A romance trend I wish would die.

Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t put books down.

Really, I don’t.

But I did last Friday. It was a romance, and I had almost reached 50% when I gave up on it. The last straw isn’t something I’m going to discuss, since I think it’s specific enough that people might recognize the book, and I just don’t do that.

I will, however share what had me laboring through a few hundred pages for eight freaking hours on a public holiday.

Conflict. See conflict to a writer is supposed to be something that keeps a main character from achieving his/her goal. When it comes to pure romance, it’s about what’s keeping the characters apart. Sometimes, it’s something like either the hero (MMC) or heroine (FMC) being engaged, or them wanting opposite things in life, or one just not possibly imagining that the other could be a suitable spouse/partner/whatever.

With the latter, it’s usually about one or both of the characters being magnificent assholes/bitches. (Think Jack Nicholson in Something’s Gotta Give or Sandra Bullock in The Proposal. Or my personal favorite: Harrison Ford in Sabrina.)

Now rule of thumb is that the more hard-assed and untameable the character, the sweeter the happy ending. And time and time again I have seen people simply taking this rule at face value and abusing it. Which often takes the form of the “Happy Ending” being with someone who’s either almost or fully abusive. This is particularly prevalent in the falling for the alpha male trope.

The argument could be made of “what message is this sending to the reader”, but as is very well documented on my blog, I don’t believe in moral preaching in my writing. As such I won’t expect it from others.

I do, however have a major issue with writers abusing that rule for one season and one reason alone:

Suspension of disbelief.

Any fictional story, no matter how realistically written, requires for a reader to suspend disbelief. With romance, this is incredibly important because the reader must want to believe that two characters will be together. Because unlike most other genres, this goal is usually not decided on by the characters. (The opposite, in fact.) It’s all in the reader’s mind.

So if one of the characters in the prospective couple is an asshole (since I mentioned the alpha male, the character will be male. This is the same for female characters too, though), the writer has an additional problem. She/he will have to engage people in the asshole enough for the readers to want him to end up with the FMC. And then, the readers must believe that the FMC would be happy with him. 

This can be done in a variety of ways. First, by showing the reader that there are other sides to him. That there’s more to him than the hard-assed exterior. (And even if there is, nothing excuses him from remaining an ass towards the FMC in the end. I repeat: NOTHING.)

The second (and I admit a preferable way) is for the character to go through a growth arc before the get-together in the end. Note the three movies I mentioned above all have this happening.

But in no shape or form is half-way the place to start with this. If it’s half-way into a romance and I as the reader would reverse over a character if I hypothetically hit him/her with a car, there’s something seriously wrong. And if I get to the end and the character has nothing redeeming him (hot sex doesn’t count), the writer of that book has essentially betrayed the trust required for suspension of disbelief. Because 1) I don’t want the FMC to spend the rest of her life with and asshole because 2) I can’t imagine her life being happy for long because of it.

So please please please, romance authors. Throw us readers a bone. Let us actually like the characters as much as you do?

Advertisements

Flaws and Sympathy

Last week, I wrote a post about complex characters and how to write them.

Basically I think it comes down to showing more than one side of a personality, the good, the bad and the ugly.

It’s amazing how often new writers are scared of doing this. I was too. When I started writing my fantasy epic, I was honestly terrified of my decision to write complex characters. After all, fantasy is traditionally the land of noble souls, so I was worried that writing something that veers of far from that, I’d alienate my readers.

And you know, it didn’t.

In fact, I ended up loving all of my characters, although two of them are capable of being complete bastards. More importantly, the people who’ve read my novel so far do too.

There are more than one reason for this, but today I want to focus on one.

Sympathy.

A reader is drawn into a story because of sympathy for the character leading them through it. There are a variety of ways to win sympathy for your character. If you’re interested, I suggest you see Moody’s series on it.

All of Mood’s suggestions are valid. To summarize the series to date:
1) Put them in danger.
2) Make them suffer.
3) Strength of character
4) Have the character be an outcast.

I agree, but there’s another aspect to emotional attachment between a reader and a character. Emotion. Specifically: the character’s emotions.

You see, putting characters through the grinder isn’t enough. In fact, it can be a very risky thing to do if it’s not coming organically out of the story.

Aside: “organic” as I’m using it now applies to both plotters and pantsers. There are things that happen in a story because it makes sense within the story (organic). Or things happen because the authors need them for the story to make sense. (not-organic)

The risk comes from the fact that readers immediately pick up on non-organic events. (More on these later.) So instead of sympathy, just adding the four factors above will have readers rolling their eyes at best.

Instead, I propose to writers, the emotions themselves are what make the connection. A characters emotions make a reader’s move in resonance. (I.E. they strike a chord.) Complexity of emotion along with complexity of character will move the reader completely. That’s why characters can be terrible personalities, but still loved.

In every situation. What is the character feeling? Loss? Fear? Dread? Hope? Love? Anger? Resentment? The options go on and on. How the character reacts emotionally will give the reader something to hold on to.

For an example of what I mean, look at Katniss from the Hunger Games Trilogy. She’s mean, cynical, stubborn and out for her own interests above those of others. Not exactly likable noble character material. Yet, she kept millions of readers interested through three books. Why? Because below everything she says and does, she has a depth of emotion that I hazard to say has been unrivaled by her fictional contemporaries. With all her flaws, she deeply loves her sister, which is why she basically agrees to go to killing fields instead of her. That love is what keeps her going in the killing fields despite the terror and all the other mixed emotions that go with it. I personally couldn’t care less about a character named Katniss about to die. I care about a fictional person who did something completely against her personality traits because her love for her sister over-rode everything else. My suspicion is, I’m not alone.

So to evoke sympathy, let the reader see what’s going on with a character, even when it’s only glimpses. Don’t only make them suffer and go on a murderous rampage. Have them howling in pain first. And for heaven’s sake, motivate the pain by love.

Letting the reader see hurt and love and doubt, gives him or her a hold they won’t release until the end.

If you manage to do those right, fitting with your character, all those dirty tricks needed for creating sympathy come out on their own.

How do you go about evoking sympathy for your characters?

Before you go, please remember to vote for some awesome bloggers, and to check out my Word Master Challenge. Six more days left to enter. Have a great weekend! 

Writing a complex character

Well today I finally get to go back to my roots a little, as a writing blogger. Hmm. Sorry, that’s a bit of a terrible way to put it.

I blog about writing. Sometimes I blog about my own writing progress, other times I dig into some aspect of writing for whoever feels the need for advice and/or information. 
So. 
Complex characters. 
If you think about it, complex characters are the Holy Grail of characterization. It’s something even some best sellers fail miserably at. Not naming names, but I’m sure you can find a few in your memory where their books had great plot, but almost no character depth. 
I also get the feeling that, if you found this post in a search, you’re probably plot-driven writer. There’s nothing in the world wrong with that. You’ll write page-turners, with your natural sense of plot. 
You also know that flat characters are standing between your novel and brilliance. 
Complexity isn’t easy to create, though. Yet it is. Sorry. I know this seems confusing, but bear with me. 
Now I’m going to briefly confuse you more. In my own experience of writing, creating a complex character is about not creating him or her. It’s simply about creating a character. 
But you’ve done that, you might say. 
Yes you have. What you haven’t done, is give the reader subtle glimpses of the character’s other sides. 
Yes, the baddy is amazingly evil. Why? Did someone hurt him? Is he secretly an idealist? Only you know. If your answer is that the baddy is evil because he’s evil, odds are he’s flat. 
Same goes for your protagonist. No person is perfect. And flat, perfect guys are boring. I’m not saying you should go and change the character into an anti-hero. Anti-heroes can be flat too. Because they’re just assholes who stumble into saving the day. 
Everyone has good characteristics and bad ones. Everyone has things they want and don’t want. Everyone has bad moments. Everyone has good moments. 
For an excellent and recent example of what I mean, watch Skyfall. The villain is capable of terrible cruelty. He’s smart, ruthless and willing to kill to get what he wants. And what he wants is to destroy M. 
But. He’s not all about murder and bloodshed. A significant portion of him is, yes. But there are moments when M makes him cry. He’s even capable of being incredibly gentle and caring. When he tries to convince Bond to go rogue, he tries to make it look like it’s the sensible thing to do. It honestly feels as if he’s doing it because he thinks he’d help Bond. After all, if he didn’t give a damn, he could have killed him. On the other hand, it might be because he knows he’d hurt M by turning Bond against her. 
All of that going on with a single villain. 
That’s depth. 
Giving the character a chance to show more than one side to their personality. 
Your job is to do it with subtlety. Which is the hard part.  
How do you write complex characters? 
Before I go, I want to let you know that I’m willing to answer any writing and edit-related questions on my blog and by e-mail. If you have one, please contact me at mishagericke(AT)gmail(DOT)com
OOH yes! Don’t forget to check out my Word Master Challenge. It’s a great, fun way to stretch your writing skills and there are prizes to be won.  

Interview with Craig MacLachlan

Hi all, this was supposed to go live on Tuesday already, but things were a little hectic in my live and work, so I asked him to post it today. I’m not going to say much about Craig, because the interview says it all for me. 😉

Craig MacLachlan.jpg

Welcome to MFB, Craig!

Thanks for hanging out with us today. First things first: Tell us a bit more about yourself?

Thank you for having me Misha! I was born in Thompson Falls, Montana, spent part of my youth in Kennewick/Benton City Washington and from there my family moved to the Belfair,Washington area. I have been married to my wonderful wife, Christina, for 17 years. In fact I asked her out in 9th grade of high school, she’s the first and only girl I have ever dated and we’ve been together for 23 years! I love the outdoors, hiking, camping, tubing down creeks and rivers, and just enjoying everything nature has to offer. I also enjoy bowling and am still working on getting that 300 point perfect game! When I was younger I used to do a lot of cross-stitching and am going to pick it up again to create characters and scenes from my first book for giveaways and contests. I watch too much television and have so many favorite shows it would take pages to list them all.

Besides writing YA fiction, I am also a screenwriter with a short film completed and a mid-length film in post-production. I am currently working toward my Bachelor degree in Sociology. Even though writing is my first passion and I hope it’s what I am able to do for the rest of my life, backup plans are always nice to have tucked away just in case. I am a cupcake fiend, especially for red velvet with cream cheese frosting and cream cheese filling! Ice cream is a staple at least once a week and besides adoring chocolate of all kinds, don’t let me near Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups because if I lived on a deserted island, the moon, or another planet, it would be the one food I would have to have with me. Oh, and Cadbury Creme Eggs!

Nice! When did you start writing and why?

I started writing in 3rd grade when I came in second place for a county wide writing competition. I didn’t get to move on in the competition, but it was my first real taste of writing. In 7th grade I had a poem about a trout published in a local newspaper in Benton City, WA. In that same year I also co-wrote a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ book with my friend Jesse and we entered it into the competition they were having. We didn’t win, but it was a fun experience. After that I mostly just read books and I really didn’t get serious about writing again until I was 26 and started dabbling in screenwriting. I wrote a few scripts and a couple years after that I wrote a script based on my friend Andy Davies book ‘Diary of a Curtain Twitcher’. I also began writing adult fantasy and adult thriller ideas, but I never felt truly connected to the writing. I then finished several short stories, won an online short-short writing competition and received a copy of Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ for the win.

After reading several YA books I decided to delve into that genre of writing and immediately felt connected to the characters and my stories. I spent several years writing short YA stories as I was considering several ideas for a full length novel and finally decided on the one which I now have representation for by MediaAria CDM. Even though I recently won third place in a one-act script competition, my first love is novel writing.

The reason I write is because I love telling stories and hearing about the joy and excitement others get from what I created. I not only write for others, but for myself as well. When I write, the satisfaction I get from creating characters, the world they live in and the stories gluing everything together is like I’m reading a book and flipping through the pages with anticipation. I’m a fan of writing pure and simple. If I was never published I would always keep writing because it’s such a passion within me. Ideas are always bouncing around inside my mind like the silver steel ball in pinball game!

What sort of writer are you?

I am definitely a plotter when it comes to writing and my plot forms before anything else. My characters always find their places within the plot and end up in the driver’s seat enhancing it as the story unfolds. Without great characters a great plot is meaningless.

I always map out an entire story from start to finish. I’m not meaning just a single book, but an entire series. With SIERRA WINTERS AND THE VOID I knew the entire story arc and where all three books fit into it. I have written tentative beginnings and endings to books two and three as well. I have another series set to write after SIERRA WINTERS and I have that entire series mapped out also. I can’t just write one book and then wonder to myself what happens in the next one.

As far as writing characters into my formulated plots, I am a huge fan of bad, evil characters. I often feel sorry for my good characters, but it makes their triumphs that much more meaningful!

I also love bad guys in stories, because they’re usually incredibly interesting to write. Who is your favorite bad guy ever?

Who is my favorite baddie of all time, hmm, good question. There are so many great evil characters out there to choose from, but I am going to have to go with the White Witch from the Chronicles of Narnia. She was the first truly evil character I ever read about when I was young and I recall having nightmares about her! So even though there are some definite competitors in my mind for top baddie, I have to stick with her at this point in time.

She’s an excellent choice. Especially since Chronicles of Narnia is very special to me. What do you do to write a really good bad character?

When I write an evil character I don’t want that character to be ‘pure’ evil and all bad. I always create a back story that shows snippets of information on why the character is behaving the way they do. This way there is always that little bit of compassion the reader can touch base with, no matter how small for the character. Of course that ounce of feeling isn’t going to stop the reader from growling and despising them, but it’s nice to give purpose for every characters behavior. When I do write an evil character I take that moment in time that changed their personality and take that reaction to the most extreme that I can possibly take it. In SUMMER’S SHADOW there is one main bad guy, but also a few other in-between baddies that alternate back and forth for various reasons which is fun to write as well.

I also have more than one baddie in Doorways. What is your favorite sort of heroic character?

Having more than one baddie is always fun within a story. Okay, my favorite type of heroic character? I like a heroic character to be strong-willed and as independent as possible, even if their circumstances don’t exactly allow them to be. One of the greatest attributes to a heroic character in my opinion is faults. A character with faults creates emotions and affects decision making. So with all that said, a great heroic character for me is one that is ambitious, independent and strong-willed, yet realistic because they can also stumble under their own faults and problems.

That makes a lot of sense. Perfect characters make for bad reading. Which brings me to my next question: What’s your pet reading peeve?

I used to consider novels written in first person as a pet peeve, I didn’t like them. But as I read more and more YA novels I learned to appreciate first person more and more. My side project novel which is a YA paranormal thriller is actually written in first person from a boy’s perspective. Okay, let me think here, a real pet peeve of mine when reading a book is not being able to tell the difference between characters. A well written character can be imagined by the words they speak and their actions without having to read their name. When I read a book, I want to know the characters as if they were part of my life. Yet, when characters are stale and the speech/actions are almost carbon copies of one another, there is no depth to them and its hard to care about the character. So my pet peeve is poorly written characters which ruins the story for me.

I know what you mean. I hate shallow characters like those. What do you find the most difficult part to writing?

The most difficult part of writing for me is finding a flow every time I sit down to write. If the flow of my muse is off, everything I write will come off as stagnant and stale. So what I do write two to three sentences involving one or more of my characters. I then re-write those sentences over and over in different ways until I feel it flow and once that happens it’s like gliding through the skies with wings. So yeah, getting the flow of my writing started is the most difficult part of writing for me. Oh, and editing, what is that? It’s a word banned from my vocabulary!

Yes flow can be so difficult to pin down. I try to do it by not leaving anything in the middle of a scene. And why is the e-word banned?

Ha-ha, the e-word. Editing isn’t the most difficult part of writing for me, it’s the part I least look forward to. I do enjoy re-writing my rough draft the first time and fixing problems, deleting this and adding that, you know, making it great! It’s when those edits become one after another, after another and I want to curl up inside a dark closet and hide! I think every author, including myself, has the dream that their first draft will be perfect and they can continue on to their next work. Editing is just part of the process no matter how fun or painful it can be. I wonder if I said “Abra-ca-Edit” enough times, would it turn into a real magical word and edit my novels?

Excellent question… Now for another one of my own: What is the best tip you ever got about editing?

The best tip I have ever gotten about editing was a single word. “Patience”. I was told with patience that the editing process would unfold much smoother than wanting to rush it along. That advice was spot on as I quickly learned that rushing an edit only harbors frustration, erratic writing and the editing process becomes much longer than it ever needs to be. Patience, I make it my top priority when editing and it works! I edited SUMMER’S SHADOW four times before sending out queries. And yes, it will be back in the editing process once again as my publication date nears.

Yes, it does say it all, doesn’t it? Final question is the easiest: where can people find you on the internet?

This was a lot of fun, thanks again Misha! Book one in the SIERRA WINTERS AND THE VOID trilogy, SUMMER’S SHADOW, is due for publication in Spring 2014. Book two, FALL’S FURY and book three, WINTER’S DEATH, will follow. I have some exciting developments coming up soon which include a VBlog on my YouTube channel and my cover reveal in February 2013. Regarding the cover, there is going to be some really fun news for fans and everyone concerning it by December which I can’t wait for! You can find me, Craig MacLachlan, online at the following locations:

https://twitter.com/CraigMacLachlan
http://www.craigmaclachlan.com
http://www.goodreads.com/craigmaclachlan
http://www.youtube.com/user/CraigKMacLachlan/videos
http://www.mediaaria-cdm.co.uk/blog.html

Key-Word Cavalry: Four Temperaments

Two weeks ago, L Diane Wolfe mentioned the four basic character traits: choleric, sanguine, phlegmatic and melancholic. So… since it might draw some search results, I thought I’d write a post exploring them a bit, even though I don’t really build my characters like that based on their psychological profiles.

It’s still interesting, though. And useful to know, if you’re someone who builds their characters to fit the situation.

So…. four basic characteristics, also known as the four temperaments. People have been trying to group themselves into these four different temperaments for millennia and the groupings of the various personalities and tastes have changed based on what was considered socially acceptable in each era.

Right now, though, people with each of the four temperaments have the following traits:

Choleric

  • extroverted
  • hot tempered
  • quick thinking
  • strong willed
  • self confident
  • independent in will and thinking
  • makes decisions easily for him/herself and others
  • tends not to make space for other people’s opinions
  • always have ideas and solutions
  • practical
  • very active: tend not to sleep a lot
  • results orientated
  • love to fight for a cause
  • response to others: direct and firm
  • tend to be slow to build relationships due to their ruthlessness in going after results
  • not easily empathetic or compassionate
  • think big and go for positions of authority

Sanguine

  • extroverted
  • fun loving and easily amused
  • activity seeking
  • persuasive
  • optimistic
  • receptive and open
  • easily builds relationships
  • people orientated to the point where they’re often late or miss appointments (because they forgot)
  • easily bored
  • always have friends
  • attention span = interest in person or activity
  • can change focus instantly
  • competitive
  • disorganized
  • often struggle to control their emotions
  • like sports
  • dress fashionably
  • very worried about not making a good impression
  • excel at working with people

Phlegmatic

  • introverted
  • easy-going
  • unemotional
  • response to others: slow and indirect
  • like the quiet life
  • don’t get too involved with life and other people
  • approach to life: what will happen will happen
  • prefer to have a few close friends
  • once a relationship is established, they’re loyal to a fault
  • resistant to change
  • hold grudges
  • avoid conflict and decisions
  • practical, traditional thinkers
  • mask their true feelings
  • can be patient to the point of not doing anything, but once they decide to take action, they are tenacious and consistent in going after what they want.

Melancholic

  • introverted
  • analytical
  • logical
  • response to others: slow, cautious, indirect
  • reserved and suspicious until sure of someone’s intentions
  • timid
  • may appear unsure or have a serious expression
  • self-sacrificing
  • gifted, but perfectionistic
  • sensitive to what others think of what they do
  • organized, even if their workspace looks cluttered
  • out to make the best decision
  • when making a decision: collect information and need time to think and plan
  • fears risks and being seen as incompetent
  • tend to be negative towards change until thinking about it
  • skeptical
  • creative and capable
  • get bored with something once they’ve figured it out

source

Of course, most people have some traits from other temperaments mixed in. Some are combination of two or three temperaments. Then there are rare occasions that people are a mix of all four. So it could be fun to the build characters based on traits from more than one temperament. And then throw them into a situation with people with the opposite traits.

It’s nice to know, if we need building blocks for a character.

So have you ever used personality types to build your characters?

When Ideas Make Love

Hi all! I’m finally back on my own blog, but today I’m welcoming Tara Maya to MFB. Tara is the author of the Unfinished song series, which is available at Amazon here, here and here.

When Ideas Make Love

Recently I heard of the notion that progress is made when ideas make love.  

This is true of ideas in writing as well. 

One of the dangers in writing—any kind of writing, but, I fear, especially genre writing—is that you will settle for a cliché instead of a fresh idea. Orson Scott Card once warned that when you brainstorm for a new idea, the first couple that pop into your head are going to be clichés. Cliches are the low-hanging fruit of the archetypal world. In his example, he would ask a class of science fiction writers to design a race of aliens. Inevitably, in class after class, the first few “aliens” suggested would be reptilian or dog-based or cat-based…each class churned up the same tired ideas unless challenged to step past that first easy, over-obvious thought. Lazy thinking leads to stale writing.

One trick to overcome this is to mate two unrelated images. Let us say you have a story about three soldiers trying to make their way home after a war. You might allude to an archetypal antecedent such as the Odyssey, which is also about a warrior trying to make his way home after a war. Adhere to this too closely, and you’d just have a retelling of the Odyssey—which is fine if that’s what you want, but let’s assume you don’t want it that close. So maybe you also throw in an homage to the Zodiac. Your hero’s journey takes a year and in each month he encounters a monster or obstacle related to the astrological sign of that month. This is pretty absurd, but that’s what makes it work—especially if your story has nothing to do with the Zodiac. It’s not something you need, or want, to make obvious. You don’t have the hero say, “It’s time to meet the Embodiment of Pisces.” What I’m talking about is not the overt mythology or world-building in your story, but just the opposite. I’m talking about taking a wild card and throwing it in the mix.

What does this do? It forces your creative mind to get off the easy road of cliché and go to work. “Hm,” you think, “In Yawning Moon month, they should meet a element related to a fish. But they are traveling through a desert. How are they going to meet a fish? Hey, what if they come to a temple built from the fossils an ancient marine sea monster….” Until that moment, you might not have realized that there was a temple built from fossils in the desert!

You can use this technique for deepening characters too. It can help to have secret totems for your characters. These are metaphors that you don’t share directly with your readers, only indirectly. For instance, if you character is a were-elephant, that’s not a secret totem. You share that with the readers openly. But you might have a character who is not a were-elephant or directly related to elephants in any way, who is nonetheless elephant-like in mannerisms or body-build, etc. I’m not even sure what the distinctive mannerisms of an elephant are, but again, the point is that this absurd metaphor forces you to think about your character in an unexpected way, and you discover things about him that you didn’t know.

Some people will say, “Don’t use dragons,” “Don’t use vampires” or “Don’t use elves” because these are over done. I don’t agree. I think that such archetypes can still offer fresh and wonderful stories, if you shake off clichés and continually surprise readers. When you use this technique, you surprise yourself with what you come up with. If you, the author, are surprised by the twists in the story, chances are the readers will be too—surprised and delighted.

Thanks so much for the great guest post, Tara. So all, do you mix seemingly unrelated ideas to freshen up your writing?

Josh Groban sings Chess…

Hi all! This is going to be a pretty short post, because I’m still preparing for my economics test tomorrow night.


Just thought I’d share this with you. This song came up during my studies and although it comes from a famous musical (and I have the original cast recording), something about the Josh Groban version just hit me between the eyes.


See, the lyrics pretty much sums up one of the Doorways characters. In fact, it sounds like it was written for him, especially for the sequel. But, I’m not going to tell you who it is… you’ll have to wait and see… Or if you’re a crit partner, you can guess. Yes. I am that evil. 😉

Any songs that capture your characters exactly?