Your character is your new bff

Sometime a story gets started with the concept of a really awesome character. When this happens what unfolds around them is secondary to who they are. You know this person well. They live on every page.

Sometimes the character is who gets cast in the conflict you have created. When this happens, sometimes it’s necesary to go back and make sure that these people in your story have dimension, and are right for the roll. No matter how your story develops, you should know your character intimately, the way you know your sister, your college roomate or your spouse. You should know what is going to make them angry before it comes up. You should know why they can’t stand chocolate cake, if they’re prone to fads, if they go weeks without shaving their legs, if they pretend they don’t mind going to Applebee because they know you have a crush on the waiter there, but secretly hate it.

Here’s my quick list, the one I run down when I’m not sure how well I know a character who is important in my story. Obviously these don’t apply to every kind of story, but they can be adjusted accordingly and answered loosely. For example, for “The Fate of a Princess” we are working in a fantasy feudal landscape. Melandria’s favorite band wouldn’t be a good question, but she would prefer the biggest, grandest music available to her and employs an entire orchestra to play at her wedding.

All this info doesn’t have to appear in your book. Most of it won’t be relevant to your story. But it will be relevant to your character’s personality and history. Go through and see if you can answer them all for the character you are working with now.

20 Things you should know about your character
1. Favorite band
2. Subject they excel in
3. Reader? What book/ author
4. Something they created
5. Favorite meal
6. Problems they run into over and over
7. Meaningful trinket
8. If they had no ties, what would they be doing?
9. Vacation they want to take
10. Reasons for going to the hospital in their lifetime
11. Odd talent
12. What do they do when they are angry?
13. High school cliche
14. First kiss
15. First fight
16. How they de-stress
17. Ever break the law?
18. Idol/icon?
19. Injuries that flare up?
20. Favorite color.
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Reblogging – Six Plot Excuses No One Wants to Hear

This week is the kind that no kind of discipline will allow you to write during but I came across this article and thought it was very important. I’ve spoken before about respecting your readers by establishing a plausible motivation. This is along the same lines, but gives some great examples of cheap ways out. Some of them I even remember as really pissing me off. Hello? Why won’t any one believe Buffy? How many times does the girl have to die to save you butt heads before you give her the benefit of the doubt?

Six Plot Excuses No One Wants to Hear by Chris Winkle

I hope to be back to my regular posting next week.

Preparing for battle (another poem)

Poetry is not my preferred method of creative expression, but sometimes it is what comes the easiest, especially when things are a little rough. I’ve written lyrics and poetry for quite a while now and I find when I have a problem lines start floating through my head. I am probably not going to be around much this week, so I’m leaving you all with this one.

It was written specifically for a story I’ve been working on, a variation on sleeping beauty. Publishing my poems here will not be the norm, but it seems to be the trend right now.

They say that we are tested

They said that faith will pull us through

They dance beside the bested

But who is there to stand for you

When Autumn winds are frosted

And winter skies more gray than blue

They gather round the caustic

But who is there to stand for you

And when they hold their hands out

And promise they will see this through

Suddenly there’s no friend about

And who is there to stand for you

So when the darkest nights come

And you alone insist you’re true

You’ll look around for no one

And only you will stand for you

For my love

(an anniversary poem for my wonderful husband)

There are brambles tearing at my skin

to be cleared away before we begin

I chose this path with you

I plan to see it through.

There are rocks and roots to twist my feet

And boggy marsh where waters meet

I chose this path with you

I plan to see it through

There are hills and mountains, cliffs and crags

Weary achy swollen legs

wild storms and pelting hail

and sometimes I think I might fail

but valleys lush and green prevail

and soft blue lakes that we just sail

I can break and I can heal

I can climb and I can kneel

and wait out storms for skies so blue

I chose this path with you

I plan to see it through

My Kids and my creativity

There have been several points in my life where keeping a regular writing schedule has been difficult. When I was working and finishing my degree and enjoying an active social life and playing in a band, writing every day was a challenge. When I was newlywed and working full time and restoring a beat up house and adjusting to caring for both a marriage and a house, I hardly wrote at all.

By far the biggest threat to my writing has been having children. This is not only because I cannot ask them to give me an hour or two to finish up a chapter I’m working on, or because any free time I have comes in spurts of 5 minutes to 3 hours and I never know which it will be, or even because when I get those free minutes I have to do annoying things like laundry and cook dinner so these little people have clothes and food.

It’s because caring for young children sometimes requires all the creative energy I have.

It’s a strange phenomenon that I noticed when I was pregnant with my daughter last year. I had evenings to write, uninterrupted as my son was old enough to go to bed at eight and sleep through the night. I started out strong and then *fwoop* I had nothing. The words wouldn’t write. The ideas wouldn’t come. My body, my brain and my creative energy was focused on one very important job and had nothing left over for creating fictional people.

When the baby came, it took a few months but the creativity came back and came back strong. The novel I’d started at the beginning of my pregnancy went from five chapters to thirty in two months. I started cleaning up old manuscripts. I started this fabulous venture you’re reading right now.

But just because that sweet girl wasn’t requiring my body to grow her anymore, doesn’t mean my mind and my creativity belong to me alone. I learned with my son, kids require pretty much everything you have sometimes. And that’s okay, but it can mean that every ounce of creativity you have it being poured into envisioning terrifying scenarios of worry for your little ones, or brainstorming ways to overcoming a problem or just keep them occupied, growing and thriving.

Because you have so little time alone, your mind doesn’t have the chance to work independently sometimes, especially if your time and energy is currently consumed with worries for your children. It really kind of wonderful when it’s not so frustrating. These beautiful little people inevitably make you stronger, smarter, more creative and more resilient, even if you feel like you’re failing and losing your mind while it’s all happening.

So what does this mean for me right now? I’m getting through. We’re getting through. It will all come back when I can settle my fears a bit.  And I think it will probably come back stronger, because we writers know our ideas don’t die.

When they are pushed into a dark closet they wait. They feed. They grow and change and if they are not let out, they will break down the door, screaming.

When your Muse is MIA

This week has been a rough one for me. I got some difficult news and some conflicts need to be addressed that I don’t feel like dealing with. For me, this equates to a lack of will to write. My motivation has crapped out and I have no ideas even if hadn’t. Normally this would mean I just took a week off (or however long it took), but I’m trying to clean up and launch a book. I also have a big problem with keeping momentum going and I know that if I let myself slack off too much, it will turn into a cycle of slacking.

So, to keep the ball rolling, I’m presenting you with my list. These things work for me. They work for other creators (artists, musicians, writers) and they might work for you if your muse has packed their bags and gone on vacation.

1. Make a playlist.
You know what music moves you. You know what songs get you right in the feels. Make a playlist of these songs and keep it running. When I’m in a mood like the one I’m in this week, it’s Nina Simone. At first I just brood to it, but then I start thinking of the piano rifts. Then I start to imagine it as a soundtrack to my life. Then I start to imagine it as a soundtrack to someone else’s life. Then I start to figure out just exactly why that life would be interesting.
Maybe your process won’t be the same as mine, but it’s likely it will provoke some sort of process.

2. Busy Work

There’s something that you are putting off doing. Spell checking. Rereading. Outlining. Something that doesn’t require a whole lotta imagination. Now is the time to do it. It’s possible this will get your brain gears spinning again as you revisit parts of your story for minor corrections, but even if it doesn’t, well, it had to be done anyway. At least you’re not wasting time.

3. Set your mind on the problem and take a walk

This works best for me with short term writing block issues. I wrote myself into a corner with “The Silent Apocalypse” a few months back. I didn’t know where to go. It sat and sat even though I really wanted to get on it with. I finally reread my last scene and asked myself where the hell is this going? Why am I having a problem moving on from here? Then I took a walk and mulled it over. By the time I got home, I knew exactly what the problems was and how to fix it. From that point on if I even had the slightest hang up, I would go outside and wander around my yard for a few minutes, thinking about it. The answer always presented itself and the first draft was finished in a matter of weeks.

4. Create something related

It doesn’t have to be something helpful, it doesn’t have to be something anyone else will ever see (or hear) but making something related to your project will help your mind recharge on the task at hand, without losing focus on the goal. Sometimes I map out imaginary countries. Sometimes I draw sketches of the characters or the costumes or scenes from the story. Once I wrote a song about a character and I’ve also written poetry about it. Even if you suck at everything but writing, it flexes the creative muscles and helps tide you over until the muse comes back.

5. Read. Read. Read

You’ve heard it before. Writers read. It’s given as advice because in order to write well you need to see what good writing looks like. What reading also does it refill depleted resources in a writers mind. Read in your genre. Read out of your genre. Just read something good. It will recharge you.

6. Talk it out.

You need a special kinda friend to pull this one off. Someone who doesn’t think you’re crazy for wanting to discuss imaginary people. Someone who has an active imagination of their own, or at least is an excellent problem solver. Some one discrete and supportive. Someone who isn’t going to get frustrated when they give you all their best ideas and you don’t take any of them.

No one will know how to fix your novel but you, however other people can give you snippets of ideas that you can use. When I was having a hard time figuring out how the vague clues I had sprinkled through a story were going to come together, my husband casually mentioned it reminded him a surfing. Bam! Everything came together. I’m not sure if he said anything else. I stopped listening then.

7. Watch a bad movie

Slightly less orthodox than reading a good novel, this one seems to work for me about 50% of the time when I am looking for a subject that excites me. I’m a fixer. There’s nothing more infuriating to me than a really decent premise that is ruined by really awful execution. So find that little nugget of raw gold in the heaping pile of poop, shine it up and make it yours.

8. Clean your space, clean you mind

This may not work for everybody. It doesn’t always work for me, but cleaning your house, your workspace, your files, whatever can help create a better environment, more conducive for good work. Some people find that a cluttered workspace distracts them from their work.

9. Fake it til you make it

If you have to absolutely keep writing (or you just really want to) just keep writing. There is a whole chapter in my novel “The Singing Cat” that is boring as hell. This is because I forced my way through it. When editing is completed it will probably be totally cut out. But, by pushing through I got to the next chapter, which is, in my humble opinion, the very best in the book. Rowing against the tide is hard, boring, depleting work, but it’s pretty much guaranteed to get you to the point where the the current takes your boat and leads you exactly where you want to be going.

Writing Horror: Elements of Terror

I have a question I’ve been asking people for a couple years, keeping the results stored away for a story that hasn’t formed its premise just yet. The question is this: What is the scariest thing ever?

Yes, this question lacks eloquence, but I’m just in the research phase right now. It’s direct, to the point and everyone has an answer.

Horror was my first love in literature. I adore fantasy and a great sci fi can leave me charged for weeks, but I’ve sought out horror since I was a very young child. I devoured books of “real life” ghost stories. I nagged my parents non-stop to let me watch scary movies (not slasher films that rely on gruesome kills and making you jump. I wanted supernatural). I read R.L. Stein and Christopher Pike and then I graduated to Stephen King when I was eleven. I read the Exorcist the summer between 7th and 8th grade. I always wanted more. I always wanted a better scare.

The desire hasn’t faded over the years. I hold, what I consider, an impossibly high standard for horror. It needs to profoundly disturb. It needs to avoid cheap scare ploys. It needs to end with some kind of hope, if not happily. I prefer a supernatural element as well, but there needs to be an explanation attached to.

So why do I seek out horror? Why do I want to be scared?

Because fictional horror is fear that is confined to a book or a movie. It can be closed. It can be turned off.

As a little girl I waited, terrified in the dark, bracing myself for attacks from the monsters under my bed. I never let my feet poke out from the bottoms of the blankets. I was sure that there was something waiting to get me. I was sure my parents were wrong when they told me that monsters were not real.

As an adult, I’m still not sure I believe that.

So what is your favorite horror story? and what is the scariest thing ever?

5 Fantasies that you need to read

I’m a little burnt out on editing. I may take the weekend off to do some reading. While I’m trying to select a fantasy to read, I’m mentally running down the books that stick out in my mind. There are some obvious choices, The Song of Fire and Ice Series, The Mists of Avalon, and The Lord of the Rings. But if you’re looking for something you may not have heard of, check out my list of five favorites below.

 5 Fantasies that you need to read:

The Last Unicorn

As a child I binge watched the 1982 movie and obsessed about unicorns. As an adult I got my hands on the book was was enchanted all over again. Beagle has an ethereal style that submerges you in the story of a Unicorn who seeks out the others of her kind and comes to learn of the human emotions she disdained. It’s beautiful. Read it.

The Bitterbynde Trilogy

Years after I finished this series I was compelled to email Cecilia Dart-Thornton and let her know just how her series moved me. The last page of the last novel had me sobbing in the back room of my short order cook job. The lovely woman wrote me back thanking me for the compliment. The series follows a mute protagonist who has been horrifically scarred as she navigates a dangerous world that has been abandoned by the fairies.

The Kingdom of Thorn and Bone Series

Greg Keyes doesn’t just create an entirely unique high fantasy world, but he bases it on one of the greatest mysteries in American history. What happened to the people of Roanoke, VA? Following various heroes (and one of the most awesome heroines I’ve come across in fantasy) as the world around them teeters on the edge of doom.
This series contains one of my favorite love quotes “Being with you is like being alone, but better.”

Of Bees and Mist

A very human story set in a world where magic is commonplace. Erick Setiawan introduces the mother of all evil mother in laws in this hauntingly realistic tale of family relationships.

The Bridge of Birds: A Novel of Ancient China that Never Was

A simple Chinese peasant sets out to save his town from a plague and inadvertently becomes tangled in a century long battle between Gods and monsters. Infused with as much humor as terror and love, the Bridge of Birds is a classic that needs to be read.

Query weary

Query writing started for me a lonFeatured imageg time before I started pitching novels. We had long boring courses on it in journalism school. And no matter how I worked at it, mine were always lacking. Ultimately it was the query writing, the pitching, the selling of my ideas that deterred me from fully pursuing a freelance writing career.

While I moved onto a full time graphic design career, I never stopped writing stories. I enjoyed writing articles but I loved writing fiction and a career as an author was always the dream. So, as manuscripts began to build up, I turned again to my old nemesis, the query letter. And I was still lacking.

I’ve never learned how to sell myself and, even when I had absolute faith in my work, I always held back, wanting it to speak for itself. Unfortunately, a the purpose of a query is to speak for your work. My personality flaws needed to be overcome.

So what makes a good query? Unfortunately, I’m still trying to work that one out. I’m an over sharer and a under seller. I’m an introverted performer. None of this makes for a good pitch. I’m pretty sure “Dear Agent, Please check out my work. Or don’t, you know. it’s cool” doesn’t make for a good sell.

One of the reasons I am self publishing is because I was burnt out on selling myself. I wanted to get my work out there so that I had something to back up my wild claims of brilliance when I’m ready to start looking at traditional publishing again. But today I got a request for a query. So its time to hit up the internet and start reading articles on how to craft the perfect query.

Anyone have any wisdom to share?

You want to write a book but you think it might suck

I hear it all the time.

“Oh, I’d really like to write a novel but I have no writing skill.”

“I have this great idea for a book but it would suck if I wrote it.”

“I should write about my life, but I can’t write.”

Not everyone has a compulsion to write a book, but many many people who do never write it because they are afraid it will suck.

Let me help you out here.

It will.

yes. Your first draft of your first novel has a 99.9% chance of sucking.

Now, you might be bristling or despairing, but what I really want is for you to feel liberated. Because it is okay to suck the first time you do something. Do you think DaVinci’s 5 year old doodle in the sand looked like the Mona Lisa? Do you think Shakespeare’s first poem compelled people to tears of joy?

Okay, maybe they did. They were masters, but I think not. Everything takes practice. Everything takes refining.

Here’s the good news. Just because that first draft sucks, doesn’t mean its trash. If you love it, you can save it. That’s the amazing thing about writing. In my opinion EVERY SINGLE BOOK can be saved. So if you’re leaning over that precipice, afraid that making that leap means you could destroy your brilliant idea for good, take a deep breath and tell yourself this

It’s okay to suck because you can only get better from there.

Start Simple:

A carpenter’s first project is not a Victorian style mahogany china cabinet with inlaid abalone. It’s probably just nailing a couple 2x4s together. Forget about complex subplots, multi-layers themes and epiphanies on the meaning of life and life. You have your idea for a story so find the simplest way to tell it.

Outline that sucker:

I am a terrible outliner. I am not a particularly organized writer. I currently have about 500 half finished novels. Do you see where I am going here? Outlines get you started. They keep you going. They carrying you through to the end. They’re also the first baby step toward writing the book. So, you’re a little nervous about the book? Just write the outline. It will allow you to work out exactly where your book is going and make the writing part alot less intimidating.

Don’t nitpick, just write:

Another problem of mine, I go back and start picking apart what I’ve already written before I’ve completed the novel. It took me almost five years to write my epic urban fantasy “The Singing Cat” because I kept picking. And then you know what happened when I finished it? I had to go back and rewrite it anyway. So just power through. Keep notes about things that need to change in revisions but get ‘er done!

So now it’s written and yes, it does indeed suck:

Go you! You wrote a freaking novel! Now edit, proofread, edit, rewrite. Rinse. Repeat. But

What it requires though is drive, work, courage, and most of all, your ego to take a hike. Even the very best writers do not write perfect first drafts and new writers are way more likely to be dealing with plot holes, adverb overload, character issues and a hole slew of other problems than someone who has been doing this for a while.

But that’s okay. Writing may be one of the few arts that you can continue to change until it’s perfect. Use your friends. Use author critiquing websites. Run a search for various editing programs available online. Go on Pinterest and look up every article you can on writing and editing. Check out my Pinterest board. I have a ton. And grab some of the writing humor memes too because they will assure you that every writer is struggling with the same feelings you are.

If you believe in your story, it can be saved. But first you have to write it.