Temptations to avoid when writing characters

trapped-1315903I’ve had a great time getting to know the characters in my SF novel. A plethora of minor characters run around in my story, but I have three main ones:

  • Bandonn FarPacer-Technology genius; while growing up, forced to fight a war on his home planet; escaped the war, and wants to be an agent for the Consortium to help disadvantaged cultures. Oh, and  he’s allergic to sex.
  • Durso RascaLion-Lothario; lives day-by-day; doesn’t care what anyone thinks. Has a quick temper, but his best friend, Bandonn, usually keeps him in check.
  • Edom CarpenTrail-Priestess for the Siron;  grew up lonely; rich parents ignored her; after a life of wicked living, she finds fulfillment in the spiritual and helping others.

Okay, that’s just the starting point for these three. They are all from the same home planet, but happen to work on the same luxurious galactic liner, a space ship on which passengers vacation.

I’m going to ignore plot points to avoid spoilers, and instead mention a few things I learned in character development. First, in early drafts, there wasn’t enough conflict between my three main characters.

The temptation was to have their friendships be too perfect.

Yeah, they’re friends, but even the best of friends have ups and downs. So, I threw a few wrenches into their friendships with each other. Bandonn, who’s allergic to sex, resents Durso’s constant womanizing; Durso gets sick of Edom’s proselytizing about the Siron and accuses her of being a rich ‘princess’; Edom finds herself jealous of Bandonn when he gets something she thinks she deserves. There’s more, but you get the idea.

Secondly, using subtext made my characters more interesting. Instead of coming out and naming and emotion, I would hint at it with actions and dialogue.

The temptation was to explain too much because I was afraid the reader wouldn’t ‘get it.’

Readers are smarter than you think. They don’t want to be insulted; they want to be kept on their toes. Instead of saying, “Edom was jealous of Bandonn.” I would show the unspoken emotions beneath the surface:

Bandonn woke up. The infirmary?

He saw Edom standing beside the bed. “Are we back on the ship?”

“Yes. You’re fine.”

He blinked a few times. The memories of what happened on Figuola sharpened. “Are you okay? Durso?”

“We’re fine.”

He saw his weaveglove sitting on the dresser next to the bed. He reached out. “Can you get my …”

She picked up his weaveglove and tossed it onto the top of the bed next to his leg.

He looked at her and tilted his head. “Are  you okay?”

“I’m fine.”

Writing characters this way so much more fun.

Thirdly, in my early drafts, I concentrated so much on Bandonn, the main protagonist. He had goals, wants and needs.

The temptation was to not give the other major characters goals, wants and needs.

Durso really lacked any purpose in the story except to be a foil for Bandonn’s problems. After rewriting, Durso gained more specific goals, wants and needs.

So, don’t give in to the temptations. Not only will your characters be more interesting, they will be more interesting to write.

Here are some recent articles on developing characters in your fiction:

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Reading Roundup for 2016

Here are most of the books I’ve read during 2016:

Classics

Contemporary Fiction

Drama

Graphic Novels

Rereads (these are all pretty much also Science Fiction & Fantasy)

Science Fiction & Fantasy Series

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Spiritual

Writing Instruction

Art Appreciation

Find my latest book on Amazon: Christ Simply, A Chronological Self-Guided Study through the Life of Christ.

Checklist for writing a scene

When it came to my novel, I honestly didn’t think I’d have to do that. But, here I am, the stage of my novel where I am going over each scene, and I am “killing my darlings.” I want to keep most of the scenes, but I have a criteria I go over that may tell me otherwise.

clapper-board-1420048I didn’t realize until I was a young adult that some scenes in a movie didn’t make it into the final cut. Today we have DVDs where we can see the parts of the movie the director cut and left on the editing room floor.

When it came to my novel, I honestly didn’t think I’d have to do that. But, here I am, the stage of my novel where I am going over each scene, and I  am “killing my darlings.” I want to keep most of the scenes, but I have a criteria I go over that may tell me otherwise.

If a scene doesn’t fit the criteria, slash. It’s gone.

I don’t actually trash the scene, I just put it in a folder called “unused material.”
  • Is it a scene or sequel?
    A scene has a goal, a conflict, and a disaster. A scene that is a sequel has reaction, dilemma, and a decision. Both are okay, but it’s good to know which is which. Read Randy Ingermanson’s article Writing the Perfect Scene for more details.
  • What is the conflict?
    If no conflict exists in the scene, either find a way to rewrite it into the story or cut it.
  • What is the purpose of this scene?
    A scene can have several purposes: introduce a character, build suspense, establish a mood, create a resolution, and on and on. If you can’t figure out the purpose of the scene, cut it.
  • Do you have a consistent point-of-view? Would the scene be improved by changing the point-of-view?
    I wrote some scenes from the viewpoint of my antagonist. However, I felt they were to “on-the-nose” so to speak. No subtext. So I rewrote the scenes from the viewpoint of another character in the same scene, and I felt the story became more effective. Why? Because it created suspense and mystery for my antagonist.
  • Are you using sub-text in the action and dialogue of the characters? Are you avoiding on-the-nose writing?
    Instead of telling what the characters are doing and saying, pay attention to what they’re NOT doing and saying. They may say one thing, but really mean another. It’s what is going on beneath the surface. Here’s a great article about using subtext.
  • Does your character do something surprising?
    Keep your readers on their toes by surprising them with your character’s reactions. In each scene, the character should do something unexpected.
  • What emotion is the character feeling at the beginning of the scene? Does he or she have a conflicting or contrasting emotion by the end of the scene?
    If the character is laughing and playing around at the beginning of the scene, is she pissed off at the end of the scene? May sure your characters express a range of feelings and moods throughout the scene.
  • Does your character have expectations at the beginning of the scene that contrast with  what happens during the scene?
    If your character is expecting to win a competition at the beginning of scene, show him or her losing. Or something else unexpected. Or maybe the character expects to lose and ends up winning by cheating or something else. Surprise the reader.
  • Are the characters only talking in this scene? If so, does it move the story along?
    Your scene may only be a conversation, but it better move the story along.
  • Does your scene have a beginning, middle and end? Does it seem like a mini-novel?
    If you consider them a mini-story, then you’re more likely to write stronger scenes. C.S. Lakin talks about scene structure in her article.

I have a file in my Scrivener document called “Tool Box.” It has several lists to use for keeping my novel in check. One of those tools is a Scene Checklist. I review a scene using all of the above criteria. I hope you find it helpful.

Fiction Writing Workshop: Action Scenes

kick-fighting-1528974

He extends his sword and then utters these words:

“My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die.”

The most memorable part of this fight scene are these words. But why?

To find the answer, I wanted to know more about writing effective fight and action scenes. My novel has several of these scenes, so I did some research to maximize their punch.

I found some great articles on the web and as I read them, I kept coming across some recurring themes.

  • Action scenes in books are different than action scenes in movies. A blow-by-blow fight between characters doesn’t come across as exciting on the page as it does on the screen. Describing every detail bores the reader.
  • Action scenes must further the plot. They should do this in both movies and books.
  • Action scenes must advance characterization. Why is the protagonist fighting? The fight, the action must relate to the character’s goals.
  • Action scenes should increase the suspense, the tension and up the odds. Writer John Rogers says, “… this is one of the reasons The Matrix still holds up, and the sequels are two of the most boring movies I have ever, ever, ever seen.” I have thought the same thing over and over since I saw those last two movies.
  • Action scenes should be unique and have interesting settings. One fight scene looks like another. An interesting setting can make it more memorable.

I also found some contradicting advice. Writer K.M. Weiland says:

“Make sure you use [dialogue] to your advantage by breaking up descriptions of action with story-advancing (and perhaps scintillatingly witty?) dialogue.”

While writer Alan Baxter says:

“There is no dialogue while fighting. It never goes like that. You don’t have time, although there may be a few sharp words but no conversation.

Remember Montoya’s famous piece of dialogue? It’s totally appropriate. It had been repeated throughout the story and when he finally finds his father’s actual killer, it’s thrilling. Also, he says it before the fight begins, so it serves as a war cry.

Both of the writers I just quoted suggest using short sentences and one or two word pieces of dialogue. Good advice for fight scenes.

Here are the excellent articles:

Writing exercises:

  • Comb through your story or novel and analyze each fight or action scene. Does it develop character? Does it advance the plot? Is dialogue used appropriately? Does it create suspense?
  • Find a favorite novel and go through it looking for action scenes. Do they work? Could you improve upon them?
  • Do more research and find more articles on writing action scenes. Do you see recurring advice? What other tips can you find for writing these scenes?

See other Fiction Writing Workshops from this blog.

Books on writing I read in 2015

Every year I try and read a couple of books on the writing craft. I know that’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but,  honestly, I love reading stuff on how to write fiction. Here is what I read in 2015:

2940151898539_p0_v3_s192x300Planning a Novel, Script or Memoir
by Hank Quense
Quense offers practical tips on how he writes his novels. What I want is something I haven’t heard before, and that’s what I got with this book. At the beginning, he suggests the reader to just take what he or she needs. Good advice. Not everyone thinks the same way, and, also, who wants to read the same thing over and over?

9780985780401_p0_v1_s192x300Structuring Your Novel
by K.M. Weiland
Weiland shows how to make the most of using the three-act structure as you write your novel. She has become sort of an online tutor/mentor to me because books like this one answer my questions about writing fiction.

51QhpMsap6L._UY250_Your Guide to Scrivener by Nicole Dionisio
Scrivener is a program to help writers organize their projects, both fiction and non-fiction. I can’t praise the software enough. There are dozens of books out there to show the writer how to use Scrivener, and I picked this by Nicole Dionisio. I admit I selected because it was the cheapest ebook on the subject I could find. But it’s all okay, because she did a great job and the book is short, so you can learn Scrivener quickly.

Quense tells how he writes his books and doesn’t apologize for it

Here is my review of Hank Quense’s Planning a Novel, Script or Memoir as it appears in Goodreads and Amazon:

I’ve read many books on writing fiction and after a while I see the same theories and best practices over and over. This is not necessarily a bad thing because a reminder is always helpful. However, when I come across some new best practices for writing a novel, I feel like I’m getting the most out of my time and money spent.

2940151898539_p0_v3_s192x300In his Planning a Novel, Script or Memoir, which is part of his Fiction Writing Series, Quense offers practical tips on how he writes his novels. That’s what I want—something I haven’t heard before, and that’s what I got with this book. At the beginning, he suggests the reader to just take what he or she needs.  Good advice. Not everyone thinks the same way, and, also, who wants to read the same thing over and over? Quense’s recommendation to use Scrivener, his practice of mind-mapping, and the idea of a plot cloud gave me some new techniques to incorporate into my writing disciplines. Of course, he also touches on fiction elements I’ve read elsewhere, but his succinct style on concepts like  “character arc” proved to be a great review and motivator.

So if you are looking for some fresh ideas on writing fiction, I recommend this book. He includes lots of resources in the Appendices. The reader may or may not decide to use Quense’s ideas, especially if the person prefers to write without planning, but as he says about his mind-mapping technique, “Ultimately, you have to decide whether to use this method or not.”

I’m definitely going to check out his other books in the series.

Whoa, an epiphany in writing dialogue

116564_6429In one of my favorite books on graphic design, The Non-Designer’s Design Book, Robin Williams presents the concept of being able to name something so that you can own it. A person may recognize good design in a poster or a brochure, but not be able to know why it’s good design. In her book, she claims to present four basic design elements to master–contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximity–so that a potential graphic designer will understand why an item has good design.

The same thing sort of just happened to me when it comes to writing dialogue.

Author K.M. Weiland recently posted an article on her blog, Get Rid of On-the-Nose Dialogue Once and For All. In this article she presents three ways to make boring and obvious dialogue more interesting by including subtext, irony and silence. I already knew about these methods, but Weiland presented them in a simple way and even used one of my favorite–if subtle- scenes from the movie Gladiator as an example. Now I feel like I can own these methods when writing dialogue for my own fiction and point out when they are and aren’t being used in novels I am reading.

Weiland has great resources for honing your fiction writing skills. Check out her website for writers.