Digging deep

I’ve finished rewrites of two scenes for my romance and added a short scene before the shit hits the big, dark moment’s fan. Instead of thinking story line, I thought about emotional impact and digging deeper into my characters. There’s a reason to my madness. I’ve been reading more novels than usual lately, novels that made me think about why I love some books more than others. It’s easy to read a new author and say, “This didn’t work. Poor writing, cardboard characters, screwy POV, or crappy plot line.” I happened on a few in a row that were all telling, no showing, but I didn’t get far before I put them aside. What’s really been interesting to me, though, is to study a writer I thought was great to begin with and then study what made their third or fourth or ninth book even better. I’ve thought about it a lot, and for me, it’s when all of the glamour of voice, action, and verbal skills become background to strong characters who are stripped down to their naked entities. When things get really honest.

A writer might be able to pull that off in a standalone novel, but it would be hard. It takes a while of living inside a character’s head–I know, backward from the character living inside the writer’s head, but after a while, you DO live inside your character’s head–for all of his likes, dislikes, fears, dreams, etc. to show themselves. The longer you and your character hang out together, the more things you learn about him/her. I’m not sure you can manage it for the first book in a series. The first book is usually set-up–introducing a new world/setting, forcing the protagonist to deal with whatever big problem he has to solve before the end of the book, and throwing the poor miscreant into one disaster after another. We get to know the protagonist by his thoughts, even more through his actions. Les Edgerton wrote a great post on this, one worth remembering: http://lesedgertononwriting.blogspot.com/2012/03/character-actions.html?spref=fb. Still, we get to know our characters even better the longer the series progresses until somewhere along the line, the characters speaks to YOU, instead of you trying to bring the characters to life. When the characters tell you, “This is what I want to do. This is how I feel. What the hell were you thinking when you put me up against a barn full of mutants?”…then things get REAL.

I’ve hit a point in the favorite series I read where the writers’ characters have scraped away most of their emotional defenses, and they are who they are–warts and all. I love it. And since I’ve read it and thought about it, I want to strive for that more in my own writing. Not so easy to achieve, but boy, does it work. To give you a few more ideas on how to develop your characters fully, Sue Bahr did a great post on it recently: https://suebahr.wordpress.com/2015/03/11/character-development-in-five-oh-so-easy-steps/. I guess, for me, meeting characters–whether you’re reading about them or writing about them–is like meeting a new friend. In the beginning, you form an impression of them. Do you like them? Dislike them? But the longer you know them, the more you know THEM. And that’s when it gets good.

My point? I learn a lot by reading writers I admire who started out really good and then they hit awesome. When they reach that point, it’s time for me to ask, “How did they do that?”…And more importantly, “How can I do that?”

BTW, happy spring! Last week, we had a super moon cause a solar eclipse on the vernal solstice on March 20th. That has to inspire us, right? It inspired me. I put a new, short-SHORT, Mill Pond romance on my webpage.

My webpage: http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

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

Happy writing!

My Mother’s Not Allowed To Look Over My Shoulder As I Write

I always read a genre before I try to write it.  When I first discovered urban fantasy, there was a lot more sex in the pages than there’d been in the mysteries I usually read.  Did I have a problem with that?  It depends.  I enjoyed reading it.  I’m still not great at writing it.  I have visions of my old Sunday School teacher picking up one of my  novels and dying of a heart attack.  What if my mother saw it?  Or some of my conservative friends?

One of my friends asked me, “It doesn’t bother you to kill people on paper, so why do you get all repressed when your hero and heroine jump in the sack?  Is murder more acceptable than sex?”  The short answer, for me, is–yes.  I can push a man’s car in the river and let him drown.  I can use a crossbow to stake vampires at a distance.  Killing is easy.  Relationships are hard.  Maybe it’s because I started out reading and writing mysteries.  There are lots of crimes that a main character might solve, but few of them are as dramatic as murder.  Killing raises the stakes.  My mother and friends don’t mind bloodthirsty one bit, but they’re scandalized by satin sheets and hanky panky.

My poor mother, these days, has Alzheimer’s.  She wouldn’t remember tomorrow if I shocked her today.   My sisters aren’t readers, so they’ll never see it.  And my friends?  Well, they pretty much love me as I am, so my writer’s repression is beginning to fade.  But my big hang-up made me wonder.  How far am I willing to go as a writer?  How far will I push the boundaries?  The answer?  Farther than I thought.  Because it’s not me doing any of the bad things I write about.  It’s my characters.  And a character with no flaws doesn’t make for much of a story.  A villain who’s too nice isn’t worth the bother.  But still there are places my computer keys have never gone.   I pull back.

I recently discovered a writer who’s new to me that reminded me of my own writing a few years ago.  The words flowed.  The plot was well structured.  The characters were interesting, but I could feel that the author never let loose.  She carefully crafted each scene.  I can be too careful sometimes.  I’ve come to believe that honesty and rawness bring characters to life much faster than endless scribbles about their likes and dislikes.  I no longer care what their favorite color is.  I care about what they’ll do when disaster strikes, who they’ll team up with, what compromises they’ll make.   If I can create a book full of characters like that, I’m going to have a good story.

If my mother could still read, and if she could remember from one page to the next, she might shake her head at what I write.  But that’s better than closing my book because I didn’t hook her.   I’m not talking about going for shock value.  That’s a cheap trick.  I’m talking about making an effort to make my characters real.  And I want to write with an honesty that I’m beginning to grow into.  Urban fantasy helped me with that.  It offered a freedom that I enjoy  more and more.  It’s hard for some of us to open up when we write, to show our characters, warts and all, but I think that’s one of the differences between a good novel and a great one.