It’s not enough to create a character. You need to know them.

I’m on a new project, a return to dark horror, and by dark I mean really dark. It’s actually been giving me nightmares when I go to bed after writing.

But I hit a roadblock a few nights ago, after a big scene, because I wasn’t sure what my character would do.

I knew what he should do. I knew what I wanted him to do, but I wasn’t sure what he, as an independent entity, would do.

In other words, although I created him, dropped him in the hellscape he is currently trying to navigate and  pretty much ruined his life, I barely know the guy.

I know his backstory. It pretty rough. It lead him to be the self destructive, morally lacking alcoholic he is today. But self destructive, morally lacking alcoholic is not who he is, at the core. And it doesn’t help me figure out what he would do at his first cross roads or how he’s going to lead me to the story’s end.

So I had to take time off the draft and get to know him. Take him out for coffee, climb into his brain, put him through numerous tests and questionnaires to determine just what makes Mr. Raff Winston tick. I had to ask him, flat out, “Hey Raff, I know you’ve been through some shit, but why did that lead you to become a self destructive, morally lacking alcoholic? And why don’t you have any desire to change that?”

It took a while, all night really because Raff isn’t much for opening up. But it all came out eventually and then the story started to flow again. The options narrowed and Raff’s fate started to come into focus.

It’s not enough to just stick a character on a page and force him through the maze of your plot. You need to be him, you need to live in his head while you are writing the story. The decisions you make for him are his decisions, not those of a removed writer-deity who is trying to manipulate the situation to go where they want it to go.

There are alot of great character building articles on my Pinterest writing board, but I recomend The 5 Absolute Dimensions of Character Personality for some very deep and direct insight into who your character is as well as a Myers-Briggs Test for a personality profile that presents a wide scope of individual types and what drives them.

How do you character build? What are some points you need to nail down to get to know your characters?

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Tell me what is wrong.

When we writers start out, we really just want to hear how good we are. If we don’t hear it enough, sometimes we quit. If we don’t quit, then our mindset starts to shift.

At some point, you’re going to love hearing that people love your story, but what you are going to be looking for, at least before it’s published, is why they don’t love it.

Some of the feedback you get might be useless. Your beta reader just doesn’t like the genre. I am constantly teasing a crit partner that I wish he’d give me one happy ending.

But when you really want to make your novel work, when you decide that you want to see it on the shelves of a bookstore or listed with Amazon, you’re going to have to go out searching for the people who are going to give you real criticism.

Here is my book. Tell me what’s wrong.

The first couple times might sting a little. When you think you’ve nailed a character only to find out that readers do not like her. When you’re beautifully crafted backstory is seen as drawn out and boring. When a cool style you tried out is too jarring.

But if you keep going, if you keep pushing, if you keep revising, your going to get there.

Tell me what is wrong.

And when they tell you, it won’t hurt. It will get the wheels in your head spinning. The pieces will start to fall into place and you will see how this flaw is affecting your story, holding it back from being its best.

Neil Gaiman said “When people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right.When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”

You know your story. You know the way it moves, the way it flows and where it needs to go. You know the hearts and minds of your characters. You might not know what is wrong, but you know what to do when you find out.

If you are at the point where you are excited to find out what is wrong with your work, you know that you are on the way to making your work right.

 

Let the success of others be an inspiration, not a discouragement

There’s a woman I know. She’s living the dream. She just landed the job of a lifetime and she is thriving. It blends perfectly with her life as a mom, allowing her to move up in her household income and she is pretty much walking on air.

I can see her posts and seethe. Why does she get to have it all? Why am I not there yet? If she’s made it and I haven’t, maybe I should just give up.

I don’t.

In the past, I might have. In the past when I thought life was happening to me, instead of being what I made it.

When I see her posts, I feel my heart swell. She is a wonderful woman and she has struggled, but neither of those things really matter. What matters is that she is full of joy. She is making it.

And so can I.

There are agents and publishers I follow on twitter, constantly announcing new clients, new publications, new successes. It would be easy for me to say “Why not me?! I’ll never be there!”

But every one of those authors spent time in the trenches. Every one of them struggled with their craft. And every one of them deserves to be walking on air.

I am proud of them. I am honored to hear about their success. I am rooting for them, each and every one. If they can do it, so can I.

Success is not a limited resource. It is there for all of us, every single person who is brave enough to keep striving for their dreams. It might take a while, but if you want it, keep your eye on the prize. View the success of those around you as proof that it is attainable and it will be yours.

Have a great weekend.

5 Writing Resources to check out

I am burning the midnight oil on a dark paranormal horror piece I have rediscovered my inspiration for, but I’m finding every blog article I write I am losing my flow half way through. So I’m going to take it easy this week, but I did want to leave you with a few articles and websites I have run across that have been very helpful to me.

  1. The Liars Club

Articles on writing, editing, and the publishing business by people in the business.

2. 50 Best first sentences in Fiction

3. One Weird Trick That Makes a Novel Addictive

Article on a method women commonly use in writing fiction that can strengthen any story.

4. The Character Most Writers Get Wrong (And How to Fix It)

How to break free of a typical villain mold and get into the complex mind of the people we write as evil.

5. Mythcreants

This blog has a diverse library of articles for fantasy and sci-fi writers encompassing detailed breakdowns of what doesn’t work in published writing, character profiles, and a wealth of information you didn’t know you needed to know.

Got some resources to share? Leave a note! Happy writing.

Unlucky 13? An Ancient Smear campaign

It’s Friday the 13th! Hide under your beds! Lock your black cat in the basement and stay away from mirrors! Don’t step on any cracks, walk under any ladders, or say Bloody Mary three times in the mirror because… because why?

Thirteen is unlucky!

Why?

Umm…

Well, I’ve heard it’s unlucky because Judas was he thirteenth guest at the last supper. Of course, this would also mean that pretty much anywhere Jesus went with his apostles he was traveling in a group of thirteen.

And the Knights of Templar were slaughtered on Friday the thirteenth.

Who are the knights of Templar?

Umm… a group of French Christian mystics who fought in the crusades and the early fathers of the Freemasons. So that’s interesting…

So what is the actual deal with the number 13? Obviously it’s steeped in our culture that it’s bad. Like so bad we don’t acknowledge the 13th floor of tall buildings. 11, 12, 14, 15… Wait, isn’t the 14th floor really the 13th flo- Nope! Nothing to see here! Thirteen ceases to exist if we don’t acknowledge it!

Hollywood certainly likes to play up evil Thirteen. Satanism, Supernatural, and those damned wicked witches.

Ahh, Witches, yeah. That’s why 13 is unlucky. Because of the witches. They like 13 stuff.

Would you care to elaborate hypothetical imaginary person I am channeling through my blog?

Well- they do thirteen stuff all the time, right?

Why?

Why 13? Why would witches be all about 13?

Back in college I had an awesome professor who pretty much took my brain out of my head, pulled out a bunch of preconceived notions and opened up alot of space for seeing things a different way. One of my favorite lectures was on the number 13. He wrote the number on the board and leaned in, speaking in the low, conspiratorial way that made the entire class lean in and listen.

And he lead us down the same trail I just laid out for you, until we landed on witches.

Now, when we get to the subject of witches, it is important to separate fact from fiction. Fictional witches are terrifying, selling their souls to the devil, sucking the breath out of children, cursing good people with plagues and misfortune. Do people actually do that? I dunno. Maybe some, but i hardly think such evil intentions are solely bestowed upon a group of cackling women hiding in the woods.

Actual witches were pagans. And before you get nervous with that term, the word pagan literally meant uneducated hick. People who were unaware of The Church, who practiced the religions of their culture before the Roman Empire conquered their land and Christianity was introduced. Small village people no one really cared much about, until they wanted them to convert.

They weren’t considered evil. Not initially at least. Just uneducated, stuck in their old ways, misguided.

And they practiced old religions which were bizarre and backwards to the very sophisticated Romans who slaughter cows for luck and visited the vestal virgins for oracle readings until around 312 AD.

But as Christianity spread to be the norm, many pagan beliefs were either assimilated or stomped out. Yule Logs? Easter Bunnies? Oh yeah, we can make them part of our holidays.

Medicine, wise women? Oh no no no no. In Roman based patriarchy women having that kind of secret knowledge did not fly. Hence, the birth of the witch. The woman who would brew a tea for a nasty cold, use herbs to assist childbirth, bury the placenta so that animals wouldn’t be drawn to the house where the new baby was. That woman has unnatural knowledge.

And in times of chaos, war, famine, plague, these ladies who practiced this ancient wisdom of healing were the first to blame. As you know, the blame spread outwards into mass hysteria and women from all backgrounds were being accused of witchcraft and burned.

Pretty horrific. But what does that have to do with this unlucky number 13? The Devils number, right?

Well now, lets look at the calendar. The Roman Calendar is made up of 12 months. The solar calendar, based on Ra the Sun God. ( i could go off on a tangent here, but I will spare you). It is the calendar we use today. We like our calendar.

But there is another calendar in use all over the world. The lunar calendar. Used today by many Asian cultures, it is a very efficient calendar because every month has 28 days. None of this Thirty days has September, April, June, and November. All the rest have thirty-one,Except for February alone.. junk. Because it is based on the cycle of the moon. 28 days between each cycle. Thirteen months in a year.

Okay, so thirteen months, so?

Sooooo….. (we’ve finally reached my point, I’m drawing it out because it’s so exciting!!!)

The Sun has always been associated with masculinity in pagan cultures, like our buddy Ra. Egyptians, Druids, Celts, to name a few, and the Moon with Femininity. For a very good reason. The typical fertility cycle of a women is 28 days. The moon was used to track pregnancies and ovulation.

The dark and mysterious moon, a symbol of feminine power. Dark and mysterious feminine power, peaking thirteen times a month, considered sacred by more matriarchy based religions.

So, my friends, thirteen became known as the evil number, the unlucky number of witches and witchcraft because feminine power, over anything at all including themselves, was just not cool.

Not cool at all.

Happy Friday the 13th. Enjoy the full moon tonight.

Please share your thoughts below! I’d love to hear from you!

Talking about myself

I have no problem weaving my opinions and past experience into my writing here. I’m sure you’ve noticed, but when the subject is me, as in writing a bio or discussing myself as a writer (or as a Lindsey) with someone in person, I kinda clam up.

Going through out my day, I have many brilliant thoughts and many stupid ones, more than a few that are just bizarre (this is why I write I think) and I would generally say I like what’s going on in my head and think it’s a pretty interesting place to be.

But if someone asks me to tell them about myself, suddenly I forget all the things I would normally share in an organic back and forth conversation.

“So Lindsey, tell me about yourself.

“Um… I like pasta?”

It actually has made for some really awkward conversations and I’m not quite sure what my problem is.

So, writing a bio for the blog or for queries or really any other professional related venture is a constant work in progress and source of frustration.

I tried asking my mom to write my bio for me. It was very nice, but very much sounded like something a mom would write about her daughter.

“Lindsey is a beautiful and talented woman with a creative mind….”

Flattering, sure, but I’m not really feeling it. Although, thank you, Mom.

I’ve read other author’s bios and they are hysterical or extremely polished. And I’m jealous. I like to consider myself kinda funny, at least in a geeky, awkward and unexpected way, but funny in my work and my conversation flows naturally. If I’m try, the geeky and unexpected drop away, leaving only the awkward with a big dollop of contrived heaped on top.

I can go on and on, breaking down the characters of my favorite books and shows, but giving a short summary of myself? Well, put on the spot, all I can remember about myself if that I like pasta. I like some things. I’m pretty tall.

So, please tell me, how do you write your bios? What are some tips you can share?

Do you enjoy pasta as much as I do?

Plot comes first

Writers are explorers. Explorers of the mind, explorers of the world, the universe, the alternate universes. Chasers of What ifs and How could this be. And it is really pretty excellent. But sometimes we get so lost in our explorations on paper, that we forget we are there to tell a story.

Have you ever had a conversation with a friend who wanted to tell you something that happened, but kept getting distracted with details? It went something like this:

Oh, I need to tell you about Saturday night! I was out with Kim, you remember Kim, right? She’s the one who went sky diving? Yeah, i know sky diving scares the hell out of me. She went with John and Laura. They asked me to go, but i was like, no way. But I might go bungee jumping if they ever do that again. You want to come with me? Oh cool. My brother went last year and he loved it. He went while he was on that business trip in Maui. Yeah, Seriously. Why doesn’t my job send me on business trips to Maui? I only ever get to go to Scanton. Although, they were talking about the conference in Vegas next year, so fingers crossed.

Oh, yeah, so anyway, Saturday…

I admit, I am guilty of this. In a back and forth exchange, I have so many trails to follow, I tend to run down all of them.

But reading my meander toward a point is not so easy when my path is all over the place.

And the same goes for writing.

Early on in my work, I loved to explore subplots, quirky backstories for secondary characters, set the scene with interesting facts that I’d dug up.

My manuscripts would take forever to finish and when they were done, they were drawn out, confusing and sorta dull.

No one cared about the quirky backstories, though I loathed to cut them. People fell asleep at my extensively researched description of the history of the Jersey boardwalk.

I remember one, first chapter scene, where I described how every character there made their taco, thinking this was a brilliant little detail that showed something important about them.

But it wasn’t a little detail. Describing how four characters make their tacos took two paragraphs.

Two paragraphs too much, as it turns out, because no one actually cares about characters they just met and how they like their tacos. They want to know why they should care about them, if they should care about them (since three of the characters never made it past the second chapter, the answer was not really) and what the hell they are doing.

The plot. That is what a reader cares about first. How you share they plot makes all the difference, but a story that is more details than plot is a story that people will not stick with.

Imagine the conversation about Saturday night was actually a story entitled “Saturday Night”. If the first two chapters were filled with details about Kim and sky diving and business trips to Maui and Scranton, would you keep reading? What the hell happened Saturday night? And what do any of these people or these details have to do with it?

Now instead, imagine it went something like this.

Saturday night the narrator and Kim went into the city with plans to walk along Broadway and grab a meal. The first place they went to had a long line and then the kitchen caught on fire. Narrator was so freaked out that she wanted to go home but as they tried to catch a cab they found a new restaurant that looked interesting and went inside, surprised that they were seated immediately during the dinner rush. While they discussed Kim’s latest sky diving experience, which the narrator had opted out of joining, Bruce Willis was seated at the table beside them. They asked for a picture with him and he got irritated.

They apologized and bought him a drink. He laughed and they got to talking to him and he offered them his tickets to Hamilton, that night.

On the way to the show Kim fell in a puddle, and her outfit was covered in mud. They almost called it quits but a stranger gives her a towel and Kim sorta cleans herself off decided to just go with it.

They went to the show and during intermission they met the actor playing the lead. He thought Kim’s muddy outfit was so funny invited them backstage after the show where they me the cast, drank IPAs with the crew and the narrator, who’s been unhappy at her job for a long time, met a set designer who asked her to interview for a new position.

More interesting that going on and on about the random events in other peoples lives?

Details are important. Details flesh out the story. But the story is the point of it all. If you find that you have wandered off the path too many times or in too many different directions in your manuscript, try nailing down the driving action in short sentences.

Kim and Narrator go to Broadway.

Fire at restaurant compels them to find new restaurant

Meet Bruce Willis

Get Hamilton tickets

Kim falls in mud.

Kind stranger gives her a towel

Meet the lead of show

Invited back stage

Narrator offered interview for dream job

Each event leads to the next, which leads to the resolution. The rest is just filler.

Thoughts? Ideas? Primal Scream? (this is what my freshman English Prof used to say at the end of every class. There’s a random detail for you)

One Year Ago: David Bowie; a character who created himself

Today is the Anniversary of David Bowie’s death. Through out this past year, he has continued to inspire me. Still miss you Mr. Bowie.

L.C.W. Allingham

Today I awoke to the news. I usually am not too affected by celebrity deaths but the loss of David Bowie affected me profoundly. As a child, he introduced me to the concept of sex appeal as Jareth the Goblin King, as a teenager he provided me with a safe retreat for my own weird thoughts. In college he charged me with rock and roll and later inspired my own music and writing.

He has been a dear friend to me without ever knowing me. A man so cool we could believe he was an alien, a goblin king, a tragic hero, a vampire, strange aristocracy.

He changed his image frequently and perfectly, settling at last as the rock and roll and fashion icon he’d been all along. All of his incarnations had their own story, a hero or a villain or something in between of books we never read…

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20 ways to have a good writing day (when you’re not really writing)

When I wasn’t writing, I was still working. And I still had some great days as a writer.

Part of it was not freaking out about my lack of inspired fiction writing like I have in the past. I seem to always sort of hit a lull in October/November (Damn your timing NaNoWriMo!) and it picks up again in the late winter, early spring. I also have dealt with a little bit of trauma this year and I had to rebuild the creative reserves I needed to use for that.

So, for your benefit, here are some ways to have a good writing day that don’t require much writing at all.

  1. Your twitter writing hashtag contribution gets more favorites that usual.
  2. You got a query out
  3. You read an awesome book that inspired you.
  4. You read a terrible book and knew you could write something better.
  5. You figured out how to fix a problem scene while taking a walk.
  6. Your hilarious facebook status got 25 likes.
  7. You got a verbal compliment on your writing.
  8. You met another awesome writer.
  9. You read an article that gave you some insight on improving your work.
  10. You got an agent or publisher favorite in a twitter pitch party.
  11. You realized you just love writing and you’re going to keep at it no matter what.
  12. You composed a haiku about sloppy joes that is pretty brilliant.
  13. You gave another writer a sincere compliment on their work.
  14. You started to call yourself a writer instead of an aspiring writer.
  15. You got a request to read your work.
  16. You determined the perfect wine for writing horror.
  17. You got a great idea for a new story.
  18. You helped another writer out.
  19. You found the perfect place to submit.
  20. You decided you got this, no matter how much work it takes, how much time it takes, you’re gonna make it.

Go you.