April 28, 2017

10 Flaws to Give Your Characters

At the same time, I don’t like reading about people who always make the wrong choices. It’s a tough balance for writers. We must make our characters human. That means they must have flaws. And, those flaws must be different from one character to the next. If they all have the same flaws, well, that just wouldn’t work.

When writing about your character and developing your character bio, think about these questions:

  1. What would my character’s friends say are his/her strengths. The things she/he does best.
  2. What would my character’s friends say that drive them crazy about my character?

In looking at those questions, you can begin to create a well-rounded character. The choices they make are not simply designed to push the plot along, but also designed to fit that particular character. For example if you have a decisive, aggressive character, you cannot allow that character face a difficult decision and not take action. You can’t put off the action because it’s better for the plot. It’s not likely the character would do that. My editor is great at flagging these things. I sometimes get a note that says, “I can’t see Jenna doing this?” or “This doesn’t sound like something Jenna would say.” Oops. I got caught.

So what are some personality flaws you might want to incorporate in your characters?

  • The character is messy. Or the reverse, the character is a neatnik. Either way, you must be consistent. A neatnik character might pick up clothing tossed around at a crime scene even though that character knows they shouldn’t touch anything. Just couldn’t help themselves and then they had to explain that behavior to the police.
  • The character is always hungry. This character is constantly thinking about food and never misses a meal. Such a character is fun because right in the middle of a chase scene, he or she might think, “I’m starving.” or “If I don’t get away soon, I’ll miss lunch.”
  • The character is lazy or the character is an exercise nut. My character is not lazy, but she has to be forced to exercise. Her best friend, however, is an exercise nut, and he’s always after her to go for a run.
  • The character runs off at the mouth. Talks all the time and that gets her/him in trouble. This requires a lot of skill as a writer. The dialogue flows but endlessly. You must be careful not to bore the reader. Use sparingly but show it enough to remind the reader of this flaw.
  • The character is a scaredy cat. This is a fun trait for an amateur sleuth. They get in bad scrapes and want to be anywhere else. Or they fuss and complain before ever embarking on the “scrape.”
  • The character makes bad jokes. This is another one that’s hard to write, at least for me. But, remember, if you have one character doing this, you can’t give the trait to others.
  • The character forgets people’s names.
  • The character is overly polite or overly impolite.
  • The character is afraid of dogs.
  • The character is always running late.

These are just a few flaws you can incorporate in your characters. There are many more.

Take a look at this book trailer. Janie and Marlene in The Clock Strikes Midnight are fraught with flaws.

The Challenge and the Fun of Writing about Murder

Everyone writers meet advise them to “write what they know.” If writers did that, there wouldn’t be many books out there. As writers, we must go beyond what we know, but we must also base our writing on fact. Even fantasy writers must stay within the realm of believability.

Have I ever seen a murder? Has anyone in my family experienced murder? Have I personally killed anyone? The answers to all those questions are NO! So, how can I writer about murder?

One answer is that most of us think a lot about murder.

When that guy cuts you off and runs you off the road, don’t you think about murder? When a friend betrays you, maybe sleeps with your spouse or does something nasty to one of your children, don’t you think about murder? We often say, “I’m gonna kill that guy.” But we don’t do it. If we killed someone every time we thought about doing so, we’d probably have lots of dead bodies around us.

We think about what actually drives someone to kill someone else. All those little instances above probably wouldn’t drive us to kill. So, what does? Motivation to kill is a big part of writing a mystery. Our creative minds play with the all important, why.

But, we must also imagine the investigation after the murder. Again, not being privy to many murders, myself, how can I learn more about the investigation? I want my books to ring true. That means I must research. I must talk to homicide detectives and to medical examiners. I must learn the steps. I chose an amateur sleuth for my mystery series. I did that because if she makes mistakes regarding the investigation, it’s understandable. She shouldn’t be sticking her nose in things anyway, right?

Furthermore, the mystery must have some mystery. So, we not only have to understand motive and research the investigation, we must create scenarios that are clothed in mystery and intrigue. If everything is too obvious, what’s the point of reading? Real life murder is often more cut and dried. The husband killed the wife in a fit of anger. Or, the drug addict son killed the father. But, our mysteries must have more hidden agendas and clandestine circumstances.

All these factors make writing mysteries a challenge, but it can also be great fun. Anything challenging is worth doing, right?

What have you enjoyed from the mysteries you’ve read? Do you like knowing the killer, but not knowing how he’s caught? Or, do you prefer mysteries where the killer isn’t revealed until the end? Tell me more about the mysteries you like.

Here is a short video in which I talk about the Challenges and Fun about writing about Murder.

The Painful Truth: You Must Revise This!

This month’s topic in #Inkripples has to do with Revisions. I’ve suggested some tips to writers. See what the other writers in Inkripples toss into the pond. Take a look at the ripples… Add your own… Mary Waibel’s World at Katie Carroll Observation Desk and at Kai Strand’s blog.

Don’t you hate people who say they never revise their work? That it’s perfect the first time around? Whether a writer, sculptor, or painter revisions are a part of our lives. We are constantly revising who we are and our work. No one is perfect the first time around. And when I hear people say they never have to revise, I simply don’t believe them. PS even Michelangelo revised his work!

  1. Be ready to make changes. If you send your completed manuscript out to your agent or editor and they say, “This is a great book, but it needs to be told in the first person, not the third person,” don’t panic. Don’t rebel. Let the suggestion sink it. Try it out with other opinions. And, if it makes sense to you, bite the bullet and do it.
  2. You don’t have to do everything people say. Indeed revisions are a part of our writing world, but if you try and make everyone happy, you’ll end up making no one happy. Be discerning on what you decide to revise and why.
  3. Be willing to make big changes. Sometimes the first edition of a book doesn’t work and you don’t know why. Here’s an example: When I wrote The Clock Strikes Midnight, the first version was totally different than the final book. I had an editor tell me that the story was either a YA book or it must be told from another point of view. My point of view character was 15 years old–the definition of a YA book. My choices were to change the story to fit a YA audience or reframe the book from an older point of view. Either way would have been a major revision. I agonized over the decision. After a few weeks, I decided to give the second option a try. I completely reframed the book. Guess what? It worked and it not only got published but has also since won several awards.
  4. When you finish a book, let it go. After you’ve revised and refined and tweaked, put it away. I had an artist tell me that if she worked too long on a painting, she’d ruin it. We have to know when to stop!
  5. I’ve heard people suggest start in the middle. Now, I’ve never done this, but I can see where it might work for some manuscripts. When you are struggling with the beginning–perhaps you have too much backstory or you can’t quite pull off the hook, maybe put all that aside and start in the middle.

There’s nothing wrong with making revisions. What we have to recognize is our work is fluid. Changes are possible and some changes might even make us better writers. The pain of hearing you still have lots of work to do when you’ve decided your work is finished hurts. It hurts a lot. But my suggestion is get over it and start working! You’ll be glad you did.

Happy writing and happy revising!

 

The Perils of Self-Editing

Clearly while I’m composing or creating my story, I avoid the editing trap. I prefer to wait until I’m finished before going back and doing the work of editing, revising, correcting. Nonetheless, to get into the story before I work, I must read the last little bit I’ve written. When I do that, I’m often amazed at the number of mistakes I find. Silly little typos. Words left out. What a mess, I say to myself.

When the end comes, I begin the process of self-editing. Here is where I catch all those annoying little mistakes. Or, at least, I hope I do so. The problem is when one is creating, one’s mind is in a very different place. Furthermore, my mind thinks a lot faster than I can type. So I’m way ahead of myself. Hence, words missing. How can one write a chase scene slowly? I can’t. My fingers fly across the page with my hero or heroine. Even so, when I go back and begin catching errors, I also do a lot of re-writing. I have to fix scenes, insert information, delete events, shift things around. I, thereby, get caught with my fingers back on the keyboard where they threaten to make more little pesky mistakes. It’s an endless cycle.

That’s the price we pay for self-editing. Of course, we all must do it. Who is the best person to go back and clean up a first draft? The author, of course. It’s our job. We are the ones who know the story better than anyone else.

By the way, if you catch errors in my blog posts, please be kind.

Do the all the self-editing you can and then turn the manuscript over to an outside reader.

My first reader is someone not charged with finding typos or little errors. That reader is asked the big questions: 1) How do you feel about the characters? Are they sufficiently different? 2) Does the plot flow. Are there any inconsistencies in the plot? 3) How are things tied up in the end. Did we resolve everything for you the reader? 4) How does the setting affect the story?

If that first reader sees typos, they make a note, but that’s not their main job and it shouldn’t be.

Next, turn the manuscript over to a Beta reader whose job is to read for content.

You’ve now made changes from the first reading so believe me, there will be new errors in the manuscript. The second reader will again read for content, but this time, you also ask that reader to carefully mark for typos.

The manuscript goes to a professional reader (probably paid).

To make sure your manuscript is completely clean, turn it over to a professional reader (one you pay). This person not only reads for content but also for spelling errors, typos, inconsistencies in names or places. They catch when paragraphs need to be combined or separated. The list is endless. By now after the first two readings, you know the book is ready for a professional set of eyes. You’ve done all you can and it’s time to pass it on. You’d never want to turn a first draft over to a professional. You want it as clean as you with your limited self-editing can get it. Otherwise, you’ll waste a lot of money and time.

Turn the corrected manuscript over to a final reader for typos

Okay, so I’ve learned that the little errors drive me nuts and I often miss them when I’m reading the galleys on my computer. So, I turn the final manuscript–the one that’s been read by three outside readers–over to a fourth reader, unusually unpaid, whose job is to catch the little errors. Remember I got my hands on the manuscript after the professional reader. That means I probably made some revisions and those probably have errors in them that I can’t see. This final reading will get your manuscript as clean as possible before you send it to the publisher.

So, the truth is if you simply self-edit without help from several sets of eyes, you will make mistakes. You may be good, but no writer can do both well. Accept that and get help. You’ll be glad you did!

Finding the Time to Write When Life Gets in the Way

Whether they have full time jobs, whether they are retired, whether they are stay-at-home parents, finding the time to write is a problem. When writers sit at their computers at their desks at home, others do not understand that they are working. You might be right in the middle of a chase scene. Your hero or heroine is running for their lives or about to get caught doing something dangerous. Perhaps a bomb is about to explode. Your fingers are flying across the keyboard, trying to keep up with the images forming in your head. And then, you hear, “Mom, can I borrow your blue shirt?”

Imagine what that does to a writer’s concentration. Suddenly everything stops. The momentum is lost. Later, when you sit down to that same scene, it may take hours to get back in the rhythm. Sometimes you may never get it back and the scene has to be completely re-written.

  • Leave your home. When I first started writing, I thought it would be wonderful to work at home. I could do the laundry and work at the same time. I could take care of the yard crew and work at the same time. Wrong! What happens is I do the laundry and take care of the yard crew and my writing doesn’t get done. When I leave home, go to a coffee shop or to a quiet office or to the local library, I can write and write. I get more done in a couple of hours than I might in a full day at home.
  • Close your doors. Some people can’t leave home. Perhaps they have a small child or a sick parent or spouse. Close your doors to alert your family, friends, and others (even the dog), that you will be working. I’ve even suggested putting up a “Do Not Disturb” sign.
  • Turn off the pesky distractions on your computer. If you leave home, but continue to get email or text notifications, your writing will not get done. Turn everything off for a few hours. Believe it or not the world will survive.
  • When all else fails, take care of life’s demands. Do everything you can to finish whatever is calling you away from writing, and then settle in to write. Don’t try to mix them together. Constant interruptions will only cause frustrations.

When Books Don’t Seem to End

From the title of this post, you may have thought I’d be writing about books I’ve read. Indeed, there have been many a book where I’ve wondered when will this book end. The author seemed to be toying with us–drawing everything out, teasing, until we toss the book at the nearest wall. But, actually I want to talk about the problem I’m having with my current work in progress.

I can’t seem to figure out the ending. I have all the characters developed and moving right along. There’s a murder and a mystery surrounding it. Things progressed nicely through the early writing of the book. I had a vague notion about who committed the murder and why. But the notion was vague. When I close to the the ending (in that character’s mind), things got murky. Everything seemed to fall apart. The motive for killing, the killer, everything was in a mixed up mess, more tangled than my leash when I walk two dogs.

Here’s what I decided to do.

  1. Keep writing even if I had to go back and change everything. If I could just keep going each day, then my hope was everything would work out.
  2. Don’t try and force what I vaguely thought might happen. In fact, I had to try and keep an open mind. Perhaps the person I thought had committed the murder, didn’t. Perhaps the original motive was something altogether different. In fact, I had to be ready for surprises just like my readers.
  3. Get away from the work. Stop writing and start thinking. Go to that place where my imagination runs free. Let go of everything and see what happens next.

With these three goals in mind, I began again. This time, I wrote and re-wrote. I allowed the characters to play out the scenes even if I realized that scene might have to go or one previously written might be trashed.

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Eureka! Yesterday it all came to me. The loose ends tightened and things started to fall into place. Nonetheless, I’m still working on it. But, today I believe I might really be able to end this book.

If so, what tips do you have for me and for my readers? Share!

Tips for Telling a Good Story

When you share an experience and personalize it, you create interest. Think about the times you’ve sat in big auditoriums, bored out of your mind, as speakers drone on with facts. Suddenly, a new speaker takes the podium and begins with, “When I left my house this morning to come here, something happened to me that made me think about everything you’ve been talking about. I…” You perk up. You sit up straighter in your seat. You lean forward. You actually listen, curious about what happened. As a fiction writer, I can embellish stories—change them a bit to fit what I’m writing.

Although I couldn’t change the facts in nonfiction, I still used story. Here’s how. In both interviewing books, I created examples from real interviews. These examples helped the reader understand my points and also made the learning stickier. In the book about communication, I used dialogue and real cases to make the points. Again, those situations with people—confrontations I’d seen in my career—engaged the readers. Finally in the book on social media, my co-author and I found cases and examples to make our points.

 

They have certain attributes that enable them to convey their experiences with gusto and charm. Nonetheless, if you work hard, you too can become adept at telling stories.

Here are some tips:

1) Make the story personal. Even if it didn’t actually happen to you, tell it as if it did. Describe places and names your audience recognizes.

2) Use examples that fit your audience. You wouldn’t want to tell a story full of scientific information to a group of ninth graders.

3) Don’t get hung up on details. The audience need not know the color of the person’s hair or to whom the person is related. (Unless those details add color to your story). Only share details as needed. Too much detail gets boring.

4) Tell your story with passion and emotion. Use your nonverbal skills to emphasize points. Your voice plays a key role here. A monotone, no matter how good the story, will lull your listeners to sleep.

So, you might ask, “How can I tell a written story with passion?” Indeed, it’s harder when you use words with no visual or vocal cues to tell your story, but you can do it.

Instead of saying, “He went to the store,” say, “He raced to the store as if chased by a swarm of bees.” When one races, we get a verbal picture. Writing gives you a chance to imagine the story in your mind’s eye. Once the image forms, ask yourself, “How can I express that image on paper?”

Here are three tips for writing powerful stories:

  • Use strong verbs. Verbs that show action versus passive verbs or the to-be verb (is, are, was, were).
  • Use strong nouns. Nouns that imply action . Here’s an example. “She’s a dynamo vs. She’s a hard worker.”
  • Learn the art of writing with similes and metaphors. See my previous posts.

 

Writing Boo-Boo’s with Similes and Metaphors

In my last post, I talked about what similes and metaphors were and how writers use them to add power to their writing. What I didn’t discuss was how writers might abuse these two figures of speech. Learning what a simile is and learning how to use them are important. Learning how not to abuse them is equally important.

Let’s look at the biggest boo-boo’s writers make when trying to incorporate similes and metaphors. What I consider the worst mistakes.

Readers love to see a good simile. They recognize it as quality writing at its best. But, if you have three similes or metaphors in one paragraph or even in two paragraphs, the reader gets tired. The writer wants to incorporate these figures of speech for the most important messages, not for every message. Imagine a sentence like this one:

The man ran through the fence like a bulldozer and stumbled over the log as if it were a dead body, falling to his knees as though in prayer.

A bit too much, wouldn’t you say? Three similes in one sentence!

By cliche I mean something everyone has heard before. There’s really nothing terribly wrong with using cliches. And if you’re writing dialogue, it is acceptable usage (People talk in cliches). But, if you can think of a comparison that is different and not cliched, you will create a more powerful metaphor. Here’s an example:

As soon as the man entered the room, he stopped, not wanting to upset the apple cart.

How many times have we heard the expression upset the apple cart. This metaphor has been around since the beginning of time (which by the way is a cliched metaphor).

Sometimes coming up with your own simile or metaphor takes time and thinking, but when you get one that works, wow! It feels wonderful.

Perhaps you’ve heard of mixed metaphors or common images that don’t work together. Here are some examples of mixed metaphors:

He could talk till the cow turned blue

People are dying like hotcakes

His words hit home like my uncle’s Chevy

Notice that 1) A cow can never turn blue 2) People don’t die like hotcakes 2) How can your uncle’s Chevy hit home?

The metaphor must be able to do what it is compared to for example he could talk till the crops died on the vine.

I’ve mentioned just three mistakes. There are probably many more.

Here are some good examples of similes and metaphors:

  • She spoke to me in tones like my mamma when I’d missed dinner.
  • Rioja? Now there was a wine that would clash with the stew as Achilles clashed with Hector.
  • …Then, like a lone sailor adrift for years on alien seas, he wakes one night to discover familiar constellations overhead.
  • …with rhetorical questions and capital letters and an army of exclamation points.

 

 

Similes, Metaphors, What in the World?

Talented writers know how to do this without overburdening the reader. Many new writers do not understand the difference between a simile and a metaphor nor do they understand how to use these figures of speech. 

Let’s first look at what in the world a simile and a metaphor is and how they may be used to spice up your writing.

Here are a few examples from published works:

His voice sounded raw, like it had been run against a grater

Being loyal to the one who owned me gave me prickly thoughts, like burrs trapped in my shift

Michael was a short, fat, somnambulistic little man who looked like a well-boiled prawn

Notice that each comparison has a connecting word. In these examples “like” was used. But you can find many more that use other connecting words.

Notice how the examples above give the reader a more vivid picture of the description. In the first one, the writer could have stoped after his voice sounded raw. We readers would have made different interpretations of what that meant. But, by adding “like it had been run against a grater” gives the reader an actual sound.

In the second example, again the writer could’ve stopped before the simile. But the second part makes me tingle inside. Doesn’t it you? It provides the feeling, the emotion.

And the third example shows not just a short, fat man, but a man who looks like a well-boiled prawn. Can’t you just see that?

Metaphors do much the same thing as similes. They help add power and feeling to the writing.

What is a metaphor? It’s a comparison, like a simile, but without the connector. It says one thing is another that it cannot actually be. It’s a rhetorical comparison that cuts to the chase.

Examples:

Gossip is the foul smell from the Devil’s backside.

The truth in his harsh words was a hammer striking a stone.

A bruise is how the body remembers it’s been wronged.

Note there are no connecting words but there are comparisons. In the first instance gossip is compared to a foul smell. Gossip cannot ever really be the foul smell of the Devil’s backside. That’s not what matters. What matters is that the reader understands the speaker’s belief about gossip. The writer says it in few words but makes a big impact.

The second instance similarly compares two things that aren’t alike: truth and a hammer. Again by using this metaphor, the reader clearly feels those harsh words as if hit by them.

And, finally in the third example bruise is a body’s memory. Very powerful, very rhetorical.

What powerful similes and metaphors have you seen in your reading? Share some!

In my next post, I’ll share how new writers abuse these figures of speech along with some tips for how to incorporate them into your writing.

Can #Writers Break the Rules? You BetCha!

The more seasoned writers get creative with point-of-view without violating the main principles. They use more wordy expressions than I might and they challenge the basic rules we all hear–like not writing prologues. Sometimes there are so many rules we have to adhere to I wonder where the creativity comes in.

Granted some of the rules make sense. It’s important to hook your reader on the first page or two. How you do that might vary. It’s important to maintain consistency with your point-of-view so your reader knows who is telling the story. And, it’s important not to write for yourself but for your reader and their enjoyment. In other words, throwing in information that’s unnecessary just because we enjoy writing about it isn’t such a good idea.

In last week’s blog post titled Unconventional Point-of-View, I shared three instances where writers broke the rules but stayed within the boundaries of good writing. New writers have less opportunity to break rules. It’s hard enough to get published without trying to do someone unconventional. But, once the writer is known and has a following, that’s a different story.

One book that I very much enjoyed but I have friends who didn’t is Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog. The title ought to tell the reader that this will not be your typical read. Nonetheless, Barbery strays from the rules by giving us quite a bit of philosophical information. The author is a philosopher. Perhaps she couldn’t help herself. I actually liked this because it felt consistent with the characters she developed. But, I have friends who did not and in fact some friends who wouldn’t finish the book. Too bad. Because it’s a very good read!

That’s a risk authors take when they test the rules. Some readers can’t deal with the unconventional.

Writers who test those boundaries risk losing readership.

Nonetheless, if done well, those authors who cause us to stretch our reading styles are the ones who set the pace for new readers. J.K. Rowling did this. She did it in several ways, but one particular rule she broke and enjoyed breaking was writing a “young” adult book in an “adult” language. In other words, she didn’t dumb-down the book because she was writing for young people. Violating this convention probably caused many arguments with her potential publishers. But, look at the result. We have an entire new genre. Young Adult means not simply for teen readers but for adults as well. The books cross over and are appreciated by a wide range readership. Furthermore, the young people are reading and learning new vocabulary.

. If you do, you might be another pacesetter in the world of literature.