Monday, February 18, 2019

Who is the Main Character?

Figuring out who the main character is in your novel is often hard for the romance writer when both the hero and heroine are strong personalities.  The same is true for fantasy novels with large casts.

The simplest way to find out is to ask yourself who has to change the most in very important ways to reach her/his goal.  That person is the main character.

The main character should act to reach that goal, not have it happen to him/her as a matter of events.  

Why do you need to know? If you know, you can make the novel stronger by emphasizing that character’s changes.

And when it comes time to market that novel to a publisher or the reader, you’ll know who to emphasize when you describe your novel.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Avoid the Bubble Scene

Fiction narrative is a river of cause and effect which sweeps the reader and the characters through the novel.  What happens in each scene affects what happens through the rest of the novel, and main characters should change as these events affect them.  

If the sweet heroine has to kill someone to save her lover’s life, that death should change her, and that person’s death should affect the events of the novel.  

If that death scene has no effect on either the heroine or the plot, it is a bubble scene.  The reader may also decide that she’s not so sweet and may be a psychopath.

If she nearly makes love to another man and doesn’t think about her true love and that event does nothing to change her or the plot, that’s a bubble scene.  You’ve also changed the reader’s view on your heroine’s worthiness for a happily ever after.

Bubble scenes are emotional failures because the reader loses their connection to the story you want to tell. These scenes also change the reader’s perception of your character.

If a scene has nothing to do with the rest of the novel, you should ask yourself if it should be included.  When the answer is no, that bubble scene should be popped. 

Monday, February 4, 2019

Making the Victim Matter

Mystery, romantic suspense, and urban fantasy novels often start with a dead body, and the main character’s goal is to find out the who, what, when, where, and why of his death so she can solve the crime.  

The first hook for the reader is curiosity about the victim and the crime as well as the main detective/character’s personality, etc.  

Most readers will allow the writer time to set up the situation and to gather the first clues, but a certain point, the reader’s patience and interest will wear thin unless the writer gives the reader a reason to care about the victim.  Simply getting justice for the victim isn’t enough to keep most readers reading the whole novel.  

The simplest way to make the reader care is to make the victim someone the reader would care about instantly -- a child, an innocent, a good person, or a person with a job that matters like being a school teacher, doctor, social worker, or an honest cop.  

Even someone who was a jerk or bad person will matter if he died doing something decent, or he had survivors who care.  A weeping mother or wife who begs for justice is a strong motivator for the detective and the reader because they create an emotional stake in the person’s death.  If the detective must prove it was murder, not suicide, so the young widow with little kids will get death benefits, the solution will matter.

If nothing about the victim will give the detective or the reader any reason to care that he was murdered, then the detective must have another reason to solve the crime.  Perhaps, he will lose his job because his failure rate at solving crimes is so high, or he’s caught in a political situation where only solving this crime will save his career.  The victim could be one of a string of serial killings, but the killer has made several sloppy mistakes in this killing which could be his downfall so the detective is trying to stop other murders as well as solving this one.  

A method used in TV shows like CSI or BONES is to make the good guys and their scientific methods as important as the crime’s solution.  We care about them more than the rotting corpse of the abusive pimp at the crime scene, and their lives are the soap opera that drives the emotional plot while the science drives the mystery plot.  

Having the killer go after the detective or people he cares about is also a tried and true method to make the solution matter.

Whatever method you use, just remember that the main character’s goal in solving the crime must be a strong and worthy one, and the emotional reasons for the solution must matter to both the reader and the detective.  

Monday, January 28, 2019

The Teflon Hero

Think back to the original STAR TREK.  Captain Kirk fell in love and lost the girl to some horrific fate, and he was sad, but in the next week’s episode, he was the same Jim Kirk as he was at the beginning of the last episode.  He lost battles and friends, but the next week, he was the same Jim Kirk.  He remained the same Jim Kirk throughout the whole series.  He was a Teflon hero.  Life experience slid right off him, and he remained the same.  

But that was okay because all TV heroes were much the same back then.  Each had a Teflon coating so experience wouldn’t change him.  TV series were episodic rather than linear, and each episode was an emotional reset to the original characters.

Today, the series characters do change on TV with the more linear story-telling, but, even then, they don’t change that much because the series itself would change.  The detective driven by a family member’s murder who has moved past that anger will be a flatter character.  

In genre fiction single titles like romance, characters do change as events affect them, and they tend to stay changed through the book.  In a series, however, the changes in the character tend to reflect the type of story being told.  

Urban fantasy usually has a main character who changes as the series progresses.  Harry Dresden and Kate Daniels have grown emotionally.  One series that I’ve admired for the changes in the main character is Darynda Jones’ “Grim Reaper” series.  Charley has even dealt with PTSD after she was almost tortured to death, and it took over a book for her to deal with it and come out on the other side changed.

Action/adventure of the Clive Cussler variety continues the tradition of the manly man Teflon hero.  

In your own books, you must decide if your main characters are Teflon or not.  Part of that decision is based on genre and audience expectations.  What do readers of the types of book you are writing expect?  The other part is author decision.  What kind of character do you want to write?

But consider the problem with Teflon and the reader.  The reader is much less likely to stick around without character change and growth.  

Monday, January 21, 2019

The Chaos Character

A character type I’ve noticed a lot in recent months of reading is what I call the chaos character.  Not only does the character create chaos around him by his actions, he fills many pages as he flounders about the main character or characters as they try to move forward toward their plot goal for the book.

Last night, the novel I read was peppered with the antics of a chaos character— an elderly uncle who kept appearing where he shouldn’t be so the other characters would have to stop what they were doing to keep him safe, or he would bring in new characters who might be involved in the mystery so he was making things more complicated and tainting the investigation.  

Did his almost constant presence improve the novel?  No, the plot turned into chaos to the point that no one was moving forward, and the plot had to solve itself.  A slight dose of this character could have been used for humor.  Instead, he proved to be nothing more than page filler which destroyed the mystery.  

Can a secondary chaos character work? As I said, in a small dose, yes.  In my TIME AFTER TIME about reincarnation, my hero and heroine are visiting a powerful psychic who is trying to help the hero convince the heroine that reincarnation is a real thing.  Everything is going positively until a medium friend of the psychic wanders in and blurts out information about the heroine’s mother that emotionally destroys the heroine. 

I use this chaos character, not only to mess up the hero’s plan, but, more importantly, to allow the hero to finally discover why the heroine is so reluctant to accept reincarnation.  After her mother’s sudden death, she was preyed on and badly hurt by a fake medium so that anything remotely resembling spiritual explanations or events freaks her out.  The main characters must move past this to find their happy ending.

A chaos character can be used as an important character, mostly as a villain.  The Joker from BATMAN is a chaos character as well as a psychotic killer. Loki from THE AVENGERS is also chaotic.  As a comic character, both can be over the top in a way that a novel character can’t so care must be taken in how this type of character is used.

A bit of chaos can add humor, danger, or misdirection, but too much creates a mess of a novel.  

Monday, January 14, 2019

Stupid in a Sea of Smart

“Idjits!” —Bobby Singer, SUPERNATURAL.

In the last week, I’ve read three books that depended on stupid main characters surrounded by people in the know.  I’m not talking characters who were mentally impaired in some way.  These characters were intelligent enough, but they were in situations where they were totally ignorant and everyone else knew and understood what was going on.  Heck, one book’s pet cat was smarter than its humans.  Sometimes, the main characters even refused to accept what the knowlegable characters knew despite evidence to the contrary.   

I’ve always preferred intelligent characters, but these characters bothered me beyond their behavior.  In each book, the constant need for explanations, protection by the more knowledgable characters, and the utter incompetence sucked the forward motion and interest right out of the book.  

Your main character should be active, not passive, in personality, plot choices, and forward motion, and stupid will suck the active right out of every element of the book.  

This doesn’t mean you should write a good-at-everything “Mary Sue” or a Sherlock Holmes character who understands everything, but you should have a character who has enough knowledge to move forward to gain more knowledge or information as the plot moves forward.  And, by no means, should you ever use stupidity as a major plot device through a book.  

Monday, January 7, 2019

New Year, Same Problems

Here are some important links about the business of being a writer.  If you have books with a small publisher or an e-publisher, be sure to read about bankruptcy clauses in your contracts.  Any author who has had to deal with publisher bankruptcy will tell you that it’s a very difficult situation to be in, and knowledge is power. 

Professional Links of Interest

COPYRIGHT CONCERNS AND PUBLISHING SCAMS LINKS (Pay particular attention to the bankruptcy clause article):


Part 1: 

Part 2:


AMAZON INSIGHTS INTO PROMO (Offers some suggestions even if you aren’t a Kindle author) :