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!

What can Book Clubs do for you?

Books of every genre can be promoted at a book club.

Books of every genre can be promoted at a book club.

Many of you may belong to book clubs, others may have utilized their exposure to boost name recognition and sales.

I recently made myself available to book clubs as a speaker and guest. It remains to be seen how profitable this will be (not just in sales made, but in gaining more exposure to future readers), but regardless, I think it will produce some helpful insight in how readers look for books, how they digest them and what they are looking for in a book.

I know, I know, we’re creative types, but business intrudes into our fantasy world, especially if we want to keep creating those fantasies for others to read. So, I feel this is a viable tool to help us research hot topics, see what is “happening” with readers as well as get a little much needed recognition.

Most of all, I would love to hear from others about his or her experiences in dealing with book clubs. Do you feel it is worth the time or effort? What did you find to be the best or the worst experiences?

Thanks for your insight!

Happy reading and writing!
http://bookclubreading.com/against-their-will/

 

Books waiting to be autographed.

Books waiting to be autographed.

Winter’s cold or Frigid air with swirls of frosty breath that left ice crystals on his beard that soon became icicles – Huh?

As I write this, it is spitting out the first winter precipitation for our area (North Carolina Piedmont). We tend to get overly excited over just one flake or ice pellet. The bread flies off the grocery store shelves with just a hint of winter in the forecast. Milk is equally in high demand. We all learned that lesson several years ago when we had a whopper snow that kept all of us in our homes for ten days.

A rare event in NC - enough to clear grocery store shelves!

A rare event in NC – enough to clear grocery store shelves!

Okay, I know all of you who live in colder climates are laughing at us. And believe me, even we who are snow starved cried in sympathy with the folks in Buffalo over the excess snow they had earlier this season. Too much of anything is bad, just as is too little. Which brings me to my point; what does this have to do with writing?

I recently read an excellent blog about the proper amount of description to use when developing a story, characters, or setting. There were points made on both sides of the issue; all of them valid.

For me, less is more. I believe in the reader’s ability to fill in the details according to their take on the written word. Now, I’m not talking basics here. We all need to know the character’s sex, age, location setting, and basic personality traits. But beyond that, what is needed?

There is a very prolific author whose stories I enjoy. But, I’ve noticed that in more recent books, some of the descriptions are overkill; way too many words to describe a relatively unimportant action, or trait. And that is when I start skipping pages to get on to the meat of the story.

There is another prolific author that I also enjoy reading and this person has a skill I truly admire; that of minimal description. With one or two words, this author paints a complete picture that I can not only see in my head, but feel as if I know the character or scene in question.

So, which way should an author go to be successful in writing? My preference is obvious. But, what about yours? Next time I will discuss some ideas about developing one’s descriptive skills. Meanwhile, I hope each and every one of you has the best Christmas holiday ever and a New Year filled with the best of the best of God’s blessings!

Authenticity and a Pinch of Nutmeg

Cooking on Hot Rocks added that special touch for an outstanding dish.

Cooking on Hot Rocks in Germany’s Black Forest added that special touch transcending ordinary to memorable.

In the world of writing, I wonder if other writers feel as I often do – does anyone really care what I write? Does it matter in any way? Granted, my writing is crafted to entertain, maybe to make one think a little, but mostly to entertain. In that vein, if one is just entertaining, how important is it to get every fact right, even if used in a strictly fictional sense? How accountable are we to uphold the facts if we’re spinning a purely fictional story? I honestly don’t have that answer.

My husband gets on my case when I fret over such things as having it “just right”. He says,”So, one person out of a hundred might catch that you described something a little differently than from what it actually is. The other 99 won’t know the difference.” But, I do.

I enjoy reading authors who research and get the descriptions right, or use real experiences, events and history to develop a compelling backdrop for their characters. To me, it gives the story an additional element or layer of authenticity.

Patricia Cornwell is known for her in-depth research in her writing. Whether it is a detailed description of a hand gun or an obscure locale, her reputation for authenticity in her writing is what I find thrilling when reading her books. Granted all writers have to fictionalize locations, places, even events to fit the story and this is fine. I do love it, however, when the author acknowledges this to let the reader know just how authentic (or not) the background of the book is.

I really admire Diana Galbadon’s work. She has a special gift for drawing the reader into the Scotland of the 1700’s with visual, audible, and even sensual descriptions. The fact that the history she weaves into her story is based on truth makes the story even more exciting. The authenticity gives credibility to her characters and draws the reader in. Just look at her great success – a Starz TV series, tours to Scotland based on her books – who could want more from their writing efforts?!!

All this is to say, I believe added authenticity to writing is like the pinch of spice that makes a good dish great. It is that little added pat of butter that adds a sweet crispness to a crust or a dash of fresh nutmeg in a dish that brings out all the flavors without distraction. It may not stand up on its own, but added to the other ingredients, makes the whole truly outstanding.

PS Yes, I am a fan of Rachel Ray!

Distorted Words

Distorted thinking. Most people hear this term and think some type of mental dysfunction is at play. But in reality, we all are affected by distortion in our lives.

These windows distort the light, so images cannot appear true when viewed through this distorted lens.

These windows distort the light, so images cannot appear true when viewed through this distorted lens.

We get so used to it, however, that after a while, we don’t see it or even notice it.

So, what does this have to do with writing? First of all, when writing, it is very easy to “get lost” in the story, the characters or even the setting. We see our work as “complete” when in reality it may be missing key pieces, such as words, punctuation, or even information that was intended to be included but left out.

Writing distortion can happen to anyone. You don’t have to be a new writer to suffer from it. In fact, seasoned writers may be more prone to distortion since they have developed a routine of writing that causes the brain to develop a picture of what is perceived and therefore makes it harder to detach from that picture and actually see missing words or words that are out of place.

It is frustrating to read works that are well thought out, executed and meaningful only to see the word that should have been deleted, or is the wrong tense, or uses the wrong “two” instead of the correct “too” glaring at you. It’s like an email you get that tells you “your” going to love whatever it is they are selling. Instead, most likely “you’re” going to by-pass that message, dismissing it because of the glaring mis-use of a word. I could just scream!

I recently read an excellent, fast-paced, and thrilling novel. It was truly one that I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. The problem? I lost count after finding thirty-five “distortions” (words missing or unnecessary, ones that made no sense, or had the wrong spelling) in the first chapter alone. I enjoyed the book but let the author know that a good and thorough copy edit was needed.

And this brings up the whole point of editing. We all need it! We need someone other than ourselves to carefully read through and check for these types of mistakes. In this day and age of computers, spell checks and even predictive text, it is easier than ever to overlook these distorted words.  It happens to every writer.

Yeah, I know. Not every writer can afford a professional edit. But the truth is, even if you get picked up by a traditional publisher, most authors, unless already well known, are responsible for the edit. So, how does a writer deal with such things?

Get a friend to read your manuscript. Be open to any suggestions made. If you have a friend who teaches or is a big reader; especially of the genre you are writing, even better. Again, it may not be the high priced edit, but it will help you get your work to the place you want it to be.

Another option is to put your manuscript in a drawer or somewhere that it won’t constantly remind you of its presence. This only works if deadlines are not in play! After your work has aged appropriately, pull it out and savor your words. Look at each one slowly and without haste. Judge it as if it is a fine wine that only gets better with time. Imperfections will show up easier and you won’t be as likely to overlook them. Even with this route, it is still a great idea to have another person read it, preferably someone who did not read it earlier.

None of us is perfect and that will never change. We can work to be the best we can be, with each attempt improving us and our talent. Even though we all know we won’t achieve perfection, we can reach for this goal and that makes for work that is worth attention, good, positive attention. We want to be noticed, but for all the right reasons.

Go grab that glass of wine. Swirl it about your glass. Notice the fine details. Consider how the meniscus marks the side of the glass. Study the clarity of the liquid. Inhale the vapors and savor the aroma. Don’t be afraid of age, both in the wine and in your work. Both can produce an even better product. Cheers!

I Gave up on Traditional Publishing – Am I Crazy?!

Sales, Sales, Why am I so Stressed?

Sales, Sales, Why am I so Stressed?

More and more authors now agree that traditional publishing is not the same lofty goal and heavenly realm that was held as the ultimate achievement for one wanting to write the great American page-turning book. It no longer guarantees success for the author, or that a published author can sit back and watch her bank account grow daily. With the exception being that known authors get more, most authors on a traditional royalty paying program, especially those first time writers, receive often paltry payment, the sums sometimes as little as cents on the dollar earned. So, what is a new author to do?

Okay, I have to ‘fess up. I’m one of those authors who left “traditional publishing”. Gaining my independence wasn’t entirely stress free, however. I was chided for “daring” to leave the structure of the traditional program. I was told I was crazy to give up guaranteed publication. There was no mention of guaranteed sales, however! And that was the kicker. I had little to no control over the cover, the design or editing. Despite begging for changes and pointing out mistakes, etc., it seemed nothing happened to rectify these things. So, I jumped and made the plunge into the turbulent waters of doing it on my own.

I have control over all aspects of my work, from cover, to fonts, to design, to even how long I keep it in print. I decide how it is released and how it is promoted. Going independent opened up new horizons for me. I began to see the book selling world differently and slowly learned that getting pushed outside one’s comfort zone wasn’t a bad thing. What I was doing was for me and my success, not someone else’s.

Okay, so those are the positives. There were negatives as well. Like so many writers, doing sales was and still is “not my thing”. Talk about intimidation and total paralyzing fear! Help! And, that’s what I got. I selected a company that offered a full range of services that were designed to get authors up on their feet and running toward success. Services covered all aspects of PR campaigns, to websites, and even doing book trailers. These were the items I felt I could use successfully. There are many others offered that I didn’t select. Some authors may not need these extra features. Some don’t need content or copy editing. They are confident in their work and its appearance. Some have relationships with book sellers and can utilize this to set up their own sales strategy. That’s the beauty of it all, use what you need, not what you don’t. One word of caution based on personal experience; don’t be too confident in your work’s appearance, editing or style. After all, we’re the creator and sometimes we’re so emotionally attached we cannot see the faults in our own work. Regardless of experience, get some honest evaluations of your work before going forward into publication.

Regardless of experience, get some honest evaluations of your work before going forward into publication.

For those of us on limited budgets, much can be learned from those who have already traversed this sometimes scary path. Information on what formats are best, to the best prices, to who is reputable can be found all over the net. And that is a good thing. Reading what others have to say about a company, product or service is invaluable. I cannot encourage one enough to do their homework. Check out others’ comments that have used a particular service. Compare packages and prices from company to company. If there are negatives listed, are they ones that would likely impact your project? Even after finding the perfect plan and provider of service for your project, there still is no guarantee there won’t be some hiccups along the way. Just don’t let them distract you from the ultimate goal, sales and recognition of your work.

After getting past this step comes the all important marketing of your product. This is daunting, even for seasoned sales people. I’ve told many others that writing a book and sending it to market is like giving birth to a child and watching him mature and go into the world. It is a personal part of your identity and when it is not received favorably; for whatever reason, it feels personal. Heck, it just plain hurts! Authors have to learn hard lessons in this realm just as others learn hard lessons in the fields they have chosen to pursue. We all have to pull ourselves out of our comfy slippers and flannel robes and go out and face the world and pitch ourselves, uh our work, to strangers.

Although, this is merely a short summary of my experience, I can say, I’m glad I took this route. Are there things I would do differently next time? You bet! Would I do it again? Certainly!

What are your ideas on this subject? What have your experiences been like? What would you do differently next time around? We all have to make hard choices. But, Destiny is in our grasp and we will not snatch defeat from the jaws of victory!

Yes, I would rather have my head in the sand!

Yes, I would rather have my head in the sand!

Alternatives to Traditional Publishing – Self-Publishing; is it a Dirty Word?

We're not in Kansas anymore!

We’re not in Kansas anymore!

As discussed before, traditional publishing is starting to take a back seat to new alternatives. The old stigma of never paying for publication and the often negative association with the terms “vanity press” causes many authors to avoid these options altogether. But, today is a new day, Things are changing in the world of writing and publishing, in some cases quite rapidly. As new technology grows, changes in attitudes toward these new options are growing as well. Authors now have more opportunities to get their work in the hands of readers. This is truly good news.

Independent and self-publishing platforms are rapidly becoming the new norm for today’s authors. I read an article just last week about a main-stream author who has been writing in excess of 20 years. This person has written numerous books that were published by traditional presses. Even with “success” in the traditional publishing realm, this author felt there were greater opportunities to be had by switching to independent publishing; which this person has done with success.

Going the independent route for authors offers a sense of control over the project. Depending on the company and the package of services the author acquires, the levels of control may vary. Still, authors have a say in most every step of the process. If you have strong opinions on a cover design, how the book should be formatted, or even as to which color the ink should be, these are options where the author is in charge. The book size, the paper used for printing and word length can be chosen by an author. Another area of control is the timetable. How quickly an author wants to release a book can be tweaked, depending on the author’s schedule, and other factors. Pricing is another area of input. Some companies leave it entirely to the author what to charge; others “suggest” a price and others give a minimum price which reflects costs and the author can determine how much mark-up is needed.

For those independent spirits out there, this path seems like an ideal approach to get one’s work in the hands of the public. However, for all the positives, there can be negatives. These can be minimized or avoided if the author does the homework and considers all potential variables that will affect how successful the results are. The costs involved are not just financial, but personal as well. Writers who choke and stammer with fear at the thought of speaking to a literary group or book club must realize they will have to do things outside their comfort zones. If you’d rather cower in a corner with green gills and streams of sweat running down your temples than hand out book marks at a writer’s convention and tell others about your work, you may have trouble getting significant sales with this method of publishing. Those with marketing savvy most likely will find the sales pitch a bit easier to swallow. But, even for those with marketing backgrounds, the process can be daunting. Let’s face it, we authors are much more comfortable sitting in front of a laptop screen than standing before a crowd of strangers telling them why they should read our books.

Some of the bigger independent publishing companies have figured this out. They’ve capitalized on the demand for help in marketing and put together various packages to help authors promote and sell their work. This can be a great way to go for some authors, but not all. Not every one of us has thousands of dollars to spend on marketing and we must make our money count!

Authors are creative and this evidence shows in some of the ways they devise to attract attention to their books. Anything from email “signatures” with links to their book, to social media campaigns that offer something unusual in exchange for a review or other promotional considerations; the sky really is the only limit.

Finding success with independent publishing requires commitment, determination and a “failure is not an option” mentality. We have to come out of our comfort zones, shove those bookmarks in readers’ faces, “brag” about our work and never be afraid to tell others that we’re an author, a published author! Yes, I include myself in that demographic! I’m the one over there, huddled in a corner, a nice shade of green creeping up my throat and sweat running down my temples as I hear my name being announced as the next speaker at a literary event. How bad do you want it? That’s the question. As for me, I carry extra bottles of TUMS in my pocket. After all I’ve shoveled down my throat, I think I should buy some stock in the company, but I’m not giving up. Neither should you! In this new world of publishing I think Dorothy said it best, “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore!”

Next time I’ll discuss some of the companies offering publishing packages and give my two cents worth on what an author should look for when considering these options.

A Better Way to Publish – maybe?

Authors are not limited in their choices; we can choose the process that works best for us.

Authors are not limited in their choices; we can choose the process that works best for us.

 

Last time I wrote about the downfalls of traditional publishing. This time I want to begin to look at some alternatives to the traditional model.

Anyone who is serious about their writing most likely has had some experience in attempting to gain a publishing contract. If not, then the author probably most likely, has had other relevant experience in entering writing contests, or attending writing conferences and even networking with others to find an agent or publisher who might be interested in their work.

I followed this same path of frustration. Oh, not that I didn’t learn a lot along the way. I made some good contacts, garnered various tips and tricks to try, but possibly more importantly, I learned how to approach and adapt other methods to gain publication.

When I first started writing and had a completed product to sell, I was told absolutely to go the traditional route. And I did. Eventually, it seemed the best I could do was to go with a small, start-up, independent publisher. They were a royalty-paying group, but were small, with no resources to help promote the books they listed and the authors were pressured to devise their own marketing and promotional campaigns.

You may or may not be a marketing guru, but I am not. This was all strange to me and I struggled with the entire process. But hey, I could say I was published. And, I did sell a few books and get some royalty checks. I knew, however, that this was not my ultimate goal and that to get to the place I wanted my work to be, I had to step out and be responsible for my own destiny and not wait for a publisher to make it for me.

As I researched the topic, speaking with other writers, looking at different types of publishers, and reading the latest articles on how the industry was moving forward, I saw the changes moving forward in the publishing world. The independent model, the self-publishing programs and other similar types of opportunities for authors were beginning to grow, and not just grow, but take off astronomically. What great news for authors!

With opened eyes, I realized that my first experience with a publisher had prepared me to accept the new norm, that I would have to do things on my own initiative. I began to hear the success stories of unknown authors doing some creative things and coming up winners in the market.

Currently, I am out in this new book-selling world. The verdict is still out, but at this point, I can encourage every writer to look past his or her boundaries of what you are willing or able to do to get your work out there. If you can do that, you can succeed in publishing and selling your work. Don’t doubt yourself or what you have produced. If you feel uncertain about your work and its value, then get some professional help with critiquing, editing, or even a content edit. There are well-qualified people out there who can assist in this process, and if you get the right person, it is well worth any money spent.

So many things to think about, I know. Next time I’ll discuss more on this topic of where to find the right people to assist you in the process, some things you can do to garner the support and enthusiasm of others, and even what to look for when looking to publish independently or self-publish. Meanwhile, dig deep into your writing heart and ask yourself, is my work worth it? Even if it is not as complete as you or a reader would like, it can be determined if it is worthy of pursuit. If you want it bad enough, it is worth whatever it takes short of robbing a bank, to get your work in the reading public’s hands. So pat your back and start typing!