Redshirt Remembrance Day 2013 – On Killing Carny

Redshirts: Well gentlemen, you're all going to die.The fact is, as writers, we often deal in death. We bring into being characters whose whole purpose for being is to die. Sometimes a random extra wanders onto the page that needs culling for effect. Sometimes death is happening and you need fodder for the cannons so you implement a platoon of redshirts to bolster your numbers. And sometimes, from among those ranks of the doomed to died, you come to love a character. You know from their beginning you’re going to have to kill them, but they weasel their way into your heart. That’s okay. In fact, that’s great! If you love the character then odds are your readers will too. That makes it all the better when that character dies because your readers will be emotionally invested.

Today, in memory of all those characters destined for death, I want to send out a short tribute. December 1st has been appointed Redshirt Remembrance Day by Western Australian writer, Hadiyah Stephens. She invites us to take a moment to remember a character we’ve loved and murdered for the sake of a compelling story.

“For those of you don’t recognise that ‘red-shirt’ reference, it’s a Star Trek one. If you see a random, nameless red shirt in Star Trek… he will die. It’s inevitable, it nearly always happens. So in dedication of all the red-shirts in our stories, ‘We miss you, but you die for the better good of our word counts and stories.’” ~ Hadiyah Stephens

In the first of my Red-shirt Remembrances I give these words in honour, respect, and thanks to a character in my book, The Flight of Torque. Unlike those nameless redshirts, this character has a name. He was however a relatively minor character in the book. From the moment of his creation he was always intended to be fodder for my protagonist. The moment of his birth he was destined to die in a gruesome and brutal way that would torture and torment my heroine. His reason for living was in the manner of his dying.

And you know what? I didn’t love him in the beginning. He’s a “bad guy” and there’s a lot about him not to love. He was vengeful, vacuous, violent, vagrant, and vapid. He was other derogatory words that don’t start with the letter ‘v’ too. But as I wrote him into the story I explored him. I discovered his voice and had fun with it. I watched the beauty of his movements. I followed the wonky way of his thoughts. I began to know his quirks. Over time I came to like him. I was no longer sure I wanted to send this character into the cold, dark night of eternal slumber.

Still, the story called for his demise. In true writerly fashion I drew it out in all its glorious wonder. I used the relationship I’d formed with him to make it meaningful and to make sure it hit a raw nerve with my protagonist. His death pushed the story onward and upward. It served the story and that is what a good death always does.

So, to Carny, may you live the lives that never see the page and be in death a tribute to your story.

Putting flesh on bones and deciding when to start writing

I was thinking about FoT today, while reading more of Russell T. Davies journey through the season four scripts of Doctor Who. Can you believe he wrote episode 4.1 in a single week? Sure, he’d been thinking about 4.1 for at least six months prior to beginning, but he sat at his desk late August 31st, “Look! I’ve started…” and wrote “DONE!” a week later on September 6th. I find that incredible. And it makes me wonder what would happen if I just started writing the FoT script. I’ve been thinking about FoT, on and off, for six years. Surely there is enough compost there to pull together one hell of a great story. But the story is changing, it’s still forming in my mind. It isn’t really there at all, at least not in a version I’m ready to write.

Speaking of versions ready to be written, I am not at all sure about the cult/temple aspect. I don’t know what it is I don’t like but it always felt over-the-top. Beyond real, and out of touch. I couldn’t feel part of that and I think, especially when it comes to T.V. that viewers really need to feel like they can escape to a setting that has such a vast reach in the story. The Nagaran work as a nemesis but part of me wonders if they would work better if I pulled them out of the earth and disappear them into the chaos of the city. Isardior is already a ramshackle turmoil of seething discontent. I could lose a cult of snake worshippers in her underbelly without literally putting them under the ground.

In Underworld, the vampire clans are on the surface despite being light-sensitive. They don’t live in the dirt. They do, literally, bury their elders who sleep in caskets under the floor of their mansion houses but the clans live on the surface, and meld into the darker underbelly of the city. The lycans are literally in the sewers which makes them more animal, reviled. That works for them. But for the Nagaran, I don’t feel them as more animal, I feel them as people. Yes, they are misguided, snake-worshipping fanatics who are developing a virus to hybridise snake-people but they are, for the most part, still human.

It makes me wonder how I can have Tori on the surface, even Lucas on the surface although essentially from above the surface, but not immersed in that darker world. It’s obvious really, because it is new for Tori, she’s discovering a secret that is deep in her family history but her own upbringing was far removed from that darkness. In that sense she needs to be the little rich girl. It would make the contrast more distinct. Especially if she were ripped out of her reality. She can’t go home. Except, to stretch this into a series maybe she can and should. She and Lucas will need a home base and having her come from money would give them that kind of foundation. It’s been done before, Batman, Ironman, even Dark Angel had a foundation in a loaded rich kid funding the search into the sinister. That doesn’t mean I couldn’t pull it off differently. But my inner voice warns me against playing too close to the already played. Sure, there are no new ideas but that doesn’t mean I need to mish-mash the old ones.

I still see the Flight scene clearly, but I thought today that it could make for a fabulous season finale. Also, the romantic tension between Tori and Lucas could be strung out. Writers are always playing on that unrequited love angle. And in their case it would work really well because it is a forbidden love. It makes sense that Tori would be afraid to love, especially as she comes to understand and fear the darkness within. Lucas is essentially immortal; angels can’t love humans; against the rules. But his essential character trait is compassion; his great failing is that he comes to care too much for his charges and that inevitably puts them at greater risk. Stretching out that love story, making it touch but not touch would be easy. Again, it’s been done before. But then love is like that. It’s eternally untouchable. That’s why it’s been done, and done, and will be done again and again.

But I would love writing that scene.

There are a number of scenes from the original draft that really worked. I loved them. I couldn’t pull the story together like that but if I think of those scenes in a greater story I start to think of how they would work if they stood alone as the groundwork of an episode. Tori being captured, it doesn’t work. Tori and Crey in prison doesn’t really either. But Chelan/Zara in the white gown, bleeding, essentially dying on the alter? They work, especially if we have an episode where Chelan dies proceeded by Zara who is in that same transient moment between life and death when she is saved episodes later. Like deja vu. It works.

Turning this in to a series gives me more freedom to build on Chelan too. She is such a sweet character. I can picture an actress when I think of her. I don’t know her name. I can’t even remember what the movie was I can picture her from but she was sweet, possibly a vampire, scared, cowering. Long, brown hair, sunken eyes. Fragile. Maybe it’s Bree from Twilight: Eclipse. Elle Fanning could probably pull it off too. When I started Googling to see if I could figure out who the picture was in my mind I didn’t really find it. And both of those two didn’t quite feel right. But Chelan is definitely there, and I like the idea that I could develop her story a bit more; it would give Tori and Lucas a chance to really come to love her before she dies.

Speaking of characters I can touch, versus those I can’t, I can’t even remember her name right now and in the original drafts it changed and kept changing. Jessibelle. That’s it. Isobelle/Jessibelle. The grandmother-type figure. She never felt very real. Intangible in the sense that I never quite grasped who she was or what her point was. Odds are she’s completely misplaced. I wonder what would happen if I cut her completely. Would anyone notice?

Speaking of Jessibelle/Isobelle. Do you know who I could picture with the name Isobelle? Maybe not. It was a fleeting fancy, Tori’s mother. Did you know I had that story in snippets in my mind too? I don’t know how I would do it if FoT were a t.v. series. But Tori’s mother and her own angel Michael, have a hell of a back story. Do you know how Charmed showed the mother/angel backstory? I don’t know that it worked. The mother was long dead, the angel more absent, there was no real connection except through the girls and this new “sister” that I never really liked because she wasn’t Prue. Not that I really liked Prue, well I did, I liked the concept of Prue but not the execution. But Rose McGowan didn’t quite pull off the new sister either. Anyway, tangent, what I’m really saying is that it would be nice to cameo Tori’s mother and Michael but at this stage I don’t see it working. But then, that’s what backstory is sometimes, something off-screen, something that just is but never shown. And as a backstory for Tori it is fantastic. It adds depth to her character.

Lucas, I love him, but he’s still not real. Perhaps it is inherent because he’s removed from the world. He isn’t real, he’s an angel. So he has a past that I can’t seem to scratch the surface of. He hasn’t let me in. It’s like a deep, dark secret. But he knows it. It’s not like he has no memory of his past. I toyed with that idea for a whole second just then but it doesn’t work. He knows it, but there is a sense of the forbidden, hidden, secret, sacred. You just don’t pry with Lucas. He’s a vault. And I guess that adds to his mystery and his sense of unrealness but it’s awkward as a writer because I have trouble making sense of him. He’s a slow reveal; I question everything with him because I don’t really feel like I know or understand him. I don’t get him. So it’s hard to know, would he do this? Why does he do that? Where should he go? I play with it over in my mind.

I like how this feels reminiscent of Davies talking about Doctor Who. Not the unknowable Lucas but the whole, snippets here and there of episodes but nothing really concrete that would pull together a whole episode. It spreads like that. But then each time I toyed with rewrites of FoT I could see bits and pieces. Knowing I’ve toyed with this story so much makes me doubt if writing it as a t.v. series would help bring it to life. In my mind, it works. And I love the idea. I’m excited by the idea at the same time as being terrified.

I can picture myself taking a single book that should have taken a year at most to write, which turned into a trilogy with the first book still unfinished six years later, that turns into a t.v. series of what? 13? 23? episodes per season, over how many seasons? I can imagine myself still toying with it years down the line without having ever written a script. THAT is scary. At least Davies had that deadline. He needed a script, even just a working script pulled together by the tone meeting. He had people waiting for pages. Deadlines. If his script wasn’t written by deadline then shooting couldn’t begin, the whole show falls apart. I don’t have those deadlines. My script could wait until the never. That’s depressing.

Other writers have suggested I impose my own deadline but to date that hasn’t worked. I don’t hold myself to it. It’s transient and because I set it myself I could shift it myself and there are no consequences. At least none beyond this sense of failure, regret, and self-flagellation. Sure, that pity-party isn’t fun but it’s not enough to make me hold myself to an imaginary deadline. I think I need a Julie; someone who is there, reminding me that I need to crack down because people are waiting on the script to start shooting. Except you don’t get a Julie until you’ve got a script. Catch 22.

Meanwhile, I also wonder at what point you start writing the script. For Davies it was when he couldn’t wait any longer and still make the deadline. Without a deadline that becomes never. But how well did he know what would happen before he started that first scene? With episode 4.1 there was a lot he didn’t know. He had a fairly good concept but he definitely hadn’t pulled it together. Before he started writing he was thinking of botox and green-swirls coming out of people’s faces. I should go back to that point when green-swirl/botox turned into grey-blob/adipose. There it is, July 18th. A month and a half before he started writing the script. That’s a good time for percolation. I wonder how much of the story he knew before he started writing.

I am still very new to screenwriting. I don’t have a clue how to write a script. I am getting more and more familiar with the format:

1. EXT. Church – Afternoon

Except it wouldn’t be. Because I’ve got the concept of the camera-angle starting further out that that. In the sky, above the church. Does that mean you put the camera direction in before the scene direction? I need to read more scripts to become familiar with how the whole thing comes together. How to write those points. How to do those snippet details that give you the scene in your minds eye but lets the floor-men handle the details. I have also noticed that different screenwriters do things differently. Russell does the above but some writers don’t have a scene number. I wonder what is most common. Obviously a sign that I need to read more scripts from a wider range of writers.

CU: Autumn leaf, falling through late afternoon blue skies, touches ground; green grass. Black leather boot, crunch. Zoom out (see, I don’t even know what that camera angle would be called but it’s a wider shot, so we see Tori with the church looming up in front of her). She’s grungy, almost. But it works for her. Jeans, leather, black. Dark hair, waves, wind-swept; dark eyes, behind darker sunglasses. She takes them off, looks up at the church.

pause.

resolute. moving forward. pushes open creaking doors.

See, all this is scene set up and there are no words. Not for ages. She pulls out the voice recorder, ultimately talking to her self for a moment. It plays out who she is but not so much why we care. And it plays out the church which is a beautiful setting. Of course getting that angel stain glass would cost production a fortune. I wonder if one exists in some church already. How much does it cost to make a normal church look creepy and desolate.

All these business angles I have no clue about. It’s a whole new adventure. But it’s exciting. And I can see it. In that way that I see but don’t see-see it. It works, and I’m finally excited about this project again. Six years. But it is coming together. It will come together.

5 Reasons Why Your Novel Loses Steam

You lost your momentum. Your once exciting story feels like it’s gone off the rails somehow. The great beginning gave way to a floundering middle and you don’t know why. It’s frustrating and worrisome but don’t despair. This is a common, fixable problem.

So you’ve written a novel, but something is not quite right. You have a spectacular beginning to your story; a compelling hook, riveting main characters, and a worrisome conflict. Great!  Your ending is excellent with a twist, with a killer resolution – the satisfying all is well or isn’t this ironic last few words.

The problem, you decide, is the stuff in between. The middle of your book is lacking something. There’s no spark, no oomph.

Here are 5 tell-tale signs that your plot is losing steam.

1. Your main characters spend too much time apart.

This little tid-bit actually made a light go on in my head when I realized that the subplot was keeping my main characters apart for a large portion of the book. Doesn’t matter if they’re romantically involved or resolving a different type of relationship. They have to be together to get together.  You need time to build tension and your characters need time to resolve their conflict.

2. Your main character isn’t stressed out.

Conflict is the key to a good story. It creates tension and drama. If your main character is happy and comfortable they are also boring. Whether it’s an arch nemesis sabotaging them at every turn or a love interest that is out of reach, your main character has to suffer. Throwing conflicts in front of them also shows what they’re made of, how deep their desire goes for a given outcome, and what the stakes are. These revelations not only drive a story, they push your character along their arc of development.

3. Random, pointless details.

Do you write about the morning routine? Driving places? How about a few paragraphs describing boring stuff like what they do at work?  Busy work that doesn’t push the plot loses the reader and makes your characters too ordinary. Remember that your book is an escape for your readers. Only use the day to day if it’s significant. For example; if they don’t do something that later on proves a mistake. Then it’s a plot point.

4. Recapping and redundant conversations.

Your reader isn’t dumb. Don’t treat them like they are. If you already showed something in a scene, you don’t need to spend time talking about it, unless it’s a really convoluted storyline in which case sagging probably isn’t the only problem.

5. Second Fiddle becomes more interesting.

If secondary characters, supporting staff, and scenery become the focus of your book you’re in trouble. Quirky side-kicks, sassy best friends, the Beta-Male/friend are all essential, but be aware of those characters taking over. Avoid this by limiting their backstory to only what is relevant to the plot.

But wait. There is hope. Here are some steps to take BEFORE your plot starts to slow that will allow you to side-step the whole horrifying ordeal.  I know that some SEAT OF YOUR PANTS writers out there will hate me for this, but OUTLINING, is the best way to check for signs of trouble. An outline of your plot will help you see some essential components you might be missing.

Make sure you have a book-length plot. The number one reason for losing steam halfway through a story is that you don’t have enough of a plot to support a book-length manuscript.  The subplot doesn’t have enough emotional twists and turns or the main plot is too linear.  An outline can help you see if you need more of one or the other or if your novel should really be a novella or short story.

Make sure you limit the action. This may sound backwards, but too much action and your book becomes frenetic and hard to follow. Doling out the tension systematically, piece by piece, ramping up the stakes just a bit each time is a more effective way to keep your story exciting.

The middle matters in matters of the heart. Use the middle to focus on the romance or the relationship issues between characters. Make sure they contribute to major turning points in the plot.  Don’t go off on tangents like side character issues, or backstory. If you know the middle of novels tends to sag fill it with juicy stuff and it won’t.

Now it’s always a good idea to do check for these problems before your WIP needs a major overhaul. Sometimes going back in and adding subplots or adjusting the pace can fix your novel, but that can be frustrating. Bypass lengthy revisions by simply planning ahead and employing these strategies to avoid a plot that runs out of steam.

Flash Fiction vs. Short Stories: What’s the difference?

The term “short fiction” includes many different types of writing. The most popular among these types are short stories and flash fiction. A short story can range anywhere from about 500 words to 10,000 words, depending on the source of the information. Many publishing companies, especially the ones specializing in anthologies, look for works that range from 1,000 words to 5,000 words. Flash fiction usually ranges from 100 words to 1,000 words.

So, what is the difference between short stories and flash fiction? There are many differences, though they are often difficult to discern. The main difference between the two is the concept of structure.

Short stories should have a basic structure including introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution. Many believe that a short story is just a flash into the lives of the characters, when in reality, a short story contains the same essential elements as a novel. The difference between a novel and a short story is the depth at which the characters and plot line are explored. In a basic form, a short story needs a beginning, middle, and end, with a healthy dose of character development. 0t should tell a complete story, whether the topic is how a relationship between two people begins, the testing process of a wizard, a car accident, or perhaps even a character’s struggle to find a job. The possibilities are endless. What needs to remain constant is that there is an introduction, character development, a conflict, and a resolution for that conflict. It does not have to be a positive resolution, or a happily-ever-after, but it does need to be a conclusion which the reader finds satisfactory.

Flash fiction, on the other hand, is a “flash” into a situation. It should include one character, conflict, and resolution. The difference here is that the plot can be quite simple. For example, an evening in the life of a character in which realization is achieved. There does not have to be an external conflict in flash fiction, and the resolution can be as simple as the character making a decision they were previously having trouble resolving. There are many forms of flash fiction. Some of the most popular are stories with a word count restriction. There are those that specialize in using exactly 55 words to tell a story, all the way down to 3. These kinds of flash fiction concentrate more on hinting at the plot line, and may not even contain a solid character.

In the end, the main identifiable difference between a short story and flash fiction is the depth of which the character(s) development, plot line, and resolution strive towards. Both forms have great merit, and there are many published authors who have made a name for themselves strictly by writing flash fiction and short stories.

Joy Campbell specializes in article writing, research, short fiction, and creating helpful information for new and emerging writers.

Three Types Of Rehab For Fictional Characters

Types Of Rehab For Fictional CharactersTo develop a compelling character that readers will relate to we need to give him a few flaws. There are lists of traits and imperfections we could introduce and some of their problems can affect our characters, and the plot of their story, in radical ways. Our characters need to be flawed, especially our main characters, we know that. We work to give them challenges. Goodness knows I do. But have you ever written a character who is going through rehab?

I considering developing a character for a future story who is sent to rehab. As soon as my historical romances reach relatively modern times I want to give them modern flaws. What kind of rehab should they go to, though? I’ve taken a look at three different kinds of rehab to evaluate my options. Physical Injury, Sex Addiction, and Substance Abuse. What other types of rehabilitation could our characters face?

1. Physical Injury

Perhaps the most common type of rehab is physical rehabilitation. If someone has a serious injury, they attend physical therapy to restore normal movement and function to their bodies. Broken bones, back problems, weak ankles, strokes, and head injuries often get this treatment. If they had rehab in the early Middle Ages, Kiernan (the protagonist from my historical romance novel KIERNAN’S CURSE) would have been sent to physical therapy after his head injury and again after his knee was badly injured during a duel. Benen (from BENEN’S BURDEN, set 200 years after KIERNAN) undergoes a primitive type of physical rehabilitation by the woman he eventually marries, Nerys, who is determined to prove the healer’s assumption, that the duke will die from injuries received in a fire, wrong.

2. Sex Addiction

Before the Tiger Woods’ scandal broke, did you really give much thought to sex addiction or the need for sex therapy or rehabilitation? The whole idea made me think of Dr. Ruth. In the back of our minds, though, we all know about someone who can’t keep their pants zipped or their legs together. (Yes, I went there.) We tend to call them sluts, whores, gigolos, etc. In looking at my characters, Trevor (in TREVOR’S TRIUMPH, 300 years after KIERNAN) might have been a candidate for some sort of sex rehab. That is, he would have before he met and married Shae.

3. Substance Abuse

We can probably name at least three celebrities who have gone through rehab for drugs or alcohol abuse, whether voluntary or court-ordered. For a recent example, look to Lindsay Lohan. Because of all the complexities involved and the potential for underlying mental or physical disorders, I don’t know that I’ll have a primary character go through this type of rehabilitation. But there are many stories where overcoming addiction can be a powerful catalyst in the life of fictional characters.

One thing to remember is that there are many other things to consider when you decide to put your fictional characters in rehab, regardless of what type. There are layers of complexities, ranging from other physical limitations, illnesses, or disorders to additional psychological issues that underlie the problem for which they are treated. Do your homework. Talk to doctors, physical therapists, psychiatrist, psychologists, or counselors. Failing to consider additional factors can blow your credibility when you’re questioned on your research by one of those professionals.

What other types of rehab are there? Have you ever written about a character who had been through or was going through rehab? How do you think rehabilitation could add dimension to the character development of your protagonist?

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Fiction Characters: Do You Need A Mental “No Vacancy” Sign?

Do your fictional characters keep you awake at night?It is 3:57 in the morning. Do you know where your characters are? If you are like most writers, you know exactly where they are because they refuse to let you get a proper nights sleep, or bath, or read, or time alone to enjoy the minutiae of life.

Once you have given life to someone, sometimes they do not shut up. I find this to be true of children, and characters. I rarely get to spend my hour commute listening to the radio, or relaxing with the windows rolled down and my mind on mute. As soon as the fiction characters in my latest story realize I’m alone the chatter starts.

The first time this happened to me, I was sure I was schizophrenic. When I stopped at each red light while driving, I tried to jot down an idea but, by then the characters had told their friends that I was free, and I forgot what I was noting in the first place.

Forget taking a bath. I used to think the kids, and the dog were most deft at keeping me from taking a bath alone. No, it is the antagonist calling to say he is ready to kill my main character, and by the way, …I need to shave my legs.

Sleeping can be like running a relay race. When I sleep someone shouts something into my psyche, and I have to jump up to write. My best stuff comes at 3:00 A M decidedly, because like an infant, that is when my fiction characters are awake. After I have pecked the brainstorm into my computer, I head back to bed. Usually, I can fall back asleep. At least until, the protagonist finds out what his adversary said about him.

When I first started writing, it drove me mad to share my brain with all the people who were crashing my psychological party. Now, when I’m done with a story, and things get quiet, I have let down.

I want to throw up the No Vacancy Sign!I sit in the tub and wait for someone to say something. Then I lay in bed, and listen to the quiet wishing my fiction characters would “throw me a bone.” When I’m feeling overwhelmed by the amount of jabber going on in my brain, and I want to throw up the NO VACANCY sign, I remember how lonely I am without them.

I just flipped my sign over, reads Vacancy – welcome all night owls. I’ll probably catch you all at about 2:30…in the morning.

Do your fiction characters keep you awake at night? When was the last time you were able to have a relaxing bath or drive from one side of town to the other without their company? How do you deal with the lack of mental vacancies?

Photo Credit: Nathan Barry
Photo Credit: DG Jones

Minutiae – Adding Everyday, Basic Necessities To Your Story

Story Minutiae and Plot Details: The day to day living of life.In our daily lives, we have to make room for the minutiae of life. We eat, drink, take showers, and run errands. Our lives would fall apart without taking care of the basic necessities of living.

Our characters don’t often have the luxury of taking care of life’s minutiae when they are busy pursuing their goals. In the television series “24″, the hero Jack Bower must save the day, without taking any time for himself. He sets aside his personal needs when he pursues the enemy and protects the President. He doesn’t even have time to sleep!

Your characters may be in the middle of a similarly high-paced action story, or they may have a little more leeway. It is up to you to decide how much realism needs to be incorporated into your novel. Too much, and your readers could become bored. Too little, and your characters appear superhuman, unaffected by the basic requirements of living a healthy life.

Adding More Details to Your Story

When your writing is flowing freely, it is too easy to forget that your characters need a break. They may jump from one scene to another, overcoming foes and discovering new obstacles at every turn. While this makes for an exciting story, your characters can’t go on forever without some down time.

Sleep is one of the most important things that characters seem to forget to do. Allow them to set up camp for the night, or they may collapse from exhaustion in the middle of an important scene. Chapter breaks are great places to let your characters sleep on the past events, and prepare them to face a new day in pursuit of their goals.

Eating and drinking are also necessary if you want your characters to keep forging ahead. They may only have time to grab an apple and a swig of water, but that small detail will remind readers that your characters are realistic and susceptible to human concerns. Larger meals can be included to provide a respite from a speedy plot line, and to give your characters time to ruminate over their game plan.

Removing Minutiae From Your Story

Your story can become bogged down by too much detail. If every chapter ends with your heroine curling up in her cozy bed, her plight can sound trivial and mundane. Readers like stories that provide an escape from their everyday lives. Too many mundane activities can add up to a boring story.

If your characters have to get from point A to point B, they can do so either very quickly or very slowly in terms of your story. Noting that they arrived at their destination after three days of uneventful travel is perfectly fine. You don’t have to show every stop, every meal, and every conversation that doesn’t add to your story. Only include minutiae if it enhances your characterization or your plot line. When in doubt, throw it out.

It is very easy to add a mundane scene, just to act as filler while you’re thinking of what happens next in the story. If you need to keep the writing flowing, go ahead and write that scene at a roadside diner. It may provide important details to lead your characters in the right direction. If it doesn’t, you can always remove it later, and your story will keep up the pace.

Do you tend to write lean stories, without many human details? Or do you enjoy writing long descriptive passages about every meal? How do you strike a balance of real world concerns and exciting plot points?

Photo Credit: 07-07-08 © manley099

Character Development: When Back-Story Isn’t Enough

As writers, most of us already know that solid character development is key to a solid story. There’s a lot of advice out there about how to go about making robust characters: observe the people around you, create character charts, make sure you know your character’s back-story, etc.

It’s all great advice. For instance, I love filling out character sheets because they prompt me to think up things like nervous habits and identifying marks that I might not have given my character otherwise, but that make them that much more real.

And, of course, you have to know their back-story. If Sally is a runaway in chapter one who’s been homeless since she was ten, you can’t have her talking about the wonderful new bedroom decorations her mother gave her at age eleven.

But what do you do when that’s just not giving you what you need? When all of that planning doesn’t yield a direction for your character? I have two methods I use, and I adore them both.

First, and my favorite, is to imagine what happens to them after the story ends. This is especially helpful when I’m trying to choose from a couple of story endings, but that’s not the only time I use it. It’s an easy past-time: don’t write anything down, just pick a scene in your head and follow it to its logical conclusion. Maybe it’s a love story and two of your characters end up together. What happens when they have their first child? Or your entire star-ship crew just got back from an epic space-battle; how does that impact their view of the world ten years down the road?

My second trick takes a little more time, but can still be just as fun. I write a short story (actually writing this time, not just daydreaming) that places my stubborn character in an alternate universe. I ask myself “what if Conner were born in modern America, instead of ancient Greece, and was the son of the devil?”. All of the basic character traits stay the same, but he has to interact with a whole new set of people and world rules.

Those are just two ways I help give characters more depth – and figure out how they might react in my current story when I’m stuck for ideas. What methods do you use for character development and to make stubborn characters speak to you?

Inspire Your Children to Write Fiction

Inspire Your Children To Write FictionFor most of us, the gift of writing is cathartic and freeing.  I received the first gift of a journal, full of empty pages just waiting for my words, sent me into bliss at the ripe ole’ age of eight.  My memories of being given this gift at an early age inspired me to pass on a love of writing to my own two rug rats.  It may seem like a daunting task to have a thirteen-year-old sit down at his computer to write a story.  Especially, if you consider that this type of request from a teacher would send him into a complete tailspin.

How do you get around this?  All kids are inspired by what their parents do.  Sometimes we miss the subtle clues screaming “Hey this kid has talent.”  However, you know that within each of them a story lives.  The basics for employing a love of writing start early.  If they can pick up a pen, they can describe the way it felt to jump in the pool the first time the weather permitted, or how meeting their new teacher felt.  Wonder of wonders, they may write something they hadn’t expected, and that clues you in to their intimate childhood worlds.

Of course, how the concept is presented will influence your chances to inspire you children to read and write.  This is the difference between a frown when you suggest they write about their trip to zoo, and “Good Idea!”.  Making the idea their own is important; you need to show interest, and spur their imaginations.  Simply saying, “Don’t you think it would be cool to write about our vacation?”, may not work.  However, you may be surprised by their response if you say, “Help me think of a character who lived in this area… do think they would have special qualities?  What do you think their problems, fears, and dreams would be?”

My oldest child loves to get involved in my stories and help me develop characters.  He is also a deft creator of turmoil and drama.  During our conversations about my own writing, I sometimes suggest that he would better communicate the intricacies of the character.  Now he has a small book of his own writing and is quite proud of it. Of course, I’m very proud too.  My hope is that he will learn to purge his frustration into his stories, a benefit to him, and his characters.

We should all inspire the writers of the future so a truly beautiful art form is never lost!

Do you inspire and encourage your children to write fiction? What are your own earliest memories of being encouraged to write?

Photo Credit: 07-24-08 © Yucel Yilmaz

Four Dimensions: Character Analysis Beyond 3d Characters

Four dimensions like four eyes give 3d characters added depth.Fleshing out characters (giving 3d characters four dimensions) is one of my favorite aspects of writing a story, perhaps more than weaving the plot. The human mind is complex, and in a story, every character is an outstanding individual, with their own story, dreams, hopes and fears. The possibilities are limitless, and I could spend all day uncovering the characters’ motivations, ideals, and inner workings.

Once the plot gets going, even complex 3d characters get busy with what’s going on around them, and are in danger of losing their personality quirks. When I’m writing through an exciting scene, I often forget that the characters wouldn’t act the way I would act. I have to go back and evaluate the scene, and whether they are acting true to character.

When that happens, I look over four dimensions of a character’s personality, to see if they are acting consistently throughout the story. These four dimensions can be determined at the beginning of a story, or infused at any point in time thereafter to bring out the best in your heroes.

Thoughts: The Hero’s Conscious Awareness

Discover through character analysis the four dimensions of your characters.Your characters each have their own perspective on the world. Their upbringing, education level, and current situation shape their thoughts and consequently their actions. A well-to-do, college-educated attorney will think about the world far differently than an abused high school dropout. They will be concerned about different things, have a particular sense of right and wrong, and analyze problems in unique ways. They will also hold themselves and their companions to separate standards, praising and criticizing under various circumstances.

The most common way we look at an individual’s thoughts today is through left brain, right brain analysis. In general, characters who are left brained think logically and rationally, working through a situation step-by-step to its conclusion. Right brained folks look at life on a grander scale, working holistically and creatively to solve problems. You can really flesh out a character’s thought patterns by figuring out if she’s left or right brained, and how she approaches critical thinking.

Feelings: What His Heart Wants

In direct opposition at times to the hero’s thought processes are his emotional reactions to the world. Before his brain gets a chance to analyze, his heart will express his initial reaction to external stimuli. Your protagonist will obviously have feelings about all the other characters he meets, whether they are good, bad, or indifferent feelings. This will color his actions in how much he interacts with others, and in what ways.

However, people have feelings about everything in their lives, not just other humans. She may feel that she is on the wrong course of action, even when she cannot think of a reason why this is so. Known as gut reactions, following your intuition, or even psychic awareness, these feelings crop up consistently throughout our lives. Your character may feel like wearing a red shirt today, even though her blue shirt is clean too. She may despise her best friend’s brother, even though she just met him and knows nothing about him. These are all human feelings that can take your story and characters down exciting new paths.

Actions: How He Presents Himself to the World

Your protagonist shapes his world and his story via his actions, how he interacts with other people and his environment. Actions reveal a lot about a person’s character, illuminating his thoughts and feelings with a tip of his hat. If your character doesn’t act, he doesn’t progress through the story, and will have to be helped along by his companions.

Actions are the home of “show, don’t tell”, where your heroine can really stand out from the crowd. If she pulls over to help an injured animal along the side of the road, she will come across as compassionate and nurturing, even if no one else in the story recognizes that fact. If she stands firmly against every obstacle in her path, readers will come to the conclusion that she is headstrong, determined, and perhaps a little ruthless. Actions really do speak louder than words, amongst your characters and to your readers as well.

Relations: How He Interacts with Others

Your hero does not live in a vacuum. He has to deal with other people, and all of the things that we do in our daily lives. Work, home, school, society, religion, health, goals, and values shape your character continuously. He has to relate to and react to all of these environmental influences on a daily basis, with certain aspects taking precedence depending on the day’s events.

How your character relates to her environment can provide new insights you may not have considered. If your protagonist is a diligent worker, yet lives in a messy home, she obviously has different values about what is acceptable in different settings. At the beginning of the story, she may be a self-proclaimed atheist, yet is presented with many challenges to her faith throughout the story arc. Whether she lets herself relate to those challenges, or remains unchanged, will give readers a new perspective on her personality.

These four dimensions of a character’s personality will give you unlimited characterization ideas and plot possibilities. Your readers will easily relate when the characters think, feel, act, and relate to the world in ways that we all do each day. When your heroine seems dull, go over these four dimensions and see if she has the opportunity to show of her amazing self!

How do you ensure that your characters are fleshed out and believable? To what standard do you hold them accountable? What tricks do you use to bring out the best in your heroes?

Photo Credit: Four Eyes by Carulmare
Photo Credit: Mask by Cliff1066tm