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

 

 

Name that Character

Choosing the name of my characters is almost as hard as sitting down and writing the first few words.  There are some characters that live a life outside of their books.  Here’s a few I bet you can name with out me giving a hint:

  • Heathcliff (don’t think he has a last name, but you know him)
  • Bella Swan
  • Scout Finch
  • Jo March
  • Miss Havisham
  • Frodo Baggins
  • Scarlett O’Hara
  • Sherlock Holmes

For good or bad, those name brings forth an idea of what the story is about and who the character is. The characters live on in our imagination long after the story is finished.

As a writer, I’m faced with trying to name the characters that have crawled out of my imagination and demand my attention.  Sometimes, they tell me there names and others…well let’s just say they try on names like my daughter changes clothes.

How do I chose a name? ( In 6 easy steps)

I write mostly, current Southern fiction.  So picking a name is based on location.  The South is full of interesting as well as traditional names. A few facts about Southern names:

  1. Bubba is only a nickname.  Ok I’m sure there’s someone out there with Bubba on their birth certificate, but generally it’s a nickname.
  2. Family names are important.  Some names are passed down like grandma’s banana pudding bowl.  Every generation has a Floyd or Mary Catherine. There’s also a common thread of naming children after one of the parents.  I have a Queenie in my family tree, but it didn’t make the cut.  Neither did Leopoldo.  I think both are cool names.  Queenie would fit very well in one of my books, it’s not as uncommon as you might think.  Leopoldo is from the Texas branch, it would stand out too much.  Carlos, Leroy, and Jamal are all possible.  There are large Hispanic populations throughout the South as well as Asian and of course African American.
  3. Sometimes the mother’s maiden name is used as a first name. That’s when you end up with girls named Riley, Bradley, and Reese.  Boys, can also be named after their mother’s maiden name, but it doesn’t sound as unusual. Ridley’s not a bad moniker for a boy, but a girl may have a rough time in grade school.
  4. Faith, Hope, Charity, Love.  The Puritan’s don’t have the market cornered on names honoring morality.  Yes, I have actually known women with each of these names. Except Love, that was a boy.
  5. Biblical names have always been important. The spelling may be the modern spelling or the parents may go for the older version.  For instance, Rebecca or Rebekah.  Same name, same meaning.
  6. If all else fails, open the local phone book, yearbook, or baby name book.

The Social Security department keeps tabs on things like baby names, by state starting in 1960.  The top 5 baby names for Alabama in 2013 were:

Boys: William, Mason, James, John, Elijah

Girls: Emma, Ava, Madison, Olivia, and Isabella

The top 5 baby names in Alabama in 1973 were:

Boys: Christopher, Michal, James, Jason, William

Girls: Jennifer, Angela, Amy, Stephanie, Kimberly

In 1960 they were:

Boys: James, Michael, John, William, David  ( not too much has changed here)

Girls: Mary, Donna, Linda, Cynthia, Brenda

Boy names tend to be more traditional, whereas girl names are more trendy. The most common names are probably popular across the country.  There are a few clique names that are linked to the South: Dixie, Scarlett, and Beauregard are a few that come to mind.  The trick is to pick a name that fits the character and also reflects the area, without being clique.

As regional traditions are further eroded by the web and other forms of entertainment, I see popular regional names giving way to popular culture.  I don’t even want to think about the number of girls being named Miley.  The flip side is greater mobility has caused greater diversity.  That has also caused names to change with a more ethnic flair. That’s cool.  So maybe in the near future, a story set in the coastal South won’t seem strange with a main character named Leopoldo Castellano.

How do you name a character?

CK

 

 

 

 

 

 

Character Flaws- Anger

I had a really fun time with my last post looking into the flaw of pride, so I thought we’d jump into anger, or what I like to call:

Klingon 101. 🙂

Anger is another one of those flaws that are easily seen in society as well as literature. It is also a flaw from which I suffer, I have a temper.  Thankfully, my hubby knows to put me in a corner and throw chocolate at me until I calm down.  Like most character traits a little isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and there are times when your character has the right to be angry.  A trait becomes a flaw when it begins to damage relationships.  Let’s look at Mr. Webster’s 1985 definition, Anger is

1.  a strong feeling of displeasure

2. rage

That’s pretty clear cut.  A normal display of anger would be a kid breaking your window with a baseball.  It’s expensive and time consuming to replace, but you don’t pitch a hissy fit and walk to the kids house and break all their windows.  That would be excessive.  If you are not sure about inappropriate fits of anger, just watch a 2 year old.

Most characters have more than one flaw and in different amounts. As writers we don’t tell the reader what flaw a character has, we show it.  There are many memorable characters that have anger issues.  My favorite was from Hissy Fit by Mary Kaye Andrews.  Keeley Rae Murdock had a very good reason to be angry. Truthfully, I read the book only because of the title.  Now, I am hooked. The Hulk has serious anger issues and expresses them by destroying cities and smashing people.  You get the idea.  Anger shows up in different ways.

Let’s look a a couple of ways anger can be expressed:

Bob has a problem with anger and pride.  He doesn’t have fits of rage, he simmer’s.  He has a fair complexion and a heavy set build.  When he’s angry his eyes enlarge and look like marbles.  His skin turns red and splotchy and his physical build seems to enlarge.  His blood pressure builds.  He becomes a walking time bomb.  Bob won’t throw a fit, but he will eventually erupt.  His anger is visible by the changes in his body and his demeanor.  He carries his anger with him.  I’m sure his doctor would tell him he needs to learn to calm down or meditate, lest he have a heart attack.

Mary is an expert at hiding her anger.  She goes through life never showing her anger.  She never raises her voice or blushes.  Instead, Mary keeps a mental list of everyone or everything  that has wronged her. She will get her revenge.  She’s still angry at her best friend in high school, Betty Sue, for stealing her boyfriend.  Periodically, she’ll take a mental inventory and review that list.  Mary writes the social column for the city paper, and every once and awhile secrets find there way to the column.  Betty Sue was divorced after photos of her and the pool boy got out.

Joe also has pride and anger issues.  He perceives himself as having the perfect family.  People in the community look up and respect him.  That was until his wife cheated on him.  He’s angry over the loss of love and respect from his wife, but he’s angrier over his perceived loss of standing in the community.  Those things only happen to other people.  His wife died in a tragic accident…or did she?

All characters are different and react differently.  So as you force them up a tree and throw rocks at them, think about how they react.  That reaction has mental and physical symptoms.  They can show up in unexpected ways.

I’ll leave it at that today, a storm is about to hit. (2 minutes after I wrote that a loud crash of thunder hit and the power went out. Taking this post with it.  Thankfully WP saves as I type.)

Row80

reading: still reading Downfall.  I am almost finished.  I am really enjoying the mix of suspense and drama with Christian faith.  No sappy romance 🙂

Writing: zip

Submissions: zip

Revisions: just finished reading my WIP, used a flashlight while the lights were out.  I can move into edits next.

I’m crawling along.  How are your goals?

CK

 

Character Flaws- Pride

Sitting in church Sunday I had a great idea.  I get lots of ideas at church.  Don’t go to another post, this is not a sermon.  Keep reading.  The sermon mentioned pride.  WOW.  That is a great character flaw.  It reminded me of a couple of characters in my WIP, Dead in the Water.

The characters we create should be 3 D, that means they must have flaws.  Don’t over do it and cross into melodrama, but they can not be perfect.  No one likes perfect.

Let’s look at pride.  (I promise not to hold up actual people as example)  According to the 1985 edition of Mr. Webster’s dictionary, pride is as follows:

(n) 1.  state of being proud  a. conceit    b. reasonable self-respect   c. delight from an act, possession, relationship

2. proud or disdainful behavior/treatment

3. ostentatious display

4.  a source of pride/best in class

5.  company of lions

6. a showy or impressive group

By the time I made it to #6 I had a vision of prancing peacocks.  For this post, I will ignore the last few definitions and concentrate on those related to characters.

Peacock Spreads Its Tail 5

Photo by  WEYENBERGH JACKY

Small amounts of pride are evident and even necessary for characters.  It’s called positive self-esteem.  Unless, your character is suffering low self-esteem, they will have some level of pride. Small amounts of pride are OK.  Left unchecked by humility, it causes problems.   The clique is easy, the husband that refuses to ask for directions and wanders aimlessly around the countryside waiting for some magic hand to point him in the right direction, or the mother who thinks her child is perfect and never does anything wrong.

Having gone to Sunday school my whole life, pride comes before the fall, has been drilled into my brain.  Unless you work in Washington DC and then you are rewarded for it.

What does this mean for our characters?

Pride usually starts small, being rewarded for good work.   Constant praise morphs into blind pride.  It can be based on achievement.  Here in the South it tends to be based more on gender rolls and college football.  Pride also comes from personal image, or their perceived image.  It doesn’t have to be how others actually see them.  A character who sees themselves as a pillar of the community and likes to show off his/her “perfect” life will take drastic measures to keep that image.

My MC is named Coco.  She was created out of frustration.  I was tired of reading cozy novels where the protagonist was tall, thin, gorgeous, and financially stable.  I wanted one to be more realistic.  Coco is a little short, and curvy.  She looks like I imagine most American women look.  She’s working on her second career after she failed at being a reporter.  She’s not visually perfect, but she does have a positive self-image.  Her problem with pride shows up in an unlikely place.  She get’s mixed up in a murder investigation and everyone tells her she needs to stop and let the police handle it.  This is where most Southerners have a problem with pride.  Now that people think she can’t do it she has to prove them wrong.  Her pride is wrapped up in her abilities, it also makes it hard to ask for help when you’re in over your head.  Of course, things don’t work out and she ends up in a dangerous situation.  I’m not telling any more, I hope the book will be out before I die.

Pride causes people to become arrogant, can put them in dangerous situations, and can alienate others.  It’s an easy flaw to give a character, because so many people actually have it.  Go ahead and tell me my biscuits are not as good as yours!   The fun is finding new ways to make that flaw evident.

What’s your favorite character flaw?

CK

 

 

 

The Writer and Pinterest

 

A word of caution, Pinterest is addictive.  It can really cut into your writing time.  I know.  Here I am and I should be working on my WIP.

When I started using Pinterest it was a way to relax after work and look at eye candy.  Great pictures and pretty colors.  Kind of like jelly beans, fun but you can’t eat it for dinner.  Then I noticed pins related to writing.  Writing prompts, plot, characterization, etc..  I was amazed.  It had never occurred to me to pin articles about writing.  Now I have 414 (and counting) pins on writing.

As I continued to play, I came across boards that were obviously about characters or stories.  WOW.  I can  create a board that reflects certain characters and include articles or research that goes along with the story.

This board is about a character from one of my short stories.  She’s old and cranky.  Her one obsession, besides telling people how they are doing things wrong, is collecting porcelain houses.  I settled into my chair channeled my inner hag and created a board with things Ms. Stallworth would love.

pinterest

Ms. Stallworth would never be on pinterest, heck she’d never use the internet.  But it was fun surfing the web looking for things that reflect her personality.

As mentioned above, I use Pinterest to contain research.  Recently, I researched gill nets, alligator meat, poisons from plants, and shot gun house floor plans.  I m still looking for a quick acting poison that causes vomiting but not death, but that’s another story.

This is a fun exercise after you know your character.  If you haven’t fully fleshed them out, I wouldn’t do this.  You run the risk of latching on to  a photo as inspiration, and it tends to limit your vision.  Pinterest, and Twitter, are the best tools in my procrastination arsenal, so beware.

If your main character was on Pinterest what would they pin?

CK

Daddy’s Girl Weekend

I have my Guppy badge (SinC), my pitch, and a small notebook.  Ready or not I am off to my first writer’s event.  I am very excited, there’s even an agent available!  It took me a year to write Dead in the Water.  That is from conception to the last editing.  I wrote it in secret, except for four people.  I needed their expertise so I had to come clean!  It has been a fun experience.  Yes, I said fun.  Even when I was rewriting it for the third time, it was still fun.

My favorite part was creating the characters.  I created huge lists of questions for my main characters to answer.  Then I took the advice of the only writer I know, and lived with my character for a week.  I wrote down everything my character would be doing at a given time.  That was an eye opener.  I noticed several flaws in my character development I needed to fix to make Coco more believable.

All the work was worth it.  I am proud of my little mystery.  I know if it gets picked up changes are inevitable… I can live with that.