Writing: Can a writer be too nice?

I live in the Midwest.  Last Monday, my husband and I drove to Shipshewana, Indiana to look for  a calendar.  I know.  A long drive to find one, right?  But we take our calendars seriously.  You have to look at the picture above the numbered boxes, counting down days, for an entire month.  We’d rather look at something we like.  Last year, my daughter, who doesn’t shop ahead like we do, ended up with a calendar of birds of prey.  I cringed every time I turned my head and accidentally saw talons, ready for a kill.  Besides, Monday was an absolutely beautiful day.  Sunlight gleamed on golden, crimson, and orange leaves. Farmers were working in their fields.   Best of all, Shipshewana is Amish territory.  We drove through Topeka and saw Amish laundry drying on clotheslines, stretched in side yards.  Horses grazed in pastures.  We had a wonderful day.

It was sunny enough that I needed my sunglasses.  I viewed the world through amber, not rose-colored glasses.  But the amber made everything brighter, more striking and dramatic.  That’s sort of the way I see the world when I write.  Everything’s amplified.  One of my friends teases me and tells me that I’m never mean enough to my characters.  That I’m too nice to them.  It’s possible, but I don’t need suffering and tragedy to keep me turning pages.   I just need enough tension and conflict to make me root for the protagonist to find the solutions he needs, characters that I care about, and a plot that twists and turns enough to hold my interest.

I thought about that as I worked on plot points for the Babet and Prosper that I’m writing on my webpage (I put up chapter 3, if you’re interested).  I started with a hook that wouldn’t leave me alone until I wrote the damn thing.  I kept seeing Hatchet chaining his vampire/wife to the wall of his basement.  Hatchet’s devoted to Colleen, and she’s devoted to him.  So why in the world would he lock her in silver chains?  And then the answer came to me.  To help her.  Happy day!  I liked my hook.  And I liked my villains.  Worthy antagonists make for good stories.

Now, I’ve read over and over again that most authors state the book’s “big question,” on the first page, if not the first paragraph or even the first sentence.  Sometimes, I do. Sometimes, I don’t, but it needs to be somewhere in the first chapter.  So I needed to decide what the big conflict in the book would be–what would the protagonists struggle with for the rest of the entire novel?  Once I had that, I concentrated on pacing, how I wanted to up the tension chapter by chapter.  And I was lucky enough to stumble upon K.M. Weiland’s seriously deep blog about the inciting incident and the first fourths of books.  She said–especially well–what I usually do (in a not so clear pattern).  She must divide her books into fourths, like I do.  Only she’s even better at it.  Take a read: http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/your-books-inciting-event-its-not-what-you-think-it-is/

While plotting away, my wonderful editor–John Scognamiglio at Kensington–sent me the book cover for my very first romance novel that will come out next April.  I’m pretty excited about it, but April feels like it’s FOREVER away.  Some of my writer friends do awesome cover reveals, which I’ve never tried, so I’m trying to decide how to go about it.  No brilliant ideas yet:)  Anyway, last week was busy enough for me.  I wish you a Happy Halloween and a spectacular November!

Happy writing!

My webpage:  (chapter 3):  http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/chapter-3.html

My author Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/JudithPostsurbanfantasy/

Catch me on twitter: @judypost

Writing: serials

If it was good enough for Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle, why not me?  Both famous authors wrote stories, piece by piece, for monthly or weekly newspapers during their careers.  Most of Dickens’s novels were written as instalments, and he adjusted them as he went, according to peoples’ reactions to each “shilling.”  Doyle wrote his famous Sherlock Holmes’ stories for The Strand magazine.  Holmes made Doyle famous, but the author grew tired of him.  He wanted to write somthing new, more serious.  So first, he demanded an exorbitant fee for new stories, thinking The Strand would turn him down.  They didn’t.  Then, frustrated, he actually killed Holmes off, plunging him and his arch enemy Moriarty over a waterfall to their deaths.  Public outcry made him change his mind.  In a new Holmes story, Doyle explained that Holmes had other serious enemies, so he faked his death.  An interesting dilemma–a writer trapped by his own creation.  But it still happens today.  Writers can be trapped by best-seller success.  If a character or series sells big numbers, readers and editors want more.

I’ve played with writing one part of a story at a time on my webpage, and I liked it.  I’ve never tried it for anything longer than a short story, but I’m about to change that.  I’m going to try to write a longer Babet and Prosper, one chapter at a time.  People have been writing in installments for a while now on Wattpad.  It’s not new, but this will be new for me.  And I want to approach how I write chapters a little differently.  I think I’ll need more of a hook for the beginning of each chapter, and I want some kind of a cliffhanger or hook at the end of each one.  Now, I generally hate cliffhangers at the end of a novel.  I hate them even more at the end of TV seasons.  If I liked a book or TV show, I don’t need to worry about the protagonist all summer before the fall season starts, or sometimes, for months or a year, before the next novel comes out.  It annoys me.  It feels like a cheap gimmick, so I’m not talking life or death at the end of each of my chapters.  I’m just talking really good hooks that would normally make a reader start the next chapter.

Ending hooks haven’t always been my strong point.  I wish they were.  My writers’ group pays close attention to them, as they should.  The end of a chapter shouldn’t be a resting place where a reader feels a scene’s been completed.  Instead, a scene should introduce a conflict of some kind–big or small, then deal with that conflict, and then end with the hint of new tension ahead, so that instead of closing the book, satisfied for a moment, the reader turns to the next scene or chapter to see what happens.  The trick is to always keep the reader turning those pages.

The other thing I learned when I wrote stories in parts for my webpage was that I really focused on that one, small number of pages, and I was more willing to play with them and try new things.  There can’t be any “down” scenes for a serial.  Readers don’t need a “resting” place when they only get an instalment every other week or so.  I need to keep the story moving to keep them interested.  Scene and sequel should get interesting.

Yikes!  I’m starting to scare myself:)  Too much pressure.  But I’m looking forward to giving this a try.  Wish me luck.  I plan to put up Chapter 2 soon.



for twitter:  @judypost

Trash Talking My Method

I have to knuckle down in September, get serious, and start work on a new novel. My break between books is over. I know it was a privilege that many writers don’t get. They barely have time to meet deadlines, so I’m grateful I had a pocket in time to play with different elements of putting words on pages.

When I wrote Witch Gone Bad, I learned that if I don’t know my characters well enough, the story stays flat, even if the part they play in it is small. I thought I could whip out a short scene a day, no problem, because I knew each part of the story and who’d tell it. No such luck. The characters just walked on stage, did their thing, and took a bow. Boring. The plot worked. The story didn’t. No emotional impact. It took three passes before I liked each part. If characters don’t breathe, neither does your story.

One of my friends, who did theater for years, has characters spring from her head, whole and fully formed. All of her training to find what really drives characters so that she could bring them to life on stage transferred to her writing. My characters aren’t that forthcoming. Mine make me work to know them, like meeting someone new for the first time. I learn a little more about them the longer I spend with them. In a novel, that means my first draft will never have the depth, the emotion, that I need.
I have to add that on my second or third pass through the manuscript.

My goal, when I start playing with the beginnings of a book, then, is to get the basics right. My theory is, if I just don’t screw up–so that I have to pitch major scenes–I’m happy. I can tinker and add to the bare bones, but if the skeleton’s wrong, I have to go back to work on the foundation. That’s why I make plot points. But it’s also why I try to nail my characters and what makes them tick.

My actress friend (Julia Donner) writes Regency romances, and when I panicked about writing a romance, her advice to me was solid. “Romances click when emotional problems and histories create a conflict, action, or a scene. A romantic story evolves from the inside out.” She uses Suzanne Simmons’ approach for characters: What do they want, Why do they want it, and What will they do to get it?
Her amazon author page: http://www.amazon.com/Julia-Donner/e/B00J65E8TY/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1439754290&sr=1-2-ent

That works for her. Like I said, her characters are born whole. My answers to those questions tend to be too basic, like when I filled in the goal, motivation, conflict charts (I’m going to work on that), but I need more prodding. I don’t need TOO much, though. I have friends who write elaborate histories and charts to get to know their characters. I’ve tried that, but that much information overwhelms me. I get bogged down in details. That’s why I do character wheels with spokes crowded with sloppy, scribbled notes as I fill in the blanks. But the truth is, no matter what I do, I learn more and more about my characters as I write them. So, for me, I’m going to try a few more steps before I start my next book–something to keep me on track–but without drowning myself in info. I’ll share, but my method doesn’t work for my friends, so it might or might not help you.

(I’ve listed some of this information on my blog posts before, so you can skip this, if you want to:)

1st: What kind of person is ____________ ? (I like a SHORT answer, something that will stick in my head. For example, in the romance I just finished, I described Brody as brooding.)

2. Why? What made him/her that way? (Brody focuses on his failures or possible failures more than he focuses on his successes. He wants to do the right thing, the right way. He thought he had his life mapped out, had made all the right decisions, and then went through a bitter divorce. Making the right decisons, in his mind, failed him.)

3. What does he/she want? He wants to be happy.

4. Why? {Success didn’t make him happy–his marriage was too one-sided, and failure (his idea of divorce) made him more unhappy. He isn’t sure what to do next.}

5. Fill in my character wheel. (Shirley Jump–http://eating-my-words.com/–did a workshop on this, and it was wonderful. I’ve played with it to make it work for me). Here’s my version:

In the center of typing paper, draw a small circle. Fill in: name, description of character–hair/eyes/build, age, and tag word or phrase for his personality. Draw 7 spokes off the circle.
Spoke 1 = Family. Draw lines off that spoke for father, mother, brothers, sisters, any family member important to him. Give name and how they got along, any important info.
Spoke 2 = Education and training (did he like it? Why or why not? Any mentor?) What career did it lead to?
Spoke 3 = Where does he live? What vehicle does he drive? What does it say about him?
Spoke 4 = Relationships (past/current romances. When and why ended?)
Spoke 5 = 2 friends he can talk to–a reflector and ally. How do they see him?
Spoke 6 = Quirks (fears, habits, hobbies, like & dislikes)
Spoke 7 = Enemies/antagonists/opponents–why?

That’s it for character, for now. Happy writing!