Updates and Reflections on Writing Excuses 13.12/13.13/13.14

Updates

Catch-all catch-up post today while I’ve got some mental time to focus. Warning: this is longer since I’ve got so much to catch up on.

First to announce that I have finished my line edit pass on my novel and will be posting the call for beta readers within the next few days, so if you are interested, watch for that post and the instructions for getting access.

Next up, I’ve had a lot of thoughts running around in my brain about trustworthy writers and a community supporting them, so I’ll be kicking off a series on that soon.

Third – reaction posts for Writing Excuses.

13.12 – Q/A on Heroes, Villains, and Main Characters

I figured for the Q/A, I’d just answer the questions.

  • How do you make planned power increases not seem like you’re making it up on the spot?
    • Foreshadowing. With sufficient foreshadowing (this could mean as much or as little as needed), pretty much any planned power increase/superpower/level up/character change can be revealed and it not feel like you’re making things up on the spot.
    • For me, the biggest way to know if I need to fix my foreshadowing is to give it to readers.
  • What do you do when your villain is more interesting/engaging than your hero?
    • I think this may be more a problem of a particular type of story. I tend to write character/relationship stories more than idea/plot stories. I think idea/plot stories can suffer from having boring heroes/main characters because the story isn’t about them, but about the problem they have to solve.
    • This is where I think Mary’s approach of using the nested MICE quotient can solve this issue – if your villain is becoming more interesting, maybe you need to work out a character story for your hero so that there is something interesting about them that doesn’t require require them solving the plot.
  • How do you know when a character is unnecessary and needs to be removed from the story, or killed off in the story?
    • Do they show up in more than one scene and do they do more that just deliver exposition/news.
    • I had this show up during my cut edit in Jan/Feb. I had a character I thought I could cut from the first scenes because I thought I only had her delivering exposition, but had forgotten she showed up later as a complication to be exploited by my antagonist against my other mains. Removing her early removed my ability to leverage her later when I needed her as a way to ratchet up the pressure.
  • What tricks do you use when you want the reader to mistakenly believe a character is a hero, rather than a villain?
    • Haven’t done this, so can’t comment.
  • Which is more fun for you: creating a villain, or creating a hero?
    • Neither – as I’ve mentioned before, I have a really had time thinking of my characters that way. I much prefer labels of protagonist and antagonist. And what is most fun for me is figuring out how those two will relate in their relationship – friends, enemies, family, etc.
  • How many side characters can you reasonably juggle in a novel?
    • Me at my current level? – 3
  • What are the drawbacks to making your villain a POV character?
    • Have only writing protag and side character POVs, so can’t comment.
  • If your villain doesn’t show up until late in the story, how do you make their eventual appearance seem justified?
    • If I reword this as “If  your secondary antagonist shows up late,” then I can answer, and the answer is the same as the first – foreshadowing. In Betrayed, I have some very big consequences affecting the world that resulted from the actions of this secondary antagonist and they show very early – second scene.
    • The main characters were aware of the results, but didn’t know anything about this character. When my secondary antag shows up at 2/3rds through and all those consequences get tied back to this person, my readers now have a name to go with all that stuff they’ve been reading about.
  • How do you get readers to like a character who is a jerk?
    • I tried this in my trunk novel The Liegiver, but I don’t think I did it well, so I don’t think I’m yet qualified to answer.

 13.13 – Character Voice

I feel like this is a topic that comes up a lot on the podcast. It isn’t something I normally think about – when writing or reading – but I can see how it can be effective. One of my level-up moments came when reading Brandon’s Wax and Wayne series – Wayne has a very defined character voice and it works to set him apart, but what I really like is Brandon uses this voice to inject humor without needing to “tell jokes”. The humor comes only from how Wayne sees others.

I want to get better as this.

13.14 – Character Nuance

This podcast goes hand-in-hand with something I learned while listening to Robert McKee’s Story. I have this from my notes I took while listening to McKee:

  • Character and Plot are one and the same
    • function of plot structure is to provide more and more choices for the character to make under pressure
    • function of character is to make choices that seem rational to their internal self within that structure.
  • Character design begins with two primary aspects: characterization and true character
    • characterization: sum of all observable qualities
    • true character is behind this mask of characterizations – who they are really
    • KEY TO TRUE CHARACTER: true character can only be expressed through choice in dilemma

What McKee said is just a restatement of what I think Amal and Mary expressed – contradiction within a character is not necessarily contradiction if you can show how that contradiction plays out within the choices that character makes within the framework of the plot.

I think a lot of what Brandon and Maurice said point towards the second main bullet – the hats we were and the way we interact are part of those characterizations. How Maurice talks with other writers versus family in Jamaica are observable characteristics. But who they actually are would come from the choices they’ve made under pressure. Example from Brandon’s life that he’s talked about on the podcast – he’d written a dozen novels before his first one sold and spent his evenings writing while working the desk at a hotel. That pressure of having failure after failure and yet choosing to continue on showed some of the true character that is Brandon Sanderson.

The other reaction I have is to the homework – and a reminder that while “personality test” are fun, Myers-Briggs/Sorting Hat/Color Code-type stuff doesn’t really hold water when studied empirically. One that does have scientific backing is the IPIP-NEO test of the Five Personality Domains. And honestly, if you could go through and at least figure out where on the spectrum in each of the five domains your character is, you’d be in good shape.

SITREP – 2018-02-19

So I apologise for missing last week’s reaction post. I’ll be missing this week’s too as I’m on a self imposed deadline to complete my 10% cut revision of my novel by Thursday.

Fingers crossed – I’ve only got 5 chapters left to do.

At that point I’ll be putting out the call for another round of readers while I prep summary, synopsis, pitch, and query letters.

So if you’d like a chance to provide feedback regarding my novel, keep your eyes peeled.

For those who alpha read for me before, I’d like to have you read again of possible.

Thanks!

Current State Report and Writing Excuses 13.02

Things are going to be a little different this week. Between the holiday, some bad sleep, more stress at work, and bad timing, I haven’t gotten all the writing work done I wanted to. I have gotten the book work done I needed to, but not the blogging. So, you get one this week. Maybe two if I’m able to finish up some stuff.

Current State

I’m 25% complete with the current revision of my novel Betrayed. That is the part of writing that has been going well. I also got back a response from a beta reader which pumped up my enthusiasm a lot. So, I’m quite hopeful that the book will be in the right shape for querying agents when I’m all through with it this round.

Once I get to 50%, I’ll start really working on the pre-writing for my next novel. Which means between now and then, I need to do some research on pets and AIs. Fun stuff.

In physical tool updates, I ADORE my new keyboard. I’ll be trying to get some questions addressed that folks have asked, so please be patient. But my hand pain is completely gone, and I’ve been pushing pretty hard the last few days. So, it was expensive, but so far, worth it.

Last, today marks the start of a new habit forming session which I’m doing with my youth at church and with my writing group. My young men wanted to learn about how habits work and so last night was a chance to explore habits, and the result was me realizing that my recent writing approach has been killing my sleep pattern. I needed to make a change.

So the new goal is sleep early, up early, with my writing spread throughout the day, rather than all writing done in a rush at night. Day 1 feels pretty good so far.

My Reflections on Writing Excuses 13.02 – Writing Active Characters

This week, the hosts looked at writing active characters and first reaction out of the box for me: “Holy cow! New Chicago team!”

Yes, it looks like the crew changed up this season. I’m sure if I followed the podcasters on anything more than just the podcast I would have seen this coming, but it was surprising to me. It makes a lot of sense. What a great way to keep things fresh. It’s too bad in one regard, because I really liked the old Chicago crew. Looking forward to getting to know the new folks!

Episode Rating: 🌟 🌟 🌟

Humor: 🌟

Usefulness to me right now: 🌟 🌟 🌟

So, perhaps it’s because I’m in the middle of revisions rather than drafting, but this doesn’t feel quite as useful to me at the moment. For a passive character, Brandon gave the example of having someone who always stands around and watches important events rather than being in them.

Current project – not an issue.

Book I just finished in November ? Might be an issue. So, not as useful at the moment, but it may be something I’ll need to address in future stories. I might have that tendency.

Overall, though, a good episode, though because of the new team who haven’t answered this question previously, the answers seemed at surface level. I hope they find their legs as the season goes and give good, meaty advice. Good enough for the very early writer, but I think they can all dig a bit deeper.

Something that didn’t get covered during the episode: my personal belief is that inactive characters are a warning sign/diagnosis criteria of plot problems. If your character isn’t interacting well with the events of the story, you might be telling the wrong story.

And I don’t necessarily mean redoing the story so your main character is at the center of events.

Maybe you have a seemingly passive character observing an action/adventure story, but rather than re-plot the action story, you need to be telling the coming of age story inside that adventure, of someone wistfully longing to be bigger or better than they are.

Or you have a relationship story where the a seemingly passive character can’t talk to the object of their affections. So maybe try telling the growth story inside of that problem.

In reality, this is just another variation on Mary’s favorite tool, the MICE quotient, with a story nested inside another story. It’s great because it allows you to have layers that might not come up in a straightforward tale. And it can let you keep what you’ve already worked and tweak it rather than starting over from scratch.

So, if you do find your characters being too passive, take a look at how to fix. It may be just a change of paradigm.

K, I think I’m going to call it there for the week.

I really enjoy the comments that I’ve been getting. Many thanks to those who have been reaching out. And with how busy the week has been, I’ll be responding to a couple of previous questions later this week, so hang in there.

Drop a line below and join in.

Writing Excuses 10.01 – Homework

From this last week’s Writing Excuses podcast.

Writing Prompt: Write down five different story ideas in 150 words or less. Generate these ideas from these five sources:

  1. From an interview or conversation you’ve had
  2. From research you’ve done (reading science news, military history, etc)
  3. From observation (go for a walk!)
  4. From a piece of media (watch a movie)
  5. From a piece of music (with or without lyrics)
  1. From an interview or conversation you’ve had: What would Spiderman do if he lived in Kansas? A question that came up during a conversation I overheard and I loved the idea of Spiderman standing in a field, looking around without any buildings to swing from.
  2. From research you’ve done (reading science news, military history, etc): Girls sci-fi adventure story (ala Heinlein Rocketship Galileo or Rolling Stones) featuring asteroid clumps held together by van del Waal forces. Was reading an Ars Technica article about van del Waal asteroids.
  3. From observation: Story of a girl who is homeschooled on a train. Her mother has died or left or wasn’t know or something, but she travels with her father on a train (conductor or engineer or coal man) but the nature of his life is such that they have no permanent home. He lives on the train at night, sleeping in a car, paying for his meals from his salary, and ensuring that she is educated. As they travel, she experiences in real life the locations she’s learning about. Like a personal tour of the historic site in Europe or the US. Haven’t decided which.
  4. From a piece of media: From BOM reading, the story of a man who survives the complete destruction of his people and had to integrate himself into the encroaching society. His people killed themselves off and the wanderer runs into a new civilization. Would he pretend he was mute? How would he survived?
  5. From a piece of music: Jack Johnson song “Situations” on the In Between Dreams album. I’ve always wanted to do sci-fi story that coincides with these situations. There’s a race that lives in the Oort Cloud that does not like us that is directing comets at us to kill off our race. The way of writing the story would be to make it all seem like some natural occurrence (the situation that’s just begun, but is too late, only chance for you controlled by denizens of hate, the one that no one sees dismissed as fate.)

The Writing Process – A Blog-Hop Post

Tag! I’m it.

This post is about my current writing process and the work that my process is both forming and informing. The idea is courtesy of M. A. Chiappetta. She and the ladies at Purple Ink Writers started this blog-hop with the intention of getting some discussion going about the writing process and the things that we writers are working on right now. I want to thank Michele and company for tagging me as part of the hop and hope that it can provide some insight and exposure for me as I continue my work.

They came up with four questions to answer and explore for this post, so without further intro, let’s jump in. Continue reading “The Writing Process – A Blog-Hop Post”

Winner, Winner – Just wish it was chicken dinner

July came and went and boy was it busy. 26,000 words in on How to Kill a Cyborg. That puts me just past halfway in the story, so looks like it will be shaping up to be a shorter piece. But that also means I reached my stated goal of 25,000! So another win for Camp NaNo! Yes, it’s not like last November, but every time I buckle down it seems I’m able to get something done that I didn’t think I could. There might be a life lesson in that somewhere. 😉

Re-reads on Betrayed went well and I’ve started rewrites I think the nicest thing that happened to me while writing last month was getting to the last 5 chapters of Betrayed and realizing that I wasn’t reading for content, but for pleasure. It’s such a heartening feeling to re-read your own work and not be utterly horrified by it. Plenty of typos to be sure (how did I miss SO MANY?) but the story still speaks to me and that’s got to be a good sign.

And now off to my next adventure – I think I have a problem. I committed to writing a series of radio-style mini-plays that will be produced by my friend Nathan Christensen for a set of performances he’s arranged with the city of Collinsville.

And I am so nervous.

I’ve tried to behave of myself as a writer, to act and think as one, to “fake it till I make it,” but now the rubber really hits the road. I have to produce something on a deadline and I have to do it under pressure and it’s going to be performed live.

Ah!!!!!!

I am both super scared I’m going to fail miserably and super excited to see something I’ve written performed for an audience. There’s this fine line of confidence and fear that I seem to constantly walk when I take on a new writing challenge. But I have a story idea and I have a plan. Now it’s just a case of sitting down and working it out.

Whew! Writing is hard work.