest, who’s in preschool – nothing intense, but enough that he knows the importance we place on learning. In 2012, I want to expand those efforts into all the developmental areas, and do more focused activities with the middle and youngest boys.
  • I’m a little… shall we say… domestically challenged. I’m pretty good with the laundry and dishes, but I tend to get lax with some things. I want to stay on top of it all, so my house isn’t merely presentable. Over the last few weeks, I’ve worked on eliminating a lot of no longer useful things we’ve accumulated, and getting the remainder organized. I want to finish that, and maintain it. Hubby has always taken care of the essential outdoor work, but a lot of things  have slipped through the cracks. So, that needs to be addressed and dealt with.
  • There are several home repairs/improvements we’ve been dragging our feet on, so one of our family goals is to take care of the most essential of those – new flooring, new rain gutters, and hopefully, a new bathtub.
  • Hubby needs to lose a few pounds, and I have a few extra this year ( I was skinny up until about a year ago when a med change made me gain some), and our whole family needs to eat healthier. Since our daughter and her boys live almost next door, we often eat together, especially if she or I actually cook. The entire family needs a healthier, less meat-centric diet. To that end, D and I both will be cooking more from scratch. We’ll give up some of the time-saving and convenience of packaged prepared foods, but it will be worth it in more ways than one.
  • We all need to get more exercise. My health problems can make “exercise” impossible, so I have to be careful to use daily physical activity to maintain some level of fitness. The rest of the family is capable of intentional fitness building activity, so using the boys’ need for physical activity, and for positive fitness role models, should spur them on. Hey,  I’m not above manipulation, especially for a good cause. 😀

And now, professional stuff. This list is a lot longer, and I had to cut it to keep it reasonable, and hopefully, achievable. There are far too many things I want to accomplish with writing, and I have to force myself to work deliberately toward each goal. Otherwise, I’ll end up with a huge mess, and nothing to show for it. So this list is the result of cutting down the three pages of my original goals.

  • Get Blood Dragon out there, and find a publisher. I’m winding down the last leg of some much needed revisions. There’s been a little interest in it already, so I’m pretty optimistic for it.
  • Get Blood Dragon II finished and out on submission. The first draft is halfway there. Just a couple weeks of my usual 5k/day production will get it done (if I can ever get it together enough to do that consistently again!). So far, it’s my cleanest first draft, so editing will be mainly story level stuff, I think.
  • Rewrite the two trunked Blood Dragon stories and get them on submission. They both have solid stories, but I’ve learned so much since I wrote them. I need to integrate all that before anyone sees them.
  • Finish building the new creature and write the first draft of the foundation book of the series. It’s coming along, slowly, but I haven’t devoted enough time to it. A couple dozen hours of solid work, and it will be fleshed out, with a complete evolutionary and natural history, just waiting to step off the page into your life.
  • Self-publish a few of the short stories sitting on my hard drive, and write more. Currently, I have several contemporary erotic romance shorts, and a couple of horror shorts just sitting here. So, I’ve decided to clean them up a bit, and self-pub them.
  • Post here more consistently, with more interesting, helpful, and thought provoking content. I’ve already started the Writer Wednesday series, Nailing Down the Essentials, where I’ll cover different story elements and techniques, and hopefully how to make the most of them – stuff I wasted a lot of time looking for when I first started writing fiction seriously again. I’m also going to be hosting other writers in an Author Spotlight feature, beginning in mid-January – so watch for some fantastic writers you might not be aware of yet. And I’m planning posts for roughly once a week on pretty random topics, though most will be relevant to readers and writers. I’m working on an overhaul (again) for the blog, which will include some expansions, but I’m not sure when that will go live. Still a lot of work to do.
  • Use Social Media more consistently, building tighter relationships with other writers, and especially with readers. I’m pretty consistent with Twitter, but I need to work on other platforms a bit.
  • I attended my first Writers Conference in April 2011. I want to attend at least 2 in 2012, with at least one of them being a bit larger than the free event in Bowling Green. It was fantastic, with some really useful workshops, and I learned a great deal, but if I’m going to travel several hours and spend 2-3 nights in a hotel, I’d like a little more bang for my buck.
  • And over and through it all, continuously improve my writing and increase my productivity.

I think that’s enough for now, don’t you? Periodically through the coming year, I’ll post an update to let you know what kind of progress I’m making.

What kind of goals and resolutions do you have for 2012? Do you have plans in place for achieving them? Or are they just “I’d like to someday…” things? Do your goals depend on someone else in any way, or are they your sole responsibility?

Six Sentence Sunday 12-18

This week’s Six is a little change of pace. Still from Blood Dragon, this one is from Kiellen’s point-of-view. He and his team have followed the evidence toward Jaden, and finally, they’re on the right track.

Kiellen disconnected and climbed back into the van. “Wake up, sleeping beauties.” His men came awake, fully alert and ready to go. “We got info.” He filled them in on what Adelle told him, then turned to the computer.

Redinger’s face stared back at him from the screen.  

Will they get there in time to save Jaden?

For a list of all this week’s participants, stop by Six Sentence Sunday.

Thursday Throbs 12-15

It’s been a long week, trying to get my family ready for the holidays while also trying to finish revisions for Blood Dragon, and sneak in a little time to continue working on BDII‘s first draft. I really need to come up with a title for that one – getting sick of calling it “BDII“. Oh, yeah, and I’m slowly working on some changes here, too. And I just remembered, I need to send out Christmas cards… Oh, well, you get the idea. I’m sure your week has been just as busy!

So, I took a little eyecandy break and dug up a few pics for you. I’m a some-time tattoo artist, though these days I mostly limit myself to creating the art (and not much of that, too busy), leaving the actual tattooing to my daughter. As a result, I love looking at tattoo pics. It’s even better if the tat is attached to a sexy guy – not a balding, middle-aged, overweight, mid-life crisis dude with stretch marks who’s suddenly decide he’s always wanted ink. Seen enough of those, thank you very much!

These tats have sexy guys attached! Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Six Sentence Sunday 12-11

This week’s Six continues the scene from last week’s. Jaden has fought her captors to keep them from torturing her, only to be knocked unconscious. Now that she’s awake, Jack, Redinger’s assistant, explains what happened.

Jack laughed and stood up. Filth encrusted coveralls sent off a fresh wave of nausea-inducing stink. “That’s my own invention. Redinger’s cattle prod ain’t strong enough to manage vamps, in my opinion.” His habit of dropping entire syllables and running words together made him difficult to understand. “I jerry-rigged one to double the zap – slap it to the base of the spine, and they’re down for the count.”

 

Visit SixSunday.com for the list of all the Six Sentence Sunday participants.