Archive for 'characters'

Saturday, February 28th, 2009 by Jason Pinter
Sim Book

Somebody once told me–apologies for forgetting who–that the longest-running series are the ones with the least character development. I thought about this recently, as I remembered back a meeting with my publisher to discuss plans for my second book, THE GUILTY, as well as long-term plans for future books in my Henry Parker series. One of the things we discussed was “World Building.” Specifically the importance of creating a universe that is constantly evolving, while staying true to the rules the authors has established. While world building is most commonly associated with fantasy and science fiction, it’s an incredibly important aspect for any series, especially a budding one, where the hope is to both entice new readers while sating fans who’ve been there from the beginning. As an author, it goes against creative impulse to begin every book with a “previously on…” in order to let new readers (or forgetful old ones) catch up, yet you have to approach almost every book with the hopes of drawing from both wells.

My fifth novel, THE DARKNESS, is complete, and the fourth, THE FURY, has been in the can for a few months. In these two books I continued the stories of several main and supporting characters from my first three, while adding a few new characters and major subplots into the fray. I’m about to start work on THE INVITED, the sith in the series, and am trying to accomplish the same thing while continuing to make Henry’s story different yet familiar enough to draw in new fans while satisfying long time reader. Only now I have five books worth of characters and stories to draw from. It opens up my characters’ worlds to more possibilities, but also narrows what I can do with them. I’ve set certain rules, established behavioral patterns, and these must be adhered to.

Several years ago I attended the Romantic Times Booklovers convention, and I recall Jim Butcher stating on a panel that when sitting down to write STORM FRONT, he had the Harry Dresden series plotted out through twenty books. Right now I have my series plotted through six, with ideas for seven percolating. I don’t know, at this point, how many books the series will encompass. Part of it depends on readers. I have seven under contract, and if readers are still hungry for more beyond that and my sales figures support it, chances are there will be more. Certainly at some point I’d like to write something non-series, but as long as there are stories to tell with these characters I’m all for keeping them going. But for how long?

Many authors have written crime series that have gone on for well over ten years, sometimes more and, if anything, are more popular than ever (Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch, Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone and Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum come to mind). These authors still receive strong reviews for their work, regularly top the bestseller lists, and the books stay fresh. But with so many books in a series, how much character development can there be?

The characters in THE FURY an THE DARKNESS wear their scars, both mental and physical, from the first three books in the series. Yet at some point, in a crime series, if the characters wear their scars on their sleeves to a wholly realistic degree, they’d either be dead or going insane, maybe both. Perhaps Lee Child’s Jack Reacher can get away with this, partly because he’s a badass mofo, but he’s a badass to such a degree that scars (physical, at least) are expected. For characters who are cops, reporters, bounty hunters, or hold any one of numerous other dangerous professions, at some point the odds would catch up to them. If the author establishes that a forensic anthropologist or sports agent can be in fatal danger in every book, the reader accepts that as part of the universe. But that means they accept there is something slightly implausible about that universe as a whole, since I doubt many FAs get their degrees with the expectations of being menaced by murderous psychopaths. For the most part readers are willing to accept these credulity strains, provided the author is conistent within the universe they’ve created.

So as an author, how much development do you need to stay true to the character? And how much can you ignore certain implausibilities to create a consistent universe?

P.S. remember to enter the giveaway contest!!!

Monday, January 26th, 2009 by Alison Kent
R-E-S-P-E-C-T Redux

One of the things all writers face, whether writing genre fiction or not, is deadlines. I’m facing a February 2nd one now, so am cramming on this post. As promised last Monday, I’m continuing to look at the subject of respect as it relates to a genre author.

Previously, I addressed respecting our creative process, whatever it may be, however we find it, through trial and error, intuition, workshopping, pharmaceuticals *g*, etc. Today I’m going to cover (or skate over anyway!) other areas deserving equal consideration.

Some of this may sound stern. Do this. Don’t do that. Yes, I put down my thoughts in a hurry, and for that terseness, I apologize. For the rest . . . mmm, not so much. Here’s the deal. I wish published pros had said these things to me years ago, stern, terse, or not. I bear scars, and still limp from running into some of these things sans shin guards. *g*

Respect the Story & Characters

You wear a red shirt in Star Trek? You’re going to die. You wear a black hat in a western? You’re the bad guy. Every genre has similar character shortcuts, cliches, stereotypes. Avoid them. Or if you use them, make them your own. Don’t rely on them as lazy attempts to convince your audience that your characters are genre authentic.

Plot points, character actions, interactions, reactions. Make them logical, believable, not contrived. If you can’t tell that your story’s flowing true, ask. A critique partner, a beta reader. Your mom. Don’t leave plot threads hanging. Don’t wave a magic deus ex machina wand to rescue your people from the hand from the grave. Make them, and the hand, work for it.

If you’re writing a feisty romance heroine, she does not have to have red hair, or see stars when she flies into orgasm. Your alpha hero does not have to be a bitter orphan named Brick Hawk. Neither does he have to hate all women because he was once done wrong – and the woman who done him wrong does not have to be a bitch with stilettos and red fingernails.

Be respectful of your story and your characters. Make them unique. Make them real and true.

Respect the Genre

In a mystery, the puzzle will be solved. In a thriller, the killer brought to justice. In an inspirational, protagonists will also have a relationship with God. In science fiction, there will be science. In fantasy, intricate worldbuilding. In a romance, the boy will get the girl. Simple, yes, but those are genre expectations. Don’t mess with genre expectations. If you can’t write within the constraints, write elsewhere. A reader who picks up a mass market paperback with “romance” on the spine expects – and rightfully deserves – a happy ending. That’s why s/he is buying the book. Genre expectations. Learn them. Live them. Respect them.

Respect the Publishing Process

From day one of the call, work with your agent, editor and publishing house to set reasonable deadlines. Don’t promise what you can’t deliver. If you find yourself unable to turn in a manuscript by the expected date, let your editor know ASAP. There is usually room for forgiveness and flexibility, but do not abuse the process. Do not take advantage. Do not assume each time you ask for an extension that it’s no big deal. In fact, assume the opposite. Better yet, respect your contractual obligations and get your book in on time. (I learned this lesson the hard way, and that’s all I’m gonna say about that (tm Forrest Gump).

Unless you and your editor have already established such a working relationship (as in, s/he wants to see your work in progress and give input ::shudder::), do not turn in drafts. Polish and edit and revise until your fingers fall off, and then use your toes and start over. Proofread. Verify word meanings. Use correct punctuation. The easier you make your editor’s job, the easier your own. That said, your editor is not your friend. Neither is s/he your critique partner.

S/he has dozens of other authors s/he works with. The squeaky wheel may get the grease, but eventually, the editor gets rid of the one that’s high maintenance and buys a replacement model. You don’t want to be replaced in your editor’s garage by an author who turns in perfect prose, so respect your editor and turn in your bestest BESTEST work every time.

Respect the Readers

A reader who picks up a novel with “romance” on the spine wants a happy ending. S/he wants hope and happiness. S/he wants to turn the last page and know that after all the pain and suffering, the characters with whom s/he’s spent hours, did indeed find true love.

Research is your friend. Readers will KNOW if your cop is carrying the wrong gun, if your Earl can indeed be called Sir Dude (that shows what I know about titles). Readers will call you on it if your baker is wearing a ponytail but not a required hairnet, if your peace officer works for a department that doesn’t exist in the state where you’ve set your book (saw that one recently). Yes, it’s fiction. But if your fiction is representative of real life (as opposed to those things which we don’t know are real), readers want to find and recognize the familiar.

Assume your readers are smart. They usually are. Often smarter than you. Don’t dumb down your prose. Don’t cheat. Don’t info dump to make sure they get it. Don’t beat them over the head to make sure they don’t forget. They get it. They don’t forget. Neither do they forgive if you treat them wrongly. A reader fan can give you publicity you can’t pay for, and many do so daily on their blogs. Word of mouth is the only proven-to-be-successful promotional tool.

Respect Yourself

Creativity can be glorious. It can also be grueling. Eat right, move more than your fingers, sleep many many hours. You don’t want to work yourself to death, and not be around to enjoy the fruit of all that labor. When the words dry up, fill the creative well. Take a walk in the park. Visit a museum. Go to the zoo. Plant flowers. Watch waves foam on the sand (my fave).

When the noise of industry news, publishing gossip, author bickering, bragging, and speculating interferes, back away from the blogs, loops, the email and IMs. You can’t exist on a steady diet of crap and expect to produce good work. Garbage in, garbage out, and all that.

Lastly, don’t ever forget your non-writing friends and family. They are your rocks, your anchors; when you spend hours a day in a fictional world, that real life touchstone is vital. They love you. Be there for them. Lean on them. Never let work get in the way of that precious gift.

Friday, January 23rd, 2009 by LViehl
The Last Word

It’s 5:04 a.m. here.  I am sitting in the middle of a blizzard with a mostly-dead guy.  I’m cold, I can’t feel my toes and we’re about to be hit by an avalanche.  But it’s important that I be here.  This is the moment when he will say everything that needs to be said, and I’m going to write it down.  I’m ready, I’m listening.  And my mostly-dead guy opens his eyes, looks up at me and says,

“Where is my horse?”


Horse?  What horse?


“The one I just rode into battle three days ago,” he tells me.  “The stallion I raised myself as a boy, and trained, and made my friend and constant companion.  The horse I have traveled nowhere without for the last thirty years.”


Oh.  That horse.   One of the biggest problems with being a novelist is keeping track of an almost infinite number of little story details.  Especially the ones I don’t like.  Like this horse.

At this moment the logic problem of the horse doesn’t concern me.  I am writing this scene, not editing it.  Still, I make a short notation in the margins of my draft:  [horse where?] for when I do my daily edit  later.  Now I’m ready to hear the man’s last words.


“Another thing.”  My mostly-dead guy pushes himself up out of the snowdrift.  “Why am I wearing all this armor?”


That one I had an answer for.  “Because you just came from the battlefield.”


“I’m wearing metal armor.”  He waits a beat.  “In winter.  In the middle of a blizzard.”


“It wasn’t snowing during the battle.  This just started a couple hours ago.”  That doesn’t seem to impress him.  “Do you know how long it took me to find three reputable sources with decent descriptions of what you guys wore back in the day?”


He kicks some snow at me.  “It’s cold.  I need some furs.  Or a woolen cloak.”


I have read about a hundred and fifty books on this man’s culture, time period and occupation.  I should know what he wears under, over, and around this armor of his.  By now I should be able to make his armor.  But I don’t know how his people dealt with wearing it in extreme climate conditions like this blizzard, so I make another notation in the margin:  [armor – winter – storm – outer furs/cloaks?]


“You’re strong,” I assure him.  “You can take it.  Now, about your last words.  I was thinking  you could maybe say something about how this isn’t the end, you’ll never be defeated, and you’ll go into hell fighting every inch of the way.  Something like that.”


“I’m not fighting going to Hell,” he argues.  “Jesus, woman, I’m freezing.” 


“I don’t mean literally.  You can’t go to hell.  You’re the hero.”  Honesty makes me add, “And you can’t use Jesus as an expletive.  He’s not one of your deities.”


“Oh for Gods’ sake.”  He holds his head with his ice-encrusted hands.  “Where is my horse?”


With my luck?  The horse was probably in my backyard eating my rosebushes with the three runaways we caught on New Year’s Eve.  But no, that’s my reality, not his.  “He’s dead.”


He gives me a stricken look.  “You killed my horse?” 


“He died in battle.”  Only I remember that he didn’t, actually, but there is no way I’m rewriting that blasted battle scene again.  “Wait.  He’s alive.  He ran away during the fighting.”


He shakes his head.  “I trained him not to bolt, remember?”


Now I do.  I put way too much about this horse in the back story, I can see that now.  Note to self:  next book, no horses.  “Then he was captured by the bad guys.”


“No one else can ride him but me.”


“It’s just a horse.  Who cares what happened to him?  Get over it.”  But in my heart I know he’s right.  The characters who bicker with me always are.  “Look, I’ll have your nemesis steal him, and take him back to the city, and spend the rest of his life trying to tame him so he can ride him.  Naturally he’ll never succeed.”


He gives me a stony look.


“Then in a couple of years, I’ll have your horse trample him to death.”  He doesn’t react.  “And I’ll describe it in minute, painful detail.”  No response.   The last of my patience evaporates. “Or I could give the horse to the barbarian hordes and let them roast big chunks of him over a fire.   They’re always hungry and not too particular about what’s for dinner.”


“You wouldn’t.”


“Keep pushing.”  I show him some teeth.  “You’ll find out.”

“Give him to my enemy,” he says at last. 


I make my third notation [horse captured by enemy, taken to city, is never tamed, tramples enemy to death]  “Done.”  I smile.  “Now, about those last heroic lines before the tons of snow fall on your head.”


He glances around him.  “Where is my sword?”


Terrific.  Something else I forgot.  “You dropped it during the battle.”


He touches his belt.  “And my daggers?”


“The guys who picked over the bodies after the battle stole them.”  What is it with this man and all these stupid little details?  “You don’t need them.  We have to move on now.  Your last words are going to be . . . ” I roll my hand.


“I need to kill myself.”  As I start telling him how much that sucks, he lifts his hand.  “All of my brothers-in-arms just committed suicide to avoid capture and dishonor.  You read the research.  You know it’s what we do.  Give me a blade.”


“You’re not being captured,” I yell.  “You’re going to be buried alive.  Honorably.  Any second now.”


“This is what you do to your hero?  After you give his horse to his worst enemy?”  He sniffs.


For a guy who was only supposed to appear on five pages of my manuscript he’s really getting mouthy.  And interesting, damn him.  I have to put my foot down.  “You’re not the hero.  You were the hero.”


He folds his arms.  “I want my sword.”


Sometimes for whatever reason, characters won’t cooperate.  But a good writer can always get around that.  You just have to think outside the box – and occasionally that means giving them exactly what they want.


“All right, all right.  Here’s the sword.”  After it appears in his hand, I watch him position the tip at the center of his chest.  “Excuse me.  When did I tell you that you could run yourself through with it?”


His expression turns stubborn.  “I must.”


“No, honey.  You can act like you’re going to do it, but if this whole idea is going to work, there can’t be any wounds on your body.  Other than, you know.”  I gesture at his side.


“Tough.”  He wraps his hands around the hilt.


I can see he’s determined to do this thing.  Which is exactly what I want.  “Any last words?”


“I do not surrender to death,” he tells me.  “I take refuge in it.  And someday, when I find the means, I will return to this world.  I will have my revenge.”


“Perfect.”  I make the sword disappear, and he smacks himself in the chest with his empty fists.  “Thank you very much.” 


He scowls.  “You tricked me.”


“Uh-huh.”  In reality, I haven’t tricked him at all.  Throughout this scene I have not been talking to a real man.  I’ve been reconciling what I write with what is produced by the part of my brain that invents and perpetuates the constructs I think of as my characters.

In essence, I’ve been arguing with my own imagination.

I get busy packing up my dictation gear when I remember I still haven’t dealt with the armor situation.  The perfect solution to that and another story problem pops into my head.  Fortunately I don’t have to make another notation – I just have to tell him to do it.   


“Take off your clothes.”




“It’s a weird thing people do sometimes when they get hypothermia,” I tell him.  “They feel hot and take off their clothes.  I’m not making this up.  It was on the news.  It happened to that guy who got lost with his family in the woods like two or three years ago.” 


“It’s forty below out here,” he shouts.


Now it is,” I correct him.  “It won’t be forever.  And they have to find you naked, right?  So strip.”


I love having the last word.  Even with myself.