Monday, October 15, 2018

Using Misunderstandings as Humor

I have never written strictly comic stories, my writing tends toward darker or more serious stories, but I like to add comic elements.  These elements are situational, not in the sense of a situation comedy filled with punch lines, but the humor lies in the situation.  

Humor changes the pace of the story, can reflect on what is happening, or gives the reader another side of a character.
One type of humorous scene has one character totally misunderstanding or not having the right information in a situation.  

This example is from an unpublished category romance of mine called COURTING DISASTER.  The hero and heroine work at the same sporting goods store during the Christmas rush, and they’ve finished a full day of work.  They chat in the parking lot at their cars.  Cody is very interested in Maggie, but she’s not interested in any man because she wants to remain true to her late husband.  For the first time, she’s beginning to see that maybe this isn’t quite as easy a life decision as she thought.  

The punchline for this misunderstanding is that Molly is Cody’s golden retriever puppy, but Maggie doesn’t know this.  The reader is in on this joke because Molly was in an earlier scene with Cody. 

Cody sighed loudly.  "On a night like tonight, I'm glad I don't have to go home to an empty house.  Nothing’s worse than an empty house and a dinner for one.”

Maggie’s heart twitched more painfully than her feet.  That was exactly what was waiting for her.  An empty house.  “You have a housemate?”

"No.  I was talking about Molly."  They stopped by Maggie's car, and Cody grinned inanely.  "I must admit Molly turns me into a pile of mush when I'm around her.  I never expected to be as crazy over her as I am.”

Cold settled in Maggie's heart.  "That's nice." 

"I really miss her when I'm working.  I promised her I'd spend tomorrow morning with her.  I can already guess what will happen.  She'll curl up against me in bed early tomorrow morning, rest her head on my chest, and stare at me with those big brown eyes until I wake up.”

Vivid images flashed through Maggie's head.  A beautiful woman naked against Cody, her head resting on his magnificent bare chest--he probably had curly auburn hair on it--and he'd..., and she'd...  Maggie fumbled for her keys in her purse, her head down to hide embarrassment and envy.

"Later, we'll go for a run in the woods and find some fallen leaves to play in.  She loves fallen leaves.  We'll play in the leaves, then I'll scratch her tummy, and her tail will really wiggle.  Then we'll snuggle."

Considerably more than her tail would wiggle if he scratched her tummy.  But she didn't want her tummy scratched!  Not by him, not by anybody.  She was an adult, she was Jeff's widow, she was....  She was jealous of Molly.  

Flustered by that knowledge, Maggie unlocked her car door.  "Well, have a nice day off."

"I intend to." 


I didn’t want the reader to think Cody was deliberately fooling Maggie about Molly’s identity so I had him tell her about his puppy earlier although he failed to mention her name which was an honest omission on his part, not a mean joke.

I also didn’t want Maggie to be an idiot about this mistake so I let her realize her error a few paragraphs later when Cody shows her the new collar he got for Molly.  This also allows her to question her own feelings about Cody and her determined decision to remain a widow.  

To make this light moment more than a throw-away joke, I made Molly an integral part of the plot through the novel.  

For a light moment to work in a novel, it should never be a throw-away joke.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Naming Your Character

Finding the right name for a character involves a number of variables.

*The period the story is set in.  Names must be authentic for the period.  A number of websites are available for different historical periods as well as recent years.  Do your research, and don't have a Medieval heroine named Tiffany. 

Here are a few sites to look at

Popular first names in recent years:  http://www.ssa.gov/OACT/babynames/index.html

*The location of the story and ethnic background of your characters.

Popular first name by state: http://www.ssa.gov/OACT/babynames/index.html  

*The current impression the name gives.  Years ago, for example, men were named Leslie, but it has become a woman's name.  Naming your hero Leslie might be authentic for the period, but it will give your reader the wrong impression.

*How hard the name is to type.  I avoid some names because I can't type them.   If you must use a name that's hard to type, pick a simple nonsense string of letters then do a universal search and replace.  Be absolutely sure the letters are nonsense so you don't insert the name in the middle of words that have that string within them.

THE MAIN CHARACTERS' NAMES

The right name for your hero or heroine is one of your most important decisions.  

For major characters, I don't just pick a name I like.  Instead, I wait until I see a name, and a frission goes through me to tell me I've hit the name for my character.  Most of my character names have been gifts of that sort.  Sometimes, the character will tell me his name at a certain point in the creation process.  

The name, in other words, is as much a part of making the character real for the writer as it is for the reader.  

SECONDARY CHARACTERS' NAMES

Try to avoid  a secondary character's name that is similar to your major characters' names.   That includes names that begin with the same letter or look similar (Al, Sal, and Sally).
  
Before I start writing and after I have my main characters' names, I make a list of other names I can use in the book which fit the period, etc., as well as being different from the major characters' names.  This allows me to pick a name for that waitress who has a few scenes without having to stop my writing while I think up a name.  

USING SIMILAR NAMES

I have used similar names deliberately in my writing.  In TIME AFTER TIME, my hero remembers all his past lives, and he's trying to convince the heroine they have been reincarnated lovers in each of those lives.  He restages and retells their past lives and their loves so I needed different names for them in each time period.  

I decided that I'd use the same first letter or letters of their current names for each past name so that the reader would recognize instantly when I mentioned a name even if they couldn't recall the period that name was from.  Each name would have to fit the historical period as well as the personality of the character.

Justin was earthy Jed in the Old West, and Alexa was Annie.   In the 1940s, Justin was sophisticated Jared and Alexa was Alicia.  Their other names also reflected character and period.

THE GOOGLE TEST

For main characters, particularly villains, it's a good idea to put the name into a search engine to see if someone out there shares the name.  Put the first and last name into quotation marks so you will only receive results with both those words close together.  If you find someone with that name, you may want to consider a different name.  If the name belongs to a serial killer, you definitely want a different name. 

Looking for the same name is also a good idea for book titles.

THE NAME GAME

As you develop characters and names,  you'll discover a new fascination with names and their power, and you'll probably find yourself scanning obituaries and newspapers for that unusual name to add to your name list.  Enjoy this.  It's part of the fun of creating characters.

Monday, October 1, 2018

The Demon Returns

"Psst. Psst. Over here!”
I ignored the tiny voice, leaned closer to the computer screen, and continued typing. 
"It's crap, you know. Total crap. No editor in the world will touch it."
I flinched but kept typing. "Go away."
"Boring, badly written crap. But I've got this great idea. A sure winner."
"That's what you said about this novel. Go away. I only have two chapters left. The final confrontation, the villain's glorious demise, the final love reconciliation, then fade to happily ever after."
"But I have a wonderful idea. You see the villain hires the hero to murder the heroine, and it's a South American country, and..."
I pushed my glasses back up my nose and straightened. The little demon, complete with horns, hooves, and curly black hair, sprawled on the WEBSTER’S UNABRIDGED DICTIONARY by my computer. He twirled his forked tail in his hand and grinned with more seductive skill than a host of romance novel hunks.
I smiled back in spite of myself. "I dreamed that last night."
"Yeah, it was me. Great idea, huh?"
"I wrote copious notes when I woke up. Thanks."
He preened his horns. "Thought it was your style. Action. Adventure. Cliffs to shove the heroine off of. Why you wasting your time with that--"
"It isn't crap. I have to finish. I always finish my novels. I'm a professional."
'And don't it steam me." A puff of smoke drifted out of his ears.
"I appreciate the ideas. Keep them coming. Now go away!"
"But.... How about a planet where--"
"Aren't we desperate." I smiled wickedly. "It won't work. I know what you are and what you're trying to do."
"I'm your friend. I'm trying to give you a salable idea."
"You're a withdrawal symptom."
Sitting up indignantly, he straightened an imaginary tie. "I beg your pardon. I am your adventure muse. And you don't do drugs. Not even booze. I am not...."
"Adrenaline withdrawal. Nothing more," I insisted.
"Adrenaline's what your body pumps when you're afraid," he protested.
"Or when you're facing a challenge. And adrenaline is addictive. Ask any stage actor. Or rock climber. That mountain gets climbed, not because it's there, but because the climber is addicted to the rush of danger."
The demon rested his hand on his forehead and wailed, "Oh, the terror of paper cuts, the exciting rush of eye strain."
I chuckled. "You don't know fear until you stare at a blank screen and try to bring people to life, create a world that is as real to the reader as it is to you. Creating order and reality out of nothing."
"And you're throwing away all that to finish that garbage."
"It's finished already. In here." I tapped my head. "All I have to do is type it out. All the creating is done. That's why you've shown up as you usually do. The adrenaline's stopped pumping so my subconscious starts giving me new ideas. New sources of that wonderful addictive adrenaline."
"But--"
"When your brethren show up, amateurs toss aside good projects and start something new. A pro knows what you are, takes copious notes of your ideas for the future projects' file, and finishes."
"You kink my tail sometimes."
"Go away, please, and let me finish. The sooner finished, the sooner started on one of your glorious ideas."
The demon grinned jauntily. "In that case...."
As he disappeared, I said, "And keep bringing me those great ideas."
With a thumps up gesture, he vanished in a wink of smoke.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Making a Fight Seem Real

QUESTION: I'm writing a fight scene, and I'm having a horrible time making it real. I've never hit anyone or been hit. How do I make it real?

That's a good question. If the scene and actions don't seem real to you, you can't make it real to the reader.

One way to make a fight real for you is to choreograph it by yourself or with the help of a friend or family member.

You play the hero and have the other person be his opponent. Don't just figure out the blows and what the other person will be doing. 

Imagine yourself hitting that person. What are you feeling? Where would your hand hit? How would that feel to you? 

If your hero is a trained fighter, how would his feelings differ?

Imagine how it would sound. To do this, hit your fist hard against your other hand and listen. 

Also ask friends if they have ever hit someone and how did it feel?  Find an online resource on fighting where you can ask questions.

You may never have been hit, but you have been hurt. Remember how it felt when a rowdy toddler clobbered you in the face with his foot while you changed his diaper. Or that baseball that hit you in the face or chest. Increase the sensation, and you've got some idea of what it feels like to be hit in a fight.

You may want to read examples of good fight scenes.  

An author I recommend is Western author Louis L’Amour who was a bare-knuckle boxer.  You can find his books at your library.  For choreographing of weapons fighting and battle scenes, you can’t go wrong with Ilona Andrews.  a

Monday, September 17, 2018

Reaction versus Goal in Plot

When I started plotting my romantic suspense novel, GUARDIAN ANGEL, I decided that my plot line would be the following--

(Back story) High-powered defense attorney Lauton O’Brien hires Gard Gardner to protect his daughter Desta if one of the organized crime lords or killers he defends decides to go after him or his family.

(Book plot) Lauton realizes one of his clients is out to kill him. He sends Desta and information about who is out to kill him to Gard, and he disappears. Desta comes by boat to Gard’s lake home. The boat blows up with the information, but Gard saves Desta. 

Desta and Gard go on the run with hired killers hot on their trail.

At first glance, the plot sounded great. Lots of action, adrenaline, scary bad guys, and a perfect situation for two people very suited to each other to find love and a happily-ever-after.

Then I realized the plot had a fatal flaw. The two main characters spend the whole novel reacting to what others are doing to them. Reaction is passive, and passive creates less than stellar main characters and a much weaker book. 

I needed to give the characters a goal which is active. 

I wanted to keep the hired killers hot on their trail, but I decided that Gard and Desta weren’t running away, they were working toward their goal -- following clues to find Lauton so they can figure out who is trying to kill them then stopping that person so they can have a life together. 

When you are creating your main plot, you also need to be sure that your main character or characters have an active goal instead of being swept along by circumstances or by someone’s actions against them.

Make them heroes, not victims.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Making a Character Likable

Sometimes, you can start out your story with a main character who has unpleasant elements to their personality, but a character must be likable or, at the very least, relatable for the reader. Here are ways to show more than the prickly outer elements of her personality.

If you give the main character a worthy goal in the first pages of the novel, then you give yourself time to make a seemingly unlikable character grow on the reader.

By worthy, I mean something the reader will want that character to succeed at–- rescuing children, helping a nice person find happiness, etc. Even if the character starts out doing it for a base reason like money, the reader will still want him to succeed.

Simple things can help make a character start to grow on the reader. Pets are always a good option. Either he has one, or he can't resist the heroine's kitten, or something like that. Having him interact positively with a child is also a good likability quickie. 

Recently, I read a short story in which the heroine breaks into the apartment of a possible villain-- a hard-ass security agent. A teddy bear is sitting on his couch, and he later admits it belongs to his nephew. With that simple stroke, the author made a seemingly unlikable bad guy a much nicer person.

Giving a character a vulnerability that the reader can relate to is also a good likability quickie. It can be as simple as a chick lit heroine having a bad hair day and the boss from heck, or the bad ass hero getting into a small plane and freaking out because he finds a snake. 

Eventually, more likable elements of that character's personality will have to be shown, though, so the bad parts of her personality don't overwhelm the reader.

In some genre fiction like thrillers, the immediate likability quotient doesn't have to be high at the beginning, particularly if the character is strong and effective in what he needs to do.

But in a romance, the hero or heroine should be likable from the very beginning. The other main character can become likable as the book progresses, but he should not start as totally horrible. Some character traits like cruelty can't be forgiven or changed because, in real life, they never are.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Research or Make It Up?

My guilty pleasure is TV shows about the paranormal, and I love novels featuring mediums and ghost hunters.  

I finished a book about a medium a few days ago, and the worldbuilding and plot choices which were created without regard to the current research brought a question to mind.  When is it time to use the research on the subject instead of making everything up?

Science fiction writers really don’t have a choice.  When scientists realized that Mars couldn’t support human life, writers stopped writing about Mars with humans without space suits roaming around the planet.  Now, writers use hard science fact when they want humans on Mars.

Parapsychology isn’t an accepted science for many, and some scientists will never accept any form of proof that ghosts, psychic ability, etc., exist because it is against their materialistic worldview.  The same is true of some non-scientists and those whose religious faith denies the existence of the otherworldly that is not part of their faith.

Yet, many people do believe in the paranormal, and many watch shows like GHOST ADVENTURES.  These shows and paranormal research have certain accepted facts in common like the kind of electrical energy that is generated by ghosts and the use of EMF meters to detect it and that spirit voices the human ear can’t hear can be heard on audio recording equipment.  

So, the question is should you make everything up or should you use the established research to write your paranormal story?  

The first thing you should consider is your readers.  Most people who read paranormal novels have a working knowledge of the current information on the subject, if for no other reason than they’ve read enough stories to pick up the basics.  There’s also the real possibility that someone who enjoys a good ghost story may also enjoy GHOST ADVENTURES or THE DEAD FILES. Making it all up may annoy these readers.

However, it’s your story so you can make it all up.  

If you decide to create your own paranormal world, your first consideration is that you must create a reasonable set of rules for your ghosts and their interaction with the living.  

If your psychic character is experienced, she should know those rules completely and not dotter around like an idiot.  

Most knowlegable readers will forgive you if you create your own understandable world of spooks and the people who chase them.  

They will not forgive you if you break your own rules for plot expediency.

A middle ground is to use most of the common knowledge then add elements that are strictly of your own invention, such as mediums can only see spirits from a specific period.  

This is another situation where it’s best to understand the rules/current common knowledge then decide the direction you choose rather than being a lazy researcher and doing it your own way.  

SOME AUTHORS WHO DO IT RIGHT USING CURRENT KNOWLEDGE OF THE PARANORMAL:

Victoria Laurie in her "Ghost Hunter” series.  (Author is a psychic intuitive.)

JL Bryan in his “Ellie Jordan: Ghost Trapper” paranormal mysteries.

AUTHORS WHO USE CURENT KNOWLEDGE AS WELL AS CREATE THEIR OWN RULES:

Robin D. Owens in her “Ghost Seer” paranormal mystery novels.  

Darynda Jones in her “Grim Reaper” comic urban fantasy series.