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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Harmon’s Plot Embryo: A Writer’s Tool for both Outlining and Evaluating

I admit it: I just started watching Community. Yes, I know. Better late than never. I kept hearing how great the show was, but never got around to following it. Well, now, thanks to Hulu, I can binge watch while I’m cleaning house or laundry or whatever.

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Lately, though, I’ve been hearing about this “Plot Embryo” for writers developed by Dan Harmon, creator of Community. There are many ways to plot a novel. This Plot Embryo simplifies the process more than any other method I’ve seen.

Not only is it a way to outline a novel, but–if the writer has already written a draft or two of it–it’s an excellent tool for evaluating what has already been written.

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Writer Rachael Stephen talks about Harmon’s Plot Embryo in her writing YouTube series. She breaks it down several different ways and also talks about the source material for the Plot Embryo.

Here are some more resources to learn about the Plot Embryo:

I plan to use the Plot Embryo up against my novel in progress to see how it fares.

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

What are the most important scenes in a novel?

theatre-1459597To overcome feeling overwhelmed by finishing your novel, a writer might want to keep these writing principles in mind:

  • She doesn’t have to write chronologically.
  • She can write her most important scenes first and then fill in the blanks.

Now, if she has planned your novel with some kind of outline, then these principles become even easier.

So the question is, what are the most important scenes in a novel?

This doesn’t mean some scenes are less necessary than others. In the final draft, all the scenes should be necessary and move the story along. A post from C.S. Lakin’s blog called The First Ten Scenes You Need to Plot for your Novel offers a list of scenes on which the writer should focus.

I concentrated on finishing these scenes and now I am writing the final draft of the “in-between” stuff. If you get stuck in your writing, jump ahead work on the The Midpoint scene. This is the scene, roughly 50% of the way through your story, where the character asks whether or not she wants to continue. She questions who she is. She decides to go on, or maybe decides to take a different tactic. Then write backwards from that scene, or write forwards.

Here is what the writer should remember: if she gets stuck writing the novel chronologically, she can jump around and write one of the scenes listed in Lakin’s article.

There’s no rule against doing that.

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.

Four quick reads on writing

When I was on vacation earlier this month, I read some e-books on writing. Even though these gems were inexpensive and quick, they provided me with some valuable lessons to apply to my writing craft.

Here they are:

  • 2940045351874_p0_v2_s192x300Self-publishing a Book
    By Hank Quense
    Quense has a great series on self-publishing and this is the second one I’ve read. He’s great about explaining why he does it the way he does, but let’s the reader know everyone needs to self-publish the way that is best for himself. Good advice on what publisher to use. I will be coming back to this book as a reference.
  • 2K to 10K: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love
    2940152280371_p0_v1_s192x300By Rachel Aaron
    I loved Aaron’s Eli Monpress series and I can’t wait to read more of her stuff. She gives advice on how to increase the amount of writing that gets done during a writing session by applying her triangle of knowledge, time and enthusiasm. Now, if that sounds vague, she does get specific about what they mean in this book.
  • Writing from the Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pantsers and Everyone In Between
    By James Scott Bell
    9780910355117_p0_v1_s192x300I love Kill Zone, a blog for which Bell contributes as part of a community of writers. This book provided a fascinating piece of advice about character development for novel writing: the “Mirror Moment.” Once again, it’s something I knew already, but didn’t know I knew. This quick read will change the way you plan your novel–and it’s easy to apply to a draft you’ve already started.
  • Scrivener Superpowers: How to Use Cutting-Edge Software to Energize Your Creative Writing Process
    By M.G. Herron
    2940157649920_p0_v1_s192x300I already read several books on Scrivener when I first learned to use it. The difference between those books (although they were wonderful and helpful) and this one is that Scrivener Superpowers gets into the nitty-gritty of not just learning to use it, but how to use is as a writer. His No-Nonsense Novel Template is also great.

So if you’re looking for some quick lessons for improving your fiction writing with maximum impact, you should check these books out. I highly recommend them.

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.

The Final Quarter

football-1437517I am down to the last 25% of the current draft of my novel which I’m now calling Ziggurat Reach. Whether that is a working title or a final title, I don’t know.

I know what is happening in the last part of my novel. I am building up to the story’s climax and all the characters have finally gathering to one place–the ziggurat, in case you’re wondering– and a lot of things are about to happen.

Here are some thoughts on what I’m trying to accomplish and how I’m feeling as I’m writing this week:

  • Each character has a goal he or she is in the process of fulfilling, and I’m figuring out ways the goals will be finalized in this last quarter.
  • K.M. Weiland has said she wrote more than one version of the climactic scene. I think I may do that.
  • Scrivener has been a godsend in motivating me to get moving on this novel.
  • In my next draft, I have a whole new subplot I’ll be writing. At this point, it’s outlined in Scrivener, but I’ll be composing first drafts for those scenes after I finish this draft.
  • Saving up to buy some ISBN numbers. Deciding whether to break the story down into four mini-novel episodes. The first one would be free. I would also offer the novel as a whole for a cheaper price than buying the three remaining mini-novel episodes.
  • Still deciding whether to use Smashwords or Amazon or both (at different times).

Well, tonight I’ll be toiling away on novel. Maybe I’ll go to my favorite coffee shop, Heine Brothers in Northfield area of my city, Louisville, Kentucky.