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!

Post-NaNo Update

Wow, it’s been a long time since my last post. I left off of blogging to put my energies into NaNoWriMo and somehow two and a half months have gone by. I guess I have no one to blame but Thanksgiving Hanukkah Christmas New Years myself.

NaNo was awesome. I had daily word count goals, which I stuck to (for the most part) and accomplished 50,000 words of a new novel by November 29. It was such a great feeling to achieve that goal. But the best part was actually spending a month writing consistently.

Here are my Top 5 Lessons Learned from my first NaNoWriMo:

1.    I can write a page in 15 minutes.

A real page! In regular-sized font! I didn’t know I could do that. Kind of does away with the excuse that I don’t have time to write, doesn’t it?

2.    Accountability is helpful.

Posting my goals and updating my word count on the NaNo website was fun and motivating. Anyone want to start a word count competition with me?

3.   Outlining is a good thing.

I wrote an outline for my NaNo novel during the month of October. Turns out when you outline an entire story, it helps you stay on track when you’re actually writing the thing. Otherwise, you may reach the end of your novel only to realize the story is totally different than you thought it was. You then have to decide: Do I rewrite the entire first half of the novel? Or toss it into the trash and never look at it again? With an outline, you get to the end and say, “Yay, I got to the end!”

4.   Social media is a mixed blessing.

The pep talks by authors on the NaNoWriMo website were inspiring. Twitter was slightly distracting but somewhat NaNo-related. Trolling Facebook to see which of my friends is getting married/having a baby/eating Paleo was not conducive to writing at all.

5.    50,000 words is a lot—but it’s not a complete novel.

It’s a skeleton. The next step is to go back and fill in the flesh, the blood, the organs, the muscle tissue—well, you get the idea. But having a solid skeleton is whole lot better than having nothing.

Did you win NaNoWriMo this year? What was your experience like? What are you going to do with the novel? Let me know!

The Challenge of NaNoWriMo

Drumroll, please:

I’ve decided to do NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, this November. If you haven’t heard of it, this is a global phenomenon where people commit to writing a 50,000 word novel (at least! Some people do much more!) in a month. Yes, that’s the catch. You can plan all you want, but the actual writing takes place between November 1st and 30th.

This will be my first time doing NaNo. I’m excited about it. I’ve been stuck in revisions of my novel for so long that the idea of writing something totally new and from scratch is appealing. To meet new characters and see what they do in this crazy world I’ve created for them. And to throw obstacles in their way as fast as I can think of them.

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But NaNo is going to be a huge challenge. It means writing a lot, every day. And the thing about NaNoWriMo is that the other things don’t go away while you’re doing it. Dinner still doesn’t make itself. Groceries don’t magically appear in the fridge. And work isn’t keen on the idea of me taking November off. Plus, there are people who live in my house who demand a lot of attention. Plus, I have kids. 😉

Oh, and then there’s this day in November where friends and family want you to eat a lot of food and spend time with them.

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Are you doing NaNoWriMo? Have you done it before? What are the biggest challenges and rewards to writing a novel in a month? Let me know!