Monday, June 14, 2021

Finding Your Character's Weakness

 According to Greek myth, Achilles' goddess mother dipped him into the River Styx to make him invulnerable to injury, but the heel she held him by wasn't dipped.  As fate and story would have it, he died when someone shot him in that heel.   

Most people and the most interesting fictional characters always have an Achilles heel, that one weakness which will defeat them unless they overcome it.


As a writer, you must figure out what your main character's weakness is and attack it through plot.


That weakness can be fear of some physical danger.  If like Indiana Jones, your character is afraid of snakes, then snakes he must face to achieve victory.  


A better weakness is an inner one.  If your character prides himself on his dignity and fears ridicule, he must find the strength, at his high school reunion, to race across the room in his bunny underwear to protect his girlfriend from the same bullies who just stripped him.  


If he fears death, he must find the strength to risk dying for something or someone who is more important than life.


Minor weaknesses and disasters can add conflict to a scene, but that one Achilles' heel of your character and his attempts to overcome it are the heart and soul of a good story.

Monday, June 7, 2021

The Selfish Goal

 A powerful novel needs a main character with an important goal he must achieve by the end of the novel. At all costs, the main character must achieve that goal or fail utterly with devastating cost to him and those around him.

A recent novel I tried to read reminded me of when that goal won't work.


Here's the premise. The heroine is the standard urban fantasy woman-- incredible supernatural abilities, snappy leather outfit and dialogue, sharp weapons, and a supernatural boyfriend. So far, so good.


Even better, she is the prophesied warrior who can stop the supernatural baddies before they can start the Apocalypse by opening the gates to Hell.


The Big Bad holds her innocent kid sister hostage, and the ransom is the keys to open all of Hell's gates to Earth.


She must decide whether to save her kid sister by helping the demons of Hell wipe out human life or lose her sister and save everyone else.


A no-brainer, right? She'd choose to save humanity.


Instead, she chooses to help the demons end life on Earth with the very faint possibility she may be able to stop them.


At this point in the novel, I said some rude things about the stupidity and selfishness of the heroine and stopped reading because this wasn't a heroine I could root for.


When you are thinking about your main character's goal for the novel, remember that it must be a goal the reader can root for. Saving a sibling is a good thing but saving a sibling at the cost of everyone else's life is a bad thing.


A hero's goal is selfless, not selfish.

Monday, May 31, 2021

Your Character's Emotions During Action Scenes

To make an action scene work, you must not only detail what the characters are doing with their bodies and weapons, you must also include the viewpoint character's emotions and senses.

Adding emotion isn't an either/or situation. It's just as vital to add emotional layers to the physical action as it is to have brief moments of introspection when the battle isn't going on. 


Characterization isn't just introspection. It's characters interacting with each other and revealing themselves in bits and pieces. 


Your band of adventurers may not sit around "sharing their feelings" in touchie-feelie moments like a Dr. Phil show, but they've been around each other enough to know that one hates the bad guys because they murdered his wife and kids, and he's liable to attack without thought and ruin their surprise attack. 


He may be clutching the sword at his side, his other hand opening and closing in nervous energy, and another adventurer may warn him to relax and may mention the wife and kiddies. 


The image of his wife's raped and brutalized body could flash through his mind, and he fights his raw anger and lust to kill. That won't slow the action down like having a long interior flashback of him finding his family's bodies, and his vow of revenge. 


Instead, it adds to the excitement of the coming action because the reader now questions whether this guy will lose his cool and get everyone killed.


An even better way to present this information is to put it in an earlier scene that isn't action intensive so the reader will know the details and will only need a slight reminder of this character's motivation and tendency to attack without thought.


After some rewriting, if you still aren't happy with the emotional content of your story, you may want to look at the central story idea. Do your characters have a real emotional reason to be doing what they are doing? 


Their hunt for the lost treasure should be as much about their emotional reason for needing the treasure as it is about simple greed. That emotional reason should be important enough to make the reader want them to succeed as much as they do.


Maybe the main character is after a magical sword which is the only weapon that will kill the dragon currently ravaging his homeland, and he doesn't really care about other treasure and the life of drunken decadence and dancing girls it promises the other characters. 


Maybe the other characters have laughed at him, but they've admired him and gradually they have been drawn into his quest for the sword, and in the end, they'll choose to get the sword with him and lose the other treasure. 


Maybe the one who laughed the hardest and made the main character's life hell along the journey will be the one to sacrifice himself so that the hero can rescue a homeland the scoffer has never had, but now wishes to have with his whole heart.


If you make your character emotionally invested in each action scene, and make your reader emotionally invested in your story, you’ll have a novel no one will put down.


Monday, May 24, 2021

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 adult 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, May 17, 2021

Choosing Your Character's Name

 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


First names: http://www.behindthename.com/

Surnames: http://surnames.behindthename.com/

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.


*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, May 10, 2021

Cross-genre, What is the Main Genre

 If a novel is cross-genre, one of the genres must be the strongest and its genre tropes and plot must drive the novel throughout.

A sf romance is first and foremost a romance.  Linnea Sinclair's sf romance novels are driven forward by the romance. Catherine Asaro's novels are science fiction novels with a romantic element. The science fiction plot and worldbuilding drive the novel forward, not the romance.


A werewolf novel that is driven forward by the worldbuilding and various werewolf political/pack struggles is urban fantasy.  A werewolf novel where boy wolf meets girl vampire, and they fall in love during various werewolf political/pack struggles is a paranormal romance.


The important thing to pull out of this is that you must understand what the central genre of your novel is so your novel doesn't fail by genre standards which are really reader expectation standards.  


When you are writing your book, staying within genre or subgenre expectations also makes the book much easier to market to the correct readers. 

Monday, May 3, 2021

Cross-genre Worldbuilding

 Cross-genre books mix elements of two genre. The paranormal romance is really a romance with fantasy or horror worldbuilding.  The sf romance is science fiction worldbuilding in a romance, etc., etc.

I'm a firm believer that you have to understand, read, and respect the genres you are mixing, or you shouldn't write it.


In recent paranormals romances I've read, the author didn't have a clue about fantasy or that you shouldn’t steal a prominent writer’s worldbuilding because it is blatantly obvious and annoying.  One had a magic system that was a generic mishmash as well as a complete HIGHLANDER rip-off with swords, decapitations, and magic being transferred.


Another took the Harry Potter universe with its magic system and world, then tossed in her characters.


I've read futuristics that were really Klingons in love with the alien and STAR TREK names changed, or the science was so bad a third grader could have spotted the errors.


The danger of not understanding one of the genres is writers lose parts of their audience. Cross-genre is not only supposed to mix the two genre, they are supposed to mix the two audiences. Insult half that audience by not knowing your stuff, and there goes sales.


By ignoring the basics of the other genre, these writers are destroying “the dream" of the books, and that bothers me a great deal as a writer and a reader.