Writing, promotion, tips, and opinion. Pour a cuppa your favorite poison and join in.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

It's All About You

Lovely readers, did the first three days of prompts help you get back into writing? I hope so. This is such a busy time of year that it's easy to let those hard earned writing habits slip. And no one would really blame you for that. However, it sure makes January hard.

What is it about the first three months of the year that make them seem SO long? I don't know about you, but it becomes a chore for me to motivate myself to do anything. Curling up in bed and hibernating is so much more appealing. Maybe my animal self is a bear. That would explain a lot.

As we press on through the busy holidays, growing ever closer to the doldrums of winter, what kind of things help you stay motivated? 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Writing Prompt #3

Write a 400 word story using all of the following words.

paper clip

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Writing Prompt #2

Close your eyes briefly. Think of an object that's in the room and focus on it. Without opening your eyes, recall as many details as you can about it. After 3 minutes, open your eyes and write about that object without looking at it.

Feel free to share them in the comments if you wish.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Getting Back to Writing

Have you survived the holiday weekend? Did you get any writing done?

I always have such high hopes for writing during Thanksgiving. After a full morning of cooking, an afternoon of eating and a good night's sleep, my family enjoys a couple of days of nothing but TV and movies. In the past this has meant two days of good writing time, however I didn't get it this year.

This means that today finds me struggling to shake off the vestiges of laziness. The kids are back in school, hubby back to work, and it's time for me to sit down and get to work.

How about you? Do you find it hard to find your groove after several days off of writing?

This week I'll provide a writing prompt each day to help us get back into the swing of things. Write about 300 words on the prompt to share in the comments, then put it away and work on your own project for the rest of your writing time.

Today's prompt is as follows:

Write about your favorite holiday memory. Incorporate the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes in the memory.

Friday, November 23, 2012

What Does Work

This week I've been discussing the mess of a chapter three I made of Elswyk's Moon. And it is a mess. A hot mess. A disaster…

Okay, I’ll stop.

I can sit here and belittle my writing. It’s easy to do, especially considering the evidence… Right. I said I was going to stop.

There are two really positive things that came from this, though. First, I recognize the problems. When I first "finished" the novel, I looked for beta readers. The little feedback I got back was not helpful. I knew it wasn't quite right, but I didn't know what else to do. So, I shopped the novel around. I got no response.

Now that I've gotten some more experience, I see what is wrong. And I've learned enough to know what to do to fix the mess.

The second positive thing is that there are some things that do work in the chapter.

I did need to show where Elswyk starts. Her life transforms so completely during the course of the novel. Chapter three shows Elswyk at work. We meet her coworkers. We see what she thinks her life is going to be. And that is all good.

I also needed to introduce the best friend. She plays a vital role, especially in the lead up to the climax.

And the basic plot for chapter three works. Sure, there are whole sections that can be jettisoned. However, the bones that I started with can remain. I just need to fill them out with a little less than was there before.

Chapter three. A mess. But it can be fixed. And that’s a good thing.

Now, on to chapter four…

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Finding the Info Dump

At the end of chapter three of my first novel, Elswyk's Moon, I have my main character and her best (and only) friend having lunch together. The primary reason for the scene is so that the friend can tell Elswyk at length about how much she hates another character who is yet to be introduced.

"Oh, where to begin? He’s condescending. He always seems like he’s laughing at you, unless of course you are a nubile young thing, and then he’s probably flirting with that obnoxious charm of his,” she explained.

And the friend goes on about this. For 782 words.

On the one hand, I do want to introduce this character. He shows up in chapter seven, and he plays a major role in the rest of the story. His relationship to Elswyk's friend becomes very important towards the lead up to the climax.

But, we haven’t met the guy yet. And we will. His relationship to Elswyk's friend is readily apparent the minute he shows up.

The whole section reads like an info dump, probably because it is.

At the time, I thought that it would be better to mention this character early so that his arrival wouldn't come out of nowhere. Now I see the mistake. Sure, I can mention the character’s name. As he’s connected to several of the other characters, his name will naturally come up. My mistake was drawing too much attention to him before his entrance.

This means that entire lunch scene can be cut. That’s no major loss. It was a stupid scene anyway.

How do you subtly introduce a character who will become a major player later in the story?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

...And Then This Happened

Chapter three of my first novel, Elswyk's Moon, needs help. A lot of help. I made some rather obvious mistakes. (At least, they appear obvious to me now.) The second major mistake I made was to spend way too much time going over the minutiae of Elswyk's typical day.

Elswyk returns to her new home after a long day. She does a little work before getting something to eat and going to bed. She gets up in the morning, and then she goes to work. (She works in a book store.) She deals with customers all morning until her friend comes by to visit. They talk. Then the friend suggests that they go out to lunch. They do. Over lunch, they have a nice, long conversation.

I spent pages on this. I went into detail.

A couple important things do happen in the chapter. I do want to give a sense of what Elswyk's typical day is like. But I can imply a lot of it. I don’t have to go into painstaking detail about everything, such as…

I had a large pile of papers on my desk—about what I’d expected. I didn't look up until I had gotten through the pile. Tomorrow Basalt had meetings and other business matters that would take him out of the building, so I wasn't going to get to spend much time in the back office. An empty desk meant that I wouldn't have to stay here too late tomorrow night catching up on things.

I can cut that entire paragraph and much of the page it appeared on and the story will still make sense. A quick conversation between Basalt and Elswyk when she gets to work (which is already in the chapter) is enough.

Remember how I said the novel was 77,000 words? With chapters like these, I’m going to be down to 50,000 words in next to no time.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Show, Don't Tell

I opened chapter three of Elswyk's Moon with my main character talking to the reader. It was an interesting idea, and if I had executed it better, it might have worked. (Just let me lie to myself about this, okay?) However, I committed the biggest fiction-writer sin of all. I did a whole lot of telling. Showing, not so much.

Don’t believe me? Let me give you a small sample:

I had been working for them for about three years, and I was just promoted and moved to the Torindal location. I had been in Torindal for nearly seven days, and so I was still unpacking. I was given an apartment on the third floor of the building—not as transient as the second floor where those who transport the books stay when they’re in town and not as nice as the fifth floor where those who have lived here for generations make their home, but serviceable. It was enough for me, and soon enough I would make it my own.

It goes on like this for a couple pages. Ugh.

It’s early in the story. I do need to establish a base from where the character starts. But I don’t need much of that backstory. In fact, some things will have more impact if I imply them rather than stating them outright.

I can cut all the talking to the reader stuff. The basic plot of the chapter takes place during a normal work day for Elswyk. I can establish that she’s new in one short exchange of dialog, and the rest of it can just go.

Have you ever tried a talking to the reader section? Could you make it work?

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Read Through

Elswyk’s Moon. (I talked about my first novel the last time I was here.)

Once I decided that I was really going to do it, I was really going to go back and rewrite the thing, I knew the first thing I needed to do was to read through the whole thing and see what was there. I pulled up the manuscript and attempted to load it onto my nook… [technical difficulties] …and then I sat back and read through what I had.

Chapter one was okay. It’ll need a polish, but it won’t need any major surgery. Chapter two needs to be cut entirely.

Chapter two started a subplot about a custody dispute. I guess I could make it work, but as I pondered the plot of the novel, I realized that it just wasn't necessary. It doesn't do much more than distract from the central conflict of the story—someone’s trying to kill the king. I can lose that whole story line and not lose anything that I need.

So, going in to chapter three, I felt pretty confident. I can do this. Then I read chapter three.

Oh. My. God-awful.

I was floored. I wondered why I got no nibbles on this manuscript. Now I know. Chapter three is a 3000-word long what not to do.

The thing is, now I see it. Now I see exactly what is wrong with it. And all of those mistakes are fixable.

I thought I’d share what I've learned with you.

Because, as long as we continue to practice and learn, we will get better. And we can improve our writing. Just so long as we try.

How about you? Have you ever gone back to read through an old manuscript only to find that you know exactly how to fix it?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Writing Quirks

Well. Ok then. New Plan!

I have a different question.

What are your writing quirks?

I don't mean your physical writing quirks. Though, if you are only able to write sitting at your desk dressed in a pink tutu and a football jersey...yah. I wanna know about that.

I'm talking about your typing quirks. Have you noticed any? And now that I'm asking, have you noticed any that are now going to drive you batty?  Bwahahah!

I was innocently typing along in my wip the other day and I noticed I do this thing.

You know how you have a running narrative in your head of what you're trying *desperately* to keep up with with as you're typing...but then sometimes you change your mind. Or sometimes you hit a snag.

In my head I'll have  "With a soft click his face swung open revealing a complex working of gears and springs. Working quickly and with practiced strokes, he pressed a combination of small latches and buttons hidden within his face." ... and then it's like my brain splits in two. I wanted two completely different things to happen. So I hit space. As you would. And stopped. Thinking.

Then when I decided how to continue, I backed up, DELETED the space. Hit space again and continued on. As though that space was suddenly no good! BAD SPACE!

Now that I know I do this, I notice I do it all the time. with commas, with words, but most often with the space that would start the beginning of a new sentence!

So! Do any of you have quirky writing habits?

Or am I all alone?


Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Yay! An entry!

I was hoping someone would pick this picture. This guy creates amazing works of art by folding and cutting paper. Then taking pictures of it. Beautiful.

Now...Read the story...my comments follow in purple.

The platform of concentric tiles curved like an orange peel. Black space framed the symmetric magnificence.
Salina sucked in another breath of stale air, the leftovers of her spacesuit’s oxygen supply. Why the manufacturers couldn’t come up with a better air system that didn’t smell so bad was beyond her keen.
Not that it mattered now.
She let the slight momentum carry her, twist her like a leaf from a tree. Odd that. Thinking of trees and blue sky. Of gravity and windy days and Oklahoma on a hot, dusty day in July. A long way from her job as an engineer tech on Meridian.
The theories about terrestrial-type planets orbiting Barnard’s Star were right. A group of three planets, all within the same mass and size of Earth, became the object of much interest. Two planets, Wreath and Zenith, orbited outside the ideal range.
But Meridian; it called to dreamers of other worlds like a Siren. Green and golden, blue water and ice fields at the poles, it filled the cups of every hopeful spacer.
The Corporation’s highest scientists aided by political monies and interests, studied Meridian’s sun, temperamental red dwarf, Barnard’s Star. Calculations and greased palms judged the star safe. In its youth, the star would have burned the surface of its planets into cinders. Now, ancient in a galaxy nearly as old as the universe, the star put out just enough energy to sustain a vibrant planet with warm rays of heat and light.
Colonists ventured to the new planet held in place by a dodgy star.
Salina volunteered, following her heart and allegiance to the Corporation. Turned down by a faceless committee, Salina lost hope of becoming a part of the Meridian group when someone at the Corporation made a special point of asking her to join. Her skills, he said, were in short supply.
Functioning in space, building the way station that bridged the beyond with the planet below, creating the blueprints and technology; all her shining moments. Her biggest hurdles were surmounting the naysayers and suck-ups who barely survived without an imagination.
A proud moment, a fulfillment of her wishes and dreams came with a pin, a blue six-pointed star that proclaimed her promotion as Chief Engineer to the way station, Bideawee. All her ambitions, work, and motivations rewarded at that ceremony.
 But, like static left from the Big Bang, the cosmic radiation that continually bombards the universe, Salina always felt uneasy. Mutterings came from the fringe, the unsophisticated underground of alarmists. Loudest of these agitators was Coxa.
Named for a star in the constellation Leo, he formulated marches, interrupted meetings, and staged protests to gain attention for his theory; that Barnard’s Star was only sleeping.
At first, Coxa spoke reasonably, passionately about his findings that Meridian’s sun was not to be trusted. Internal forces bubbled and would explode, he said. When none took him seriously, Coxa grew strident, anxious. Still no one listened.
“Barnard’s Star is gonna split open and spill its guts,” he said at an attempt to disrupt the launching of another platform. The authorities pinned him to the side of a memorial wall built as a reminder of Earth. His cheek pressed flat against the carved stone, his gaze caught Salina’s like hooks of supplication.
“Please,” he’d said through a broken mouth. “Listen to me.”
But they didn’t and now…
Salina slowly cart wheeled past the white tiles of the station. Her fuel packs were full but she chose not to stop her revolutions. Why bother? And Bideawee? Unfinished? Mentally she shrugged.
She didn’t bother to look behind her at the planet. Mostly black now but spots of orange still sparkled the last time she’d looked. Salina needed no more confirmation.
Coxa was right. Barnard’s Star had one last puff left in its stellar body, a momentous solar flare that sheared the planet’s atmosphere and cooked everything on the surface.
She’d had a ringside seat to the show. Alone, Salina had cruised her one-man vessel to the station that morning, a privilege accorded to her promotion. An inspection, she’d said to her crew. They’d laughed and waved her off, knowing she loved her creation like a newborn child. Communing with her station was one temptation she couldn’t resist.
Behind a heat plate designed to withstand most radiation, alone on her station, Salina had witnessed the destruction of her home.
Gone. And no one but her in orbit.
At that moment, a primordial instinct struck. The human craves belonging and community, for safety or fellowship. People survive being alone but always there is some tie to their species. Or to a living element.
Salina was utterly alone with no connection to anything or anyone. Her eyes wheeled as if looking for some movement, a biological, living, breathing entity.
Foolishness, she said to herself. But panic creeped into her soul despite her stern admonition. In the dark recesses of her mind, the cancer of terror multiplied. Flourished. And overwhelmed.
She breathed harder, felt sickness creep into her throat and mouth.
She screamed and flailed. Mindless without any quality of human left to her, she took big gulps of air to scream again. Over and over.
But only the Silence took note. Dispassionate and uncaring. Unforgiving.

I am keeping it anonymous...but you can reveal yourself if you want. :)  

I love the feel of this piece. How it starts out, not exactly light and fluffy, but Oh Hey! Remember Earth...This is what I loved about it...and everything is going to be ok. And then slowly, you twisted that down into everything  not being ok. Sort of like how the picture twists. 

You can sense that something is a bit off when you start in, but you're not sure what. The movement from the quiet reserved/removed voice...to even explaining how the planet died in a very scientific way. Sets up the end very well.

I did get a bit tripped up in all the names, but I do tend to speed read (a bad habit from years of college) so I simply re-read it..and they came together.

I also felt the end was very believable. If you're the only human left. And you believe the only BEING left. Yah. Panic in the extreme.

Great piece of Flash Fiction! Thanks for the submission! 

Now....What are Your Thoughts? 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


Did I mention the Fabulous Prizes!?


Maybe I have to post a picture of a kitten.

I will Pounce on your FACE if you do not send me Fiction!

That should do it...

Phew. I'm exhausted.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Flash Me!

So in honor of NaNoWriMo, I'm going to put on a Flash Fiction writing challenge here at Unicorn Bell.

WHAT!? Are you Crazy!? We're writing our Butts off as it is!


But here's my logic.

First of all it's flash fiction. Totally the opposite of what you're (supposedly) doing every day with meeting your daily word count challenges, plotting, thinking, character development...blahblahblah. You know. Writing a NOVEL! In a MONTH! *tweak*

Second of all...I'm going to bet a puppy that a good deal of you have gotten to the point where you're either 1) Slightly burned out. 2) A tad bit Stuck or 3) Just all out Full Blown Writers Block.

The best way to fix that? Change of scenery. Write on a totally different project. For no reason. Except to have Fun! And win Totally Fabulous Prizes! *more on those in a minute*!

So. The Rules are very simple!  There are Three pictures below.

1) Choose a Picture as your Muse.

2) Your Flash Fiction Must be at LEAST 500 words but no more then 1500.

3) That's it!

4) Email your submissions to me at unicornbellsubmissions@gmail.com with Flash Fiction in the subject.

Have them in to me by Wednesday. I will post them and give my critiques.

THEN! Because this is a very simple contest, and I want to keep it fun...Based PURELY on comment count.

Friday! The Top Three will get their choice of prizes.  (So, whoever has the most comments is Grand Prize, second most comments second Place, then third most comments third place.)

Prizes are:  1) $10 Gift Card to Bn or Amazon. Which ever one floats your boat. 2) A first chapter critique by me! and 3) a Soft Cover copy of Tad Williams "Otherland".  (Which I hear people absolutely are amazed with...I wasn't too amazed with myself)

So. Without further ado...Get Writing! Hope to see some submissions!


Source: google.com via Alicia on Pinterest


Friday, November 9, 2012

Characters: two more thoughts

These topics didn't fit in so well with the rest...

Bits & pieces of everyone you know
Since you're a writer, you're bound to be asked if you include people you know in your stories. I'm willing to bet that while there may be similarities between your characters and your friends, they aren't exact copies. Or weren't intended to be.

I find that people I know are most likely to turn up in walk-on roles, in my stories. Background extras who need a little something to keep from being cardboard, but don't get much attention. Or sometimes, isolated little habits turn up -- a character will suddenly turn out to have my grandfather's fondness for over-easy eggs. Or when confronted with a shelf of identical objects, the character needs to tidy them up to all face in the same direction.

Overall, the people we know aren't necessarily going to be the best fit for our stories. Unless you lead an unusually interesting life...

Recurring types 
After you've written several novels, or a pile of short stories -- because you're in this writing thing for the long haul -- you're probably going to see patterns emerge. In terms of characters, there will be common traits and personality types that turn up. Some of that is because, well, you need characters who are willing and able to get the job done. Some of those common traits are there because of your own character, what you find sympathetic/realistic/interesting, and what your gut's biases are.

Is that a bad thing? On one hand, it's good to push your own envelope. That includes working with characters who challenge you to understand their motivations and priorities. On the other hand, it's hard to carry around someone you don't like in your head all day.

Have you worked with characters very different from yourself? Ones you wouldn't want to be around, if it were real life? 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Characters: what's on the page

The information about characters that ends up on the page takes many forms, does many jobs: it's in the narration, in the dialogue, it's in the exposition and action and tone. So the list below is only a few of the aspects of character that need to get onto the page.

Personally, a character description that gets down to the height of his/her cheekbones isn't important to me. It has its place, though. Some genres put far more weight on description, both of the characters and their world, because it's a cornerstone of the ambiance. Romances, for example. On the darker side of that, horror.

Are appearance and character connected? That taps into the old (and ever-relevant) question of whether beautiful = good and ugly = evil. And certainly if there's something unusual about a character's appearance, that will change how they're treated by those around them and that will influence their personality.

In general, a writer can say less than they believe they need to when it comes to backstory. But those details that are immediately relevant to the story -- that explain why a character has unusual motivations,  or why s/he makes a choice that would seem odd to the reader -- do need to get onto the page. Not much more than that, though.

But it adds depth and complexity: up to a point, yes. This is another point where genre and reader expectations come into play. And your gut instincts.

The character's voice can be distinct from your narrative voice. If your character is the narrator, they're the same. Do you know who's narrating your story? (It doesn't have to be the character, even in tight third person.)

Voice is pervasive: it influences word choice, grammar, what's focused on and what isn't, what's glossed over and what's described in detail. A character's voice is influenced by everything from world-building to personality type. Well developed voices can distinguish characters from each other, within a story, using only a sentence or two of untagged dialogue.

In my experience, as a character develops you get a clearer sense of what's important to them, what they focus on, what words they use and why... all of which your gut uses to structure their voice, because your gut knows how people structure the things they say to emphasize what's important to them.

If your gut's having trouble with that, I bet that reading about how to write speeches or advertising copy would help. Those are both situations where information is structured specifically to get a certain idea across.

Action is character, after all.

Inactive characters are a personal peeve. It's a valid point that inaction defines character as well as action does -- I just find such characters annoying -- but let's talk about small actions for a minute. Let's say your character needs to chew on something, mentally, for a while and this is going to explain things the reader needs to know.

Your character could do this while sitting in a chair staring at a blank wall. Boring. You could say that the character is doing some simple chore while they're thinking. You could, also, intersperse the thinking with small details of the actions involved in that chore -- making them not generic actions but small indicators of personality.

Say your character's making a salad while they're ruminating. How do you make a salad? Personally, I take all the components out, pile them up and work my way through. I start with the lettuce, which I chop with a knife rather than hand-tearing. I don't use bagged mixes. These are all bits of my personality. (Feel free to steal them.)

What would you add to my list?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Characters: getting to know them

How do characters become real people? Personally, I treat them like real people as much as possible, and it seems to rub off. They start talking back, disagreeing, developing annoying habits, all those things real people do.

Getting to know them
When I'm working on a character, I ask them a lot of questions. I watch a movie and ask them what they would do in that situation, or what they think of the characters' choices. I get ready to go to the store and ask my character where they get their groceries. When I'm folding laundry or cooking dinner, I'm thinking about what chores my character does, and why.

Yes, this includes things people only do in private, too. Even if the story never follows my character into, say, the bathroom, what happens in there is a part of that character.

At the same time, I'm thinking about plot issues: how will the character react to the situations? What would be dramatic and interesting -- and reasonable? Under what conditions would a character make a dramatic choice? How do backstory and world-building influence the character? What are top priorities to someone in that situation?

For example: a character who grew up poor and occasionally went hungry. It seemed a safe bet to me that if you put food in front of this girl, it's going to vanish. Whether she likes it isn't an issue, and she'll eat until she's stuffed if she can. Poverty makes her relationship with money interesting: maybe she's very miserly and reluctant to spend what little she has. That can turn into a mean-spirited Scrooge type, or it can manifest as one of those hyper-economical housewife types. Or maybe whenever this character comes into some money, she spends it quickly. Does she buy essentials and stockpile them? Does she blow it on those nice things she's been dreaming of (but doesn't really need)? Does she even dare to want those nice things, since when she was growing up the answer was always, "We can't afford that"?

All of those things tell you something about the character's underlying personality. A Scrooge-ish attitude toward money will carry over into attitudes toward people -- or are people "different" from things, in this character's mind?

Watching and reading a variety of stories helps me a great deal in this process. It helps in both directions -- well-written stories get me fired up with ideas that work, and poorly written stories make me think about what would have been more dramatically satisfying.

Writing a story about the character accelerates the process, too. I often write little trial-run stories with characters, just to get to know them better. Just little slice-of-life things with minor goals. I often write plain conversations between two characters, during which they both reveal backstory and give me a sense of what's important to them.

Sprang fully formed
What I describe above is a slow build by accretion. Like a pearl. But on occasion, it has happened to me: a character's personality arrived fully formed. I always knew what he'd do, but getting him to explain his backstory and motivations took some arm-twisting. He's a memorable character, needless to say.

Has that happened to you?

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Characters: the grass roots

Where does a character begin? Sometimes they arrive in a nearly complete package (more on that later) but usually I build mine slowly. Major characters are closely tied to the plot of the story, so when I have an idea for a plot my first question is:

What kind of person does that?
It could be in connection to the plot: what kind of person breaks into prison to rescue their cousin? Sometimes I see that vital choice or change the character must make: why is it so hard for him to let her go? Or it could refer to the character's line of work: what kind of person makes a good prince?

I talk about listening to your gut a lot; this is one of those places where I'm going to tell you to listen to your gut and work with whatever it gives you. Maybe it's something that seems dull or trite, on the surface -- ask your gut what's really going on underneath that dull, trite surface. Maybe you get a dark and scary answer that doesn't seem like it would fit your story. Or does it...?

Then comes my favorite part of the "Who does this kind of thing?" question: research. I love psychology, sociology, neurophysiology, all the sciences of who we are and why we do things. If your character's dealing with something you've never experienced -- such as child abuse, I hope -- then do your homework. Don't rely on what you've seen in movies, on TV, or in fiction.

What happens next, once you have a handful of ideas about a character, depends on what's important to you. Some people want to establish their characters' appearance first. Some people want backstory. Personally, I want to know how and why they act.

Action is character
Think of this as a variation on the "show, don't tell" advice we've all heard. I picked it up from the screenwriting world, where they don't have introspection and narrative to tell the audience about their characters.

Personality and action are closely linked: some people are careful planners, some charge in where angels fear to tread. Underneath this are questions like why does he do that, is this going to be a problem, and how is this useful in doing what needs to be done. All of which tie back into the story's plot.

Answering these will also tell you something about your character's backstory. He's self-destructive because of his miserable childhood. She's naturally shy, and it's been holding her back. World-building will come into play: he's self-destructive but as a knight that comes across as ballsy and admirable. People take advantage of her shyness because she's just a peasant girl.

Myers-Briggs personality types
I've mentioned them before, over at my blog. Myers-Briggs personality types and the sorting quizzes can be helpful in understanding your characters. The descriptions tend to be vague, but they provide realistic clusters of traits that can be a starting point for a character.

I mention them now because they can be a useful short cut -- but I'm also going to caution against using short cuts, especially on main characters. MB types can be quite useful in fine-tuning character behavior farther down the line, especially if your characters are very different from you. It's my opinion, though, that your gut knows what people are like (based on a lifetime of careful observation) and your gut's opinions should take priority over a generic psychological write-up.

One more note: MB quizzes also an interesting test of how well developed your character is. Can you take the sorting quiz for them, answering as they would answer? Do they come up as a different type from you?

Monday, November 5, 2012

Those strange beasts: characters

Characters are vital to any story. They can carry even the most hackneyed plot devices and keep readers hooked through the darkest, most awful storylines. Characters can be good and noble, dark and dirty, liars, cheats, or Dudley Do-rights -- but they have to be consistent, believable, and real.

IME, my ability to put a consistent, believable and real character on the page is directly proportional to how real the character is in my head. The following blog posts are some of how I go about developing characters. Chances are that you'll do it differently, but maybe something here will be helpful.

For me, character and plot are closely entwined. Characters drive my plots, and plots drive my characters. Being a plotter (not a pantser,) I do a lot of this work before I begin writing -- but writing is also an important part of developing my characters. I keep learning more about them, right up until the story is finished.

If you have anything character-related that you'd like a second opinion on (character development arcs, motivations, background, etc.) feel free to email it to unicornbellsubmissions at gmail dot com, or post it in the comments and get even more feedback. Questions, suggestions, pester me for more links, don't be shy.

Stories about how your characters surprised you or hijacked the plotline are always fun, too. Or whatever shenanigans they get up to, in your head. I have something like a green room where my characters can lounge on sofas, eat pizza and goof off. A lot of crazy stuff goes down in there. What about you?

Friday, November 2, 2012

#2 The Legacy of the Eye

The more submissions I read from this familiar manuscript, the more intrigued I become.

This passage is from Chapter 19. David has been away from Demia for 13 years. Catrine is now Head of the Academy and is trying to get him to come back to Demia.

"If you think I'm doing such a bad job, why don't you take over?" She was looking straight into his eyes.

He could not look away and he definitely did not want to take over. "That's not what I meant."

"David, just because our fathers wanted to set us up as king and queen of Demia doesn't mean we have to follow their plan."

"That's why I left." He was sure Cat could hear the pain in his voice. It had been the hardest choice he had ever had to make.

"I know," she whispered. "But they are both dead and I need advice. I need help setting Demia back on track. Their mess needs undoing and I can't do this alone."

David's breath caught in his lungs. He wanted to help her, but he could not remain on Demia any longer. "You have a council full of advisors. You don't need me."

"I just lost one."

"If you are a council member short, why not ask Patrick?"

He immediately regretted having brought up the name. Suggestion: He immediately regretted his words. It tasted so sour in his mouth that he could not even continue with what he had planned to say. And he had just added jealousy to the emotions fueling his bad temper. I’d re-write this paragraph and eliminate some of the pronouns.

"I don't want Patrick in the council. Patrick doesn't give advice, he executes it. He’s brilliant when it comes to getting things done, but he isn’t the one coming up with novel ideas." I like this. Even though the name ‘Patrick’ is used twice, I can hear her saying this, an effective use of words. Good job!

The list of Patrick's virtues did not help improve David's mood. Show his irritation rather than tell me. Have David slam a book down, grimace, or make a rude sound.

Cat took a step closer to him. "I spend my days making decisions based on what I think you would do. I'd much rather discuss it with you than guess."

"You were doing a great job before you started censoring books. And the Academic Council has been led by a Duke of Carmichael for the past sixty years. I won't be the next one!"

Cat's eyes narrowed. She leaned toward him, her face inches from his. She could have whispered and he would have heard her clearly, but her voice was steady and strong. "You’re gone for thirteen years and you come back thinking you have all the answers. But you don't want to be involved in making the much needed changes. You don't want to actually set things right. Who is being hypocritical? You want to judge me but not help me fix the problem. Whether you have a solution or not doesn't matter David, because you are getting on a ship tomorrow to go play kingmaking in the third whorl."

If she had more to say, she did not finish. In one swift movement, he dropped the reader on the table and took her face in his hands to silence her with a kiss. Considering the one he witnessed earlier, he was predicting a reproach and a rejection. His intention was just to stop her accusations, but once their lips met it was impossible to control the desire he felt--it had been brewing too long. The girl of his dreams was now in his arms, and his body did not want to let go.

To David's surprise, Cat's arms shot up to embrace him instead of slap him. This time she kissed him back.

Whoa! This sucked me in big time. I had to 'surface' before I could actually crit, LOL. 

The only other suggestion I have is to mix in some short, quick replies sans dialogue tags to increase the ‘white space’ and hurry the scene. 

Like the difference between a car trundling along at 20 mph and one doing 80, there is a definite thrill when more speed is employed.

Your ms is on my list of ‘must haves’.
Good job.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

#1 Not Quite Right

     I've been watching the clock for the last ten minutes. When the bell rings I bolt out of the seat, but not as quickly as Daniel. He’s on his feet and scoops up my books before I can grab them. I have to jog to catch him in the hall.

     “Where are you going with my things?” I ask.

     Daniel gives me an exasperated look. “Out to the truck, so I can take you home. You have a problem with that?”

     “As a matter of fact, I do. I’ll walk home,” I say and reach for my books.

     “Look Sandra, I have a monster of a headache, don’t be a jerk. I’m sorry if I spoiled your fun, but it was for your own good. Just get in the truck, and I’ll take you home,” he says.

     “What do you mean, ‘for my own good’?” I demand.

     “Not here and not now. If you really want, I’ll explain it to you some day. Right now, all I want is to take you home and get on back to the peace of my own home. Please don’t make this harder than it already is,” he says looking at me like I’ve done something to hurt his feelings.

     I reach out and put my hand on his arm.

     “Don’t,” he says stepping away from me. “Just don’t try to make it better. Not now. Put your coat on, and let’s get out of here.”

Present tense is a ‘witch’ to do right. I couldn't do it, that’s for sure. Good job!

See if you agree with my edits. After you've established that he ‘wants to take her home’, limit the reference in the remainder of the conversation. This highlights the dramatic moment and makes your storyline zoom.

Regarding the attribute, ‘he says looking at me…’ IMO you don’t need to explain. The word ‘please’ creates a plaintive image in my mind of his attitude and is good enough. Sometimes a single word, please, shows what you want the reader to see/feel.

I would definitely turn the page!