Bringing the monsters to life

I don’t normally think of myself as Dr. Frankenstein. Occasionally when my kids are running around the house buck-naked and screaming about poop, I do wonder what sort of monsters I’ve given life to. But usually I can blame my husband for those kinds of behaviors.

Being an author, you don’t always create monsters (depends on the genre) but you do create characters. And characters have to come to life on the page as clearly as the characters who live in your everyday life. They have to have quirks, likes, dislikes, and histories. They have to be fully realized in your mind or they won’t be fully realized on the page and in the reader’s mind.

So how do you do this?

One way is to plan. Create a chart, color-coded spreadsheet, list, rambling page of thoughts, or intricate and detailed mind map, whatever suits your style. Start brainstorming who your character is and what makes them unique. Interview your characters, and try to respond in their voice. Beth Barany at Writers Fun Zone has a useful list of essential elements to think about when creating characters.

If you’re not into planning, try imagining a character, then start writing. Put the character in a situation and go for it. Don’t over think, but let the character reveal themselves through your writing. You might end up with a hot mess, or you might discover a gem of a character you never knew was hiding inside your mind. Letting the story come through naturally can be a good alternative to overplanning, especially if you’re feeling stuck. And of course, you’ll always need to go back and revise once your characters have revealed themselves to make sure the story hangs together.

Whichever way you develop characters, make sure to give them a dark side. An Achille’s heel. What are they terrible at? What are their deepest, most intense fears? Then make your characters confront them. I know, it sounds so cruel. But a character without flaws is a Mary Sue–an idealized version of humanity, AKA uninteresting. Unless your readers are under the age of 5, they don’t want to read about Jane Doe’s fabulous, predictable life where everything always happens as it should. Great for her. Boring for us. There’s no story there.

Characters need to be tested by facing up to the bad/scary/hard things that happen to them. Readers need the excitement of living vicariously through someone else’s disaster while reclining comfortably on their couch eating chocolate bon bons. Unfair, but that’s how it goes.

Do you have any tips for developing character? Please share!

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Highlights from Bouchercon 2014, Murder at the Beach

This year, I attended my first ever Bouchercon: The Annual World Mystery Convention, for readers, writers, publishers, agents, booksellers, murderers, and general lovers of crime. Fiction. Crime fiction.

The conference travels to a variety of locations. This year, it was in Long Beach, CA.

Top Three Best Moments:

  1. Pulling a Dr Livingstone, I presume? on Terry Shames in the Oakland airport.
  2. Socializing with Oakland writer friends Gigi Pandian, Sophie Littlefield, Juliet Blackwell, and Mysti Berry, because really, why hang out at home when we can go hang out in Long Beach?
  3. Deliberately sitting in front of Charlaine Harris in the audience at a panel, having her introduce herself to me, then best of all, waiting in line to have her sign a book and having her greet me by name. Yes folks, Charlaine Harris recognized me and remembered my name SEVERAL HOURS after meeting me. And she didn’t even check my name tag first.

Things I learned for next time:

  1. If you don’t want to eat cookies for breakfast—and even if you do—it’s smart to bring your own food.
  2. Take breaks if you need to. There is always another panel.
  3. Room with Gigi Pandian, because she’s awesome. And she’s armed with chocolate.

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Me and Gigi at Bouchercon 2014, which was held entirely underwater.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Diversifying Your Portfolio: It’s not just for money anymore

So lately I’ve been thinking about diversifying my writing portfolio. (In other words, writing in more than one genre.)

Why on earth would I be thinking that, you ask? Here are three reasons.

Reason Number One: Because Paranormal is dead.* People gorged on Twilight and True Blood, and in the harsh light of the morning-after vampire hangover, have sworn off all creatures of the supernatural variety.

Except for zombies because apparently those are still cool and sexy? This still confuses me. Somebody please explain the appeal of the zombie.

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Um…yeah…

Reason Number Two: If you can write and sell romances to one niche audience, thrillers to another, and cozy mysteries to a third—then you are insanely talented and you should go do that. Even if you do end up going with a traditional publisher (full disclosure: I hope to be one of those people one day), you might end up working with several different-sized publishers for different books. You might release in e-book and/or paper book, depending on what makes sense for that book. You might traditionally publish your more market-friendly genres, and independently publish your collection of lighthouse-themed haiku. All options should be open.

Reason Number Three: Because I’m a human being. (Oops, was that a big reveal? I hope it wasn’t.) Being a human being (that sounds awkward, but you know what I mean), I like to read different kinds of books. For example, there’s teens versus government conspiracy a la Michele Gagnon, Kelley Armstrong and Malindo Lo. Humorous romantic mysteries like those by Gemma Halliday and Liliana Hart. I also enjoy a good true-life polar or mountain-climbing disaster.

The point here is that I read in multiple genres, and it makes sense that I might try writing in different genres too.

*By the way, I don’t believe in Reason Number One. The market is glutted, and publishers aren’t buying new paranormal, that’s true. But readers are out there and everything comes around again eventually.

What are your thoughts? Do you write in multiple genres? Let me know!

Preparing for Nanowrimo

It’s almost Nanowrimo time!

Nanowrimo is National Novel Writing Month, AKA November. It’s an opportunity to jump on the nerd bandwagon and produce at least 50,000 words in thirty days, knowing that all over the world, other wacky Wrimos are doing—or attempting to do—the same.

October is a plotting month. While most of you are plotting your Halloween costumes, and some of you are plotting to overthrow the government, the rest of us are plotting and scheming hundreds of terrible things that we plan to inflict on our characters. There are many ways to plan a novel—including not planning at all—but here is my process.

I started with a genre: Mystery. Easy. I love reading mysteries.

I came up with the seed of an idea: A character, in a situation, where stuff happens. After patting myself on the back for coming up with such a brilliant premise, I did the following exercises to flesh out the story and give myself something to work with.

  1. Character studies: I wrote a page or two in the voice of each of the main characters. I plan on writing the novel in one character’s voice, but I needed to get to know each character, and writing from their point of view was helpful.
  2. Backstory: I wrote out some scenes that happen before the story starts. These may get incorporated through exposition, memory or even the dreaded flashback, but even if they don’t end up in the story, the experiences can inform my characters.
  3. Visual plotting: I started plotting the story on notecards (thank you Tish Davidson for the idea). I wrote a few sentences per scene on each card. Then I laid them out on the floor and started to create an order. The great thing about this is that you can change or insert scenes as you create them. The difficult thing is that unless you have an extra plotting room in your house, you probably have to redo the card layout every time you work on your novel. I hear you can do this sort of thing on Scrivener or Excel, but I haven’t tried that yet.
  4. Chronology planning: My notecards include scenes that will not end up in the novel. For example, while the narrator is dallying with her boyfriend’s first cousin in the rose garden, the murderer is off buying rat poison with which to off said cousin. So those cards go together, even though the narrator will never know that’s what the murderer was doing at that moment. But it’s helpful to me as the writer to keep straight when everything is happening.
  5. Brainstorming: This is probably the most important thing you can do to prepare to write a novel. Take a situation you want to write about and make a list of 100 different ways to handle it. The first 5-10 will probably be the most clichéd and predictable. The last 25 or so will be the most ridiculous. But somewhere in there you might find an idea that is original and fun and takes your novel out of the depths of predictability and into the heights of creativity.

Which is really what Nanowrimo is all about.

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Who is joining me in Nano this year? What’s your process/helpful hints? Let me know!

 

Writing Process Blog Chain

Thanks to Michele Cacano and Struggling Writer for tagging me in this Writing Process Blog Chain. You can find out more about their writing processes on their blogs, A Dream and A Scream for Michele and The Struggling Writer for Struggling Writer.

The purpose behind the blog chain is to learn more about fellow writers. Also, if you break the chain, you’re looking at seven years of bad luck. I wasn’t about to risk that, so here goes.

What am I currently working on?

An urban fantasy about huldras (telepathic super strong women), shape shifters (who can turn into animals at will and are mostly super hot) and the humans who bumble around in their midst. My main character, novice huldra Jolene Birch, is trying to adjust to her new reality and take control of her powers when she stumbles over the body of a dead shape shifter and find herself framed for murder. Hilarity ensues.

I have several other WIPs including a YA science fiction and two murder mysteries, but those are in the “on the shelf” stage.

How does my work differ from others in my genre?

It’s not as dark and gritty as a lot of urban fantasies. I’m not into blood and gore. Death and danger, yes. Intestines and severed limbs, no. There is a murder mystery at the heart of the story. There’s also some romance and humor thrown in. It’s kind of a blend of all the genres I like to read.

Why do I write what I do?

Because the voices in my head tell me to, of course. Why else?

Also, I write what I want to read. I love books that are funny and suspenseful and have female leads who are strong but have a lot of growing to do. There’s got to be at least one love interest, preferably a couple of murders, and if someone has a secret superpower, all the better.

I was kidding about the voices. Really.

How does your writing process work?

I get ideas all the time. Usually they’re ideas for characters and/or scenes. I like to put my character into situations and imagine how she’d react. Then I start writing the scene. I often don’t end up plotting/outlining until I’ve written a lot of scenes. This doesn’t always work out well for me. I wish I could be more of a planner. Sigh.

Next, the piece gets workshopped through my writing group. They are always kind and invariably tough. They don’t let me get away with clichés and plot holes. They only occasionally confuse me with my main character.

Then I rewrite. And rewrite. And rewrite. Throw my hands up and start on the next thing. Go back to the original and rewrite some more. I don’t know exactly where all this will end, but that’s the good, bad and the ugly of my writing process.

The next step

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Now it’s my turn to tag another writer. For your reading pleasure, I’ve chosen MA Scott of Masfiction, a spousal writing team that creates extraordinary stories of adventure and romance. They’ve seen reality and it’s not for them.

Enjoy!

Top Three Best Moments of Oscars 2014

In the spirit of full disclosure, I should begin this post by admitting I have not seen any of the movies that won Oscars this year, or any that were nominated, or any that were not nominated. You might be wondering, then, why I sat through the Oscars in the first place. I wasn’t planning on watching, but people in my house had it on, so I joined in. Here are my top three best moments from this year’s Oscars.

Best Moment #3: Lupita Nyong’o’s Acceptance Speech

Lupita began her acceptance by acknowledging the suffering of the real-life person she played in the movie, thanked about a million people in the middle, and ended with affirming that everyone’s dreams matter. And she never even mentioned her future self.

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As heartfelt as her speech was, it’s worth remembering that Lupita Nyong’o is only the seventh black woman to win an Oscar. SEVENTH. Think about it, people. The Oscars have been happening for about a million years, and we only have seven black women winners. This win was a massive, well-deserved, life-changing step for Lupita and a minuscule, tiptoeing, have-to-look-really-closely-to-see-it shuffle in the general direction of equality for all humankind.

Best Moment #2: Robert De Niro’s Description of the Writer

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Here’s Nathan Bransford responding on behalf of writers everywhere, via Twitter:

#1 Best Moment of Oscar’s 2014: John Travolta Epically Failing to Pronounce Idina Menzel’s Name

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The best part about this moment? Within seconds of the flub, someone had created a Twitter handle for Adela Dazeem. By the time Idina/Adela finished her song, @AdelaDazeem had over 1,000 followers and was tweeting things like “THANK YOU JORN TROMOLTO!” She now has over 18K followers. When somebody gets to be funny and clever on a global scale, I say that is truly progress. And we should all thank the Academy for not putting John Travolta in charge of presenting the award to Lupita Nyong’o.

Did you watch the Oscars? What did you think? Which movies did you love? Let me know!

Another Kind of Warrior

Last night, I had the opportunity to attend my first NBA basketball game, the Golden State Warriors vs the 76ers. My husband’s idea of date night: Free tickets courtesy of an educational technology firm called EverFi. They were sponsoring a group of high school students to attend the game. I agreed to go after being assured I wasn’t responsible for monitoring the children. Field trips are great, but not my idea of a hot date.

We met the EverFi folks in front of the Oracle Arena in Oakland. They seemed like a nice group, fluent in both regular English and Edu-speak. We donned our Oracle Arena lanyards with our Oracle Arena tickets, and were led by an usher into the Oracle Arena. He led us right past a line of people waiting outside a door marked VIP Entrance. As we cut in front of the VIP line, I started to think maybe my husband had the right idea about tonight.

Later, we were given Wilt Chamberlain bobble head dolls. What I knew about Mr. Chamberlain is he slept with about a billion women. What I learned is that he scored one hundred points in a single game. Good to know they’re giving bobble heads out for that instead of the other thing, no?

Another perk of being the EverFi guests: We got to sit courtside to watch the warm-up. Here’s a picture of us, which we immediately put up on Twitter and implied we would be sitting there for the whole game. Instead, it was about ten minutes.

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The gentlemen warming up were quite large and tattooed.

Here’s a picture I took of one of them:

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That’s Marreese Speights, who ended up leading the blowout against the 76ers.

Another player, Stephen Curry, was also really good, despite being neither as large nor as tattooed as his teammate. I did find his oral fixation a bit distracting. I mean, if you’re going to wear a mouthguard, shouldn’t it stay inside your mouth? I wore them back in my field hockey days, and I’m quite sure they don’t work when hanging out of your mouth.

Although we passed on the $12 Bud Lights, I still had a great time. The company was fun, the game was exciting, and we even got featured on the Jumbotron. All we had to do was wave around some big red posters that read Oracle Arena while wearing Oracle Arena T-shirts. And now I can say for certain that I know exactly where the Warriors play, and it’s named after that sailboat that won the America’s Cup.