Conspiracy Theories – Everywhere?

Admittedly, I love conspiracy stories; either in book form or big screen. I can’t seem to get enough of them, so I guess it’s not surprising that is my favorite writing genre. With a very divisive election behind us and polarized masses, I think it has become even easier to envision a conspiracy on any number of levels.

So what makes for a good conspiracy? I believe it must have components that the reader can either relate to, or believe could be easily set in motion. Simply, it is taking something from our everyday lives and giving it a sinister shading or background.

My personal area of interest is the field of medicine. Given this, there is a lot of potential fodder in that category. There are the cries against GMO’s, chemical alterations in plants, added substances to food items, the growth of Big Pharma, and testing on pharmaceuticals that may not be totally ethical. My novel, Against Their Will dealt with ethical treatments and practices on unsuspecting patients.

There is also the component of money in medicine. Corrupt practitioners who may push a treatment on a patient, not for the best interests of the patient but more for the financial or other benefit of the practitioner is one area with potential. Other possibilities could include harvesting organs for the black market, or even the legitimate market but with non-legitimate means. Just think of motivating factors to obtain the end result, money or power, and you’ve got a story in the making.

Power and money are just two examples of motivators for characters. What other things could define your character and provide motivation for them? Is it love? Or, acceptance, or even hate that pushes someone into action?

The blank page is your canvas so they say. But sometimes we need a nudge to put something on that canvas. Think of what motivates you and what you would be willing, or even unwilling to do? There you have a beginning for a new character!

Happy writing, everyone!

Emerald Beach a novel by Nancy Livingstone

Against Their Will by Nancy Livingstone

 

 

 

 

Are Your Bad Guys Bad Enough?

Most people don’t like bad guys. After all, they spend their real or fictional lives antagonizing others or themselves!

The epitome of a "bad guy" stage!

The epitome of a “bad guy” stage!

Bad guys make us sit on the edges of our seats, get sweaty palms, or even raise our heart rates. But are they really necessary for a good story?

YES! It’s been stated many times that conflict makes a story engaging or engrossing. What better way to create conflict than to have a bad guy antagonizing our hero. The greatest thrillers use this model and even dramatic stories successfully incorporate the bad guys into the plot line.

I’m a fan of Diana Galbadon (The Outlander Series and Starz Network Show). She has successfully created a number of bad guys that really set my teeth on edge and make my fingernails grow a couple of inches; all the better to claw their eyes out with! I hate the bad guys. I want them dead, gone, kaput! But, if they left the scene right away, what consequences would ensue? Sure, the protagonist would be “okay” but, would the story be as interesting if there was nothing to fear or be angry about? Would the reader really want to continue reading?

Not all stories use human characters to facilitate the bad guy persona. While many do, many authors are quite adept at using events and inanimate objects to antagonize the protagonists. A hurricane, health scare or disease outbreak, or financial crisis are just a few situations that are “bad” and can do much to facilitate character development and story interest. Situations a reader can relate to also help to grow interest and empathy from a reader. An author is not limited to human, breathing bad guys, but objects and events can be drafted to do the job.

I must admit I love “pulling the chains” of my “bad” characters. It is fulfilling, at times, to inflict emotional and/or physical distress on them. No, I’m not a sadist! But, writing in this manner is a great release of frustrations in my own life. I find it very cathartic and liberating. However, it is also rewarding to let some bad guys find redemption and become someone who is forgiven, loved, or even a savior of the protagonist. Either scenario, letting the bad guy stay bad and resolve the issues encountered with tragedy or letting him or her change and resolve the story in a more positive note make for writing that is captivating.

And if it makes for a best seller, all the better!

Until next time . . .

Making Characters Work for You

Oh what to eat first! Just more food for thought!

Oh what to eat first! Just more food for thought!

We’ve discussed memorable characters and briefly touched on some of the qualities that make them work. But what really makes a character work in a story, movie or book?

For those of you who watched the tv series, Breaking Bad, you’ve seen great characters at work. The series has characters you can relate to; love, hate and even feel sorry for. But, if you were really into the series, you can say one thing, there is no character there that does not elicit some type of reaction from the viewer. Hmmm, wonder why that is?

In dissecting the issue, let’s look at some of the character traits. Walter White is faced with a life threatening situation. He also is strongly motivated to provide for his family. He’s so motivated that he is willing to do just about anything to accomplish his goal. In seeking that goal, he goes out on many limbs and does things that no one, well at least most anyone would ever expect of him.

Then, look at Jesse. He is also pulled into Walter’s world and while his motivations are drastically different, he embarks on a journey with Walter that changes him profoundly. They have conflict, dramatically different views on many things, but as they progress through their journey together, they also learn how the other looks at things. Even when they disagree, they slowly develop a semblance of respect for the other.

Okay, so I’ve oversimplified things – I didn’t want to do any “spoiling” for those who have not seen the show. But, these characters are very complex. There are no simple solutions to their dilemmas and their motivations are not all about any one thing, but arise from different layers in each of their lives. They are not one-dimensional, but multi-faceted. They can feel sympathy for something simple or complex. They can react with rage over big or small events. They can withdraw or lash out because of situations encountered. And all of these things can create tension; between the characters and between the characters and events, or objects, that create some dissonance in their psyche.  All of these add interest and tension.

Interest and tension. One creates the other. Create tension between two or more characters and interest blooms. Create even more tension, distress, conflict, or whatever to put characters at odds with each other or their environment, and interest grows. Interest keeps the viewer and the reader engaged.

Much has been said about making sure characters encounter conflict. It is true that this is the basis for tension which is what keeps people on the edges of their seats, or as an author wants more than anything, readers turning the pages!

Food for thought and hopefully, a little stirring of the juices here! Until next time – happy writing!

Memorable Characters?

I love books, tv shows, and movies that develop characters that I can relate to one way or another.

Even characters from different centuries have the same basic needs as we do. Use that to make relatable characters.

Even characters from different centuries have the same basic needs as we do. Use that to make relatable characters.

As humans we love knowing we’re not alone. Seeing someone in a situation similar to one we’ve experienced, or in one that we’re glad not to be experiencing, helps us to develop empathy for the character. When we connect in such a manner, then most anything that happens in the story becomes interesting as we become eager to see how that character responds, or even survives.

In Against Their Will, I tried to make the characters human as we all are while instilling thrills, suspense and even some dreams into the equation. Who wouldn’t want to have success in Hollywood and garner fame and fortune from doing something one is driven and loves to do? Who wouldn’t want to have a charming and attractive hunk seek us out and devote his resources to saving (us) our female character?

So, I wrote about the things I like in a story! Fast paced, suspenseful, a little romance tossed in and the fear and rapid heart-beat of not knowing who or what is after our protagonists.

Lynn McCane is a strong-willed but beaten up reporter who has had more than her fair share of hard knocks tossed her way. She’s fighting to survive in more ways than one. Don’t we all? Matt Grayson is riding the rocket to blazing stardom and yet, he’s most concerned with the more important things in life, family, legacy and ultimately love.

Oh, I know a lot of this is wishful thinking; to have these things in life. But, I believe the human condition is made up of hope and looking for better things, and by giving these to the characters while putting them through the ringer is a way of capturing readers’ attention.

Not everyone likes this kind of story. I get that. But, the process of building characters so they can be related to, appreciated, sympathized with, and even hated, draws the readers’ emotions into the process and an emotional tie is hard to break.

My challenge to you, and to myself, is this; think hard and long about how you can make your characters relatable to your target audience. Not every audience will relate to your characters and we all like and are attracted to different personality types. So if one person doesn’t like your characters, it’s not the end of their world or yours. It just means that person does not represent the target audience you want to write for. And that is okay!