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!

Twelve Gifts for Writers

Give them time – Writers get pressures pushed on them all the time by those who either don’t have a clue or who sit in judgment as to what they really fill their time with. Give the gift of time to your writer; be considerate. If you want or need them to do something besides write, ask with hope and genuine understanding that you know what they’re doing is important.

Image courtesy of cescassawin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Giving precious gifts to others doesn’t always require money or gift wrap!Image courtesy of cescassawin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Give them understanding – Even if you don’t know what it’s like to be under a deadline, or the pressure of being creative, let them know you are trying to understand. Writers work as hard as anyone else, but because they usually do it on their own time, not their bosses time, so many people jump to erroneous conclusions that they must be lazy or really don’t have work to do and then make erroneous judgements on the writer’s work ethic.

Give them reasonable expectations – Just as we all struggle to fit everything that is demanded of us into our days, writers do as well. How we communicate to writers about what we want or need determines the level of pressure the writer feels in meeting those unspoken expectations.

Give them encouragement – Encourage them in their work. Even if you don’t understand what it is like to be a writer, let them know you’re supportive and are wishing them the best. Writers need encouragement, from those who write and those who don’t.

Give them space – Don’t constantly ask them to go to lunch, or to this event or that function. This is not to say writers don’t need a break. But if you ask and the answer is no, let them know you understand. Reaffirm that you would love to get together but on their time frame.

Give them help with daily chores or duties – If you are the spouse of a writer, or even the roommate of one, help them out when they are deep in the middle of a tangled plot line and can’t stop to put the dishes in the dishwasher. They may lose that all important train of thought that solves the mystery of the primary characters!

Give them peace and quiet – If your writer works while you are in the same space, try to be considerate and let them have few to no distractions while working. Compromise is the great truth to this scenario. And it can go both ways. By giving your writer some space, you’ll most likely get consideration as well. When that big game is on, shouts and screams for your team won’t get snarled at – unless your writer roots for the opposite side!

Give them protection from distractions – If your writer is busy at work and the phone rings (yours or the home’s) don’t wait and make the writer get it. The same goes for if someone is at the door.

Give them your ear – Listen to your writer. Encourage them to talk about their plot, or their characters. Don’t be too eager to jump into the conversation but rather encourage them to talk by asking questions, or for clarification. This is helpful in it gets the writer to think about his or her work and can often led them into new insights on their work.

Give them your support – Support is really one that sums up several of the other items. But it also includes being their for your writer when they get that 100th rejection letter, or they inadvertently lost everything from chapter 15 due to forgetting to hit the “save” button. Sometimes writers, like all of us, just need to know someone else stands on the same side with them.

Give them your honesty – If you are asked to read a portion of the writer’s work; be honest. Being honest is telling the truth but with love/gentleness and so on wrapped around it. Like, “Gee, I know you’ve been working so hard on this piece, but for me, I just don’t think the male character is a good fit for your protagonist. I envision something more like. . .” Cushion the criticism by making it only your opinion and stating your preferences, not what you think it should or should not be.

Give them your unconditional love – Finally, give your writer some love. When we hear the word love, we usually think romantic love. But, there are many more types of love to give and receive in life. While you’ve been encouraged to give honesty, support, your ear, encouragement and space to your writer friends and family, more importantly, you can give them your unconditional love. This means that no matter what he or she does, you will still love them. This makes a safe place for anyone to retreat to whenever the world gets too rough or sour and one needs to “lick their wounds” and retreat. Loving someone unconditionally means that no matter what they do, they can be forgiven and not lose their standing with the person who is doing the forgiving. This type of love has almost become a foreign concept in today’s world. But, many years ago, Unconditional love was born in a lowly manger, born to take on all the bad things each and every one of us does in our life time. And there is nothing we can do to earn His love and forgiveness. It is given freely. Once we accept this free gift of forgiveness, we learn that we are loved, no matter what, and that is the most liberating gift anyone, not just writers, can receive.

Merry Christmas and don’t just give these gifts to your writer, but to anyone in your life.

 

 

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!