Change

photo by Sharee Jablonski

photo by Sharee Jablonski

Change has been the topic of conversation over the last few weeks. Change can be a good thing or it can be dangerous. Sometimes it’s both. This is not a commentary on current events, more of  historical insight.

Change is what moves plot forward. Whether it’s change going on around  or within the protagonist.

Change is good. Change is hard.

As we write, we need to consider how our characters react to change.

I hate change in my personal life. I like a schedule and I stick to it. When things come up and cause me to alter my preordained schedule …let’s just say it makes me grumpy.

How will your character react to change? Do they dig in their heels? Do they stomp around in a rage or curl up in a ball and cry? Do they smile and roll with it?

The reaction might depend on the type of change that occurs.

John may react differently to finding out his wife lost her job then if she is promoted but the job requires a move 3,000 miles away.

Another issue is motivation.

Why does the character hate/love change? What happened in their past that causes this reaction?

Did John move around a lot as a child? Military and missionary families endure change on a regular basis. That constant movement can lead to an adult who craves a single place to call home or one who has itchy feet and never lives in the same place for long.

All reactions to a stimulus are a result of motivation and experience. This is where back story comes in handy.

Change causes friction, friction makes the plot move along.

How do you deal with change?

CK

 

Plotting, part 1

Plotting 101

I’m currently plotting a short story/novella, using the same characters from the last 2 books I’ve written. I thought it would be fun to share my insane way of plotting.  I started writing this post 2 months ago, I’m half way writing the novella.

A few resources:

The Weekend Novelist Writes a Mystery by Robert J. Ray and Jack Remick

How to Write a Damn Good Mystery by James N. Frey

I don’t do it just like that, but I have used some of the techniques and added a few spins.

Today, I’m starting with characters. I’ve mentioned characters and character flaws before and you can find them here. Before I design my characters I start with an idea. It may be a scene, or just a statement, that sparks my interest. For this series we are using this idea:

Bubba Strong steals the Mardi Gras beads of power from the Krewe de Vile to protect us from world domination by the evil mastermind Rex King.

I admit, that’s not a very good story idea, but it works for today. Besides, Mardi Gras is fresh on my mind, and I’m toying with the idea of using it as the background for a story.
Just from that statement we have 2 characters. Bubba Strong is the protagonist and Rex King is the antagonist. At this point, I will use one of several, character questionnaires. The length and depth of the information will be determined by the length of the story. If it’s a short story, then I’ll use a very short questionnaire, just so I can get in the head of Bubba and Rex. Novels require much more information. You can find one here.
The point is, I need to know as much as possible about my characters to make them real. Did Bubba graduate high school/college? Does he have a girlfriend? Is he allergic to shellfish? Does he participate in Mardi Gras?
More importantly…How does he know Rex is an evil mastermind? Are they both in the same Krewe?

There must be something that links the two together.

Creating a back story for your characters will help flesh out these questions.

The same is true for the antagonist. But for Rex we need to know, what led him to the point of world domination? Why is he such a naughty boy? Was he always so distasteful?
These may seem like useless bits of information at first. But you never know when it may be useful for the story. For instance:

Bubba is hot on Rex’s trail when he gets sidetracked in New Orleans. Bubba has a severe allergy to shellfish. He stops at a hole in the wall for lunch. Rumor has it Rex was seen in the area. After studying the menu, he is careful to quiz the waitress before ordering the steak smothered in red eye gravy. Unbeknownst to him, Rex is lurking in the kitchen and tosses a handful of purred shrimp into the gravy. Poor Bubba is delayed in catching the villain, due to his unscheduled visit to the emergency room.

This kind of information can always be added to your characters back story as needed, after you start writing the story. It doesn’t all have to be written up front. Wiggle room is always a good thing.

Don’t forget the flaws

Character flaws are important, they are the spice you add for dimension.  I’ve mentioned this before. No one likes a perfect character. Each character needs a weakness and/or flaw. It makes them more believable and likeable. The same is true for your bad guy. There must be something in him that’s likeable. There must be some hint of softness. OK, maybe not. But even the worst men in history had something about them that led others to their cause. Call it charisma, power, or the pull of a tractor beam, there is something that attracts others to them.

Recap:

1. Give your characters a history.
2. Give them flaws, weaknesses, and something attractive.
3. We need a back story for the main characters that link the protagonist and the antagonist in some way.

I hope this is useful,

CK

Character Flaws: Discouragement

Sitting in church yesterday, I listened to a sermon on discouragement.  Thanks Pastor Alan for another blog post and ideas on character development and flaws. We all face discouragement in our lives, as a writer I face it several times a week as I send out queries.  Our characters should also face discouragement.

Mr. Webster defines discouragement as :

A loss of confidence or enthusiasm

Conflict is Good!

Really good stories have conflict.  We create characters that have a goal or desire, then we put them in trees and throw rocks at them. Yes, that’s clique, but I don’t care. How our characters deal with these rocks is what gives them believability and interest. The bigger the rock the better the conflict.

What causes discouragement?

I’m sure we all have personal rocks that have led to discouragement.  It’s different for each person, the same for our characters.   Imagine a large floor covered in dominoes standing on end. Each of these kicks off a string of dominoes…

  • Fatigue–  Regardless of the goal your character has set, they must actively try to achieve it.  Whether it’s potty training a toddler, trying to make partner in a law firm, or solving the murder of a coed on campus- goals take time and energy.  You prioritize life, squeezing out as much time to work on your goal as you can, to the point where you are worn out.  Does your character rest when needed? or Does he run headlong into the fog without regard to health and mental clarity? Their reaction to fatigue may determine how they deal with …
  • Frustration- I deal with insomnia, when I don’t sleep my frustration level heightens.  I grab chocolate and caffeine in hopes of staying sharp.  That just makes it worse.  Once, frustration has entered the mind of your character what does she do?  Do they chose a healthy outlet like going for a run? Do they get cranky and start yelling at people? Do they bury themselves in their goal, trying even harder? When frustration takes hold it doesn’t take long for …..
  • Fear- to set in. Your tired and frustrated, then the little red devil sits on your shoulder and whispers in your ear, “You’re not good enough.” How will your character deal with the fear of not obtaining their desired goal? They’ve been working toward it, they’ve planned everything out, tried every avenue, but it is still out of reach.  What do the shadows whisper to them when they sit in the dark at night? Do they give in to an addiction? Do they take it out on loved ones? Do they further alienate themselves from others?In the end this fear is about one thing…
  • Failure- We have all failed at something. We know the sting of not making it to the Spelling Bee, onto the football team, or rejected by love. How does our characters deal with it?  They will fail at something, they have to.  That failure will haunt them as they try to reach their goal.  It’s like I tell my kids, “Failure is a learning experience and it builds character.  No one likes to fail, but hopefully you’re smart enough to learn something so next time you’ll get closer.”

Discouragement is a common flaw.  Just look around the room next time you’re at a large gathering.  I promise you someone is facing it.

Whip discouragement !

At some point your character must face her fear, pluck up her courage, and get back on track. How many cliques can be in one blog post?  I hope there’s not a limit. Is there a trusted friend to talk to?  Does he go on a relaxing fishing trip to sort it all out?  Does she go out with the girls to lighten her mood?

Discouragement doesn’t go away by itself or evaporate overnight. It’s a process. There is a point when the character must turn around and continue toward their goal. Did Frodo give up after Sam left? No, he pulled up his furry feet and kept going to Mordor.

Tension and conflict make stories memorable and our characters more interesting.  But there also needs to be a resolution.

Do you have a character dealing with discouragement?

CK

 

 

To Have a Gun or Not….

Taking a different direction for a blog post today.  As you may know, I live in the Deep South.  Guns are fairly common.  Most men, and some women, hunt on a regular  basis.  It really cuts down on the grocery bill! I grew up around riffles and shotguns, I was taught from a very young age not to touch them, they were kept looked up and away.  When I was in middle school my father took me to my grandfather’s house and taught me to shoot his first rifle.  More than anything from that day, beyond hanging with my Dad, I remember the nasty kick it had and the painful bruise it left.

I’ve never felt the need or desire to hunt and I really don’t like the taste of wild game.  For the most part, rifles and shotguns were the weapons I grew up around and there were very few accidents caused by guns.  For the most part…. but then there’s always that one person who thinks rules and safe practices don’t apply to them.

My best friend through most of my childhood was shooting fireworks New Years Eve.  Her older brother decided to shoot straight into the air in celebration of the new year.  That’s bad.  To make it more fun, he had a few beers first.  That is also bad.  My poor friend ended up in the emergency room with a bullet in her buttocks.  Needless to say, as 12 year olds, we had a lot of fun with that.  I’m sure that tale will end up in a story one day.

My friends brother broke 4 rules:

  1. Only idiots shot straight up in the air.  Gravity does still work.
  2. Drinking and guns never mix.
  3. Shooting at night is bad, I think in most areas it’s even illegal.
  4. Shooting in residential areas is illegal.

The older I get the more I hear about hand guns.  I never saw a hand gun until I was almost 30, no one I knew had one.  Except cops.  I’m not a fan of hand guns, you don’t use them to hunt so what’s the point.  For the most part, I associate hand guns with thugs and paranoid city slickers.  Not too long ago, I was at a Guild meeting.  I was the youngest woman there by 15 – 20 years.  We were sitting around talking and some how the conversation switched to guns.  I was shocked to learn that the majority of blue hairs sitting around that table were packing heat.  I made a mental note to call before I show up at their house at night.

Why am I bringing this up?  Good question, it sounded better in the car.

My protagonist in Dead in the Water and part 2 that I’m writing for NaNoWriMo, her name is Coco, must decide on if she will have a gun. These are mystery novels and being the protagonist, Coco finds herself in sticky situations.  She has mixed feelings about guns, and does worry that it will be used against her.  To add to the uncertainty, she questions whether or not she would actually shot someone.  So that’s where I am.  As I write for NaNo, my character must decide if she will have a gun or not.  We shall see…

CK