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 theย 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 doesnโ€™t show up until late in the story, how do you make their eventual appearance seem justified?
    • If I reword this as “Ifย  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.

ย 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.

Updates and a Return to Blogging

First, let my start out by saying I’M DONE!

<insert dancing.gif>

My cut revision to remove 10% of the words from my first novel has been completed. My target final word count was 98,792. I finished at one word below target. Cutting 11,000 words from a story that I already felt was reasonably solid has taught me a lot about concrete writing and about removing redundancy. If you’re a writer and haven’t yet tried doing an extensive cut, I recommend it. From a craft perspective, it has already changed the way I write, and made it for the better.

This is also the point where I tease that I will be asking for beta readers of the completed cut to make sure I haven’t gone too far and ruined what I had. So be watching for a post recruiting beta readers.

Up next, for the next two weeks will be business related writing – I need summaries, queries, and bios built as I start sending this book out for representation. And I’ll be returning to blogging on the series I have planned – writers productivity, mechanical keyboards, and podcast reactions.

And most especially towards the idea of what constitutes a trustworthy writer and what I can do to foster a community of them.

So, expect a few more posts over the next few weeks as compared to the recent past.

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: ๐ŸŒŸ ๐ŸŒŸ ๐ŸŒŸ

Humor: ๐ŸŒŸ

Usefulness to me right now: ๐ŸŒŸ ๐ŸŒŸ ๐ŸŒŸ

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.

What’s Next For Me

There are a lot of things I want to do: the next story, revisions of my first novel, agent pitches.

But one that’s been in my mind a lot: getting better at building a writing community.

laptop-computer-writing-working-table-person-764428-pxhere.com
Building a writing community

One of the things I have loved most about the particular community of writers that have taken me in is that we aren’t all that much into critiques or brainstorming or being “writerly”. There is however a contingent that is out to make this a business and a viable one at that.

In other words – we have professionals.

And the thing about being with pros is that you kinda can’t help thinking like they do – working to deadlines, showing up, bringing your craft into the light, putting yourself out there – pros get it done. And I realize that I’ve got to step up and be a better pro myself.

Part of that is going to revolve around the new website and changes which I am researching right now and will bring online within the next month. Another part of that is forcing myself to learn and to even like stuff I haven’t wanted to deal with: marketing and personal branding.

I’ve got some plans for how I’m going to tackle those and a lot of it is just getting the ideas into my head.

How does all of this go towards building a writing community?

I don’t know exactly. But it’s gotten me thinking.

I recently had a conversation with a potential beta reader and another acquaintance about books. Both of these individuals expressed an idea that harmonized with something that I have felt – both as a reader and a writer.

They both said how much they valued authors and writers that they could trust.

I’ve thought a lot about that since we spoke and about what that means to me. And I don’t yet know how it will take shape going forward, but it will be part and parcel of what I hope to build – here and in real life.

The community I want to help build is one of trustworthy authors.

Again, I don’t know exactly what that means, but I definitely want to figure it out.

What does that phrase mean to you? Who are authors you trust?

Let me know, I’d love to hear your thoughts.