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):


AN OVERVIEW OF WHAT IS HAPPENING IN BIG PUBLISHING AND SELF-PUBLISHING:

Part 1: 


Part 2:


PROMOTION SITE LINKS:


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


HOW TO SET UP YOUR AMAZON AUTHOR PROFILE:



Monday, December 31, 2018

A Very Vampire Christmas

With the traditional vampire, writers know vampires’ relationship to Christianity.  Crosses and Holy Water make them shriek and back away because vampires are demonic evil.  

These days, that’s not necessarily always true.  In Tanya Huff’s series about vampire Henry Fitzroy, he pals around with priests, carries a crucifix, and is the most religious of all the characters because he has seen true evil and wants to protect others from it.  

Charlaine Harris’ Stookie Stackhouse stories tosses in a bit of religion, mainly Stookie’s, in with the vampires and werewolves.  One of Harris’ short stories shares the name with this article as Viking vampire Eric tries to figure out Christmas so he can please his human girl friend.

Fictional monsters come in all shapes and kinds with a moral spectrum from light to dark and everywhere in between as it fits the story and the genre, and readers and writers are fine with that.

Then there’s stories based on the Greek and Norse mythologies.  Here’s where things have been getting weird with some writers.  Most of the Greek myth-based stories I’ve read have ignored Christianity and focused on the secular aspects of the characters. 

Or, in the case of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series, people go to the afterlife they believe in.

However, some writers using the Norse stories have been making some strange choices.  I just finished a contemporary paranormal story where Norse gods were Catholic and celebrated Christmas!  

Then there’s a story where every warrior or strong soul, no matter their religion or ethnicity, are taken to Valhalla when they die so they can fight at Ragnorak which is the Norse Apocalypse.  This essentially denies the truth of any other religion.  

Does this mixing or ignoring of the most prominent current religions work?  Not for me because it was so shocking that it knocked me out of the story.  Your tolerance may vary.

But it does pose a serious question you should ask in your worldbuilding.  How does contemporary religion and readers’ faith affect your story?  

Sunday, December 23, 2018

What Christmas Songs Can Teach a Writer

"You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch."  The only character more interesting than a villain is a villain who is redeemed.

"Oh, Holy Night.”  A powerful story is often best told simply.

"I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.”  Sometimes, something innocent can become creepy.

"The Twelve Days of Christmas.”  A one-sided romantic relationship is boring.

"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”  The underdog with a reviled talent makes a great hero.  

"Frosty the Snowman.”  A great character often deserves a sequel.  ("I'll be back again, some day." ) 

"Carol of the Bells.”  Driving rhythm can pull the reader forward.  

"Do You Hear What I Hear?"  You can tell a story through dialogue.

"Silent Night.”  A few simple images can create powerful emotions.

“Let It Snow, Let It Snow.”  The quiet, homey moments are often filled with the greatest emotions and memory.

"The Christmas Song.”  ("Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…." )  Setting alone can show strong emotion and story.

“I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas.”  A fantasy plot makes much more sense with lots of details.  (“There's lots of room for him in our two-car garage.  I'd feed him there and wash him there and give him his massage.”)  NOTE: Best Christmas novelty song ever!

"Good King Wenceslas.”  Sometimes, a character is remembered more for kindness than power or glory.

"I'll Be Home For Christmas.”  Home and family are two of the most powerful goals within the human heart.  

"Baby, It's Cold Outside."  "This is for your good, not mine" is a great seduction.

“Is that You, Santa Claus?”  Every good thing may disguise a bad thing.

"Jingle Bells" and "Jingle Bell Rock.”  The times and tempo may change, but the story remains the same.  

"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”  Sometimes, the character's emotions and the message aren't the same.  

"Santa Baby.”  With the right voice, even Santa and a chimney can be made into a double entendre.

“All I Want for Christmas Is You.”  Love is the greatest gift.  

Monday, December 17, 2018

Paragraph Lengths

QUESTION: I have trouble trying to figure out when to begin and end paragraphs and when to have dialogue included in the paragraph and when to have it stand on its own as an independent paragraph. 


Unlike nonfiction, there are no hard and fast rules for paragraphing in fiction.  Much of this is the writer's choice which is informed by experience as well as their need to emphasize certain things or break between actions.

And, surprisingly, some choices are as much visual as mental.  Most readers, these days, don't like long paragraphs so many writers paragraph more frequently than did past writers.  

Here are some good rules of thumb, though.

When you start with narrative followed by dialogue, the narrative should be about the person who will speak.

Adam studied the book's page then glanced back up at his friend.  "Pete, we have a problem here."

If the narrative was about Pete, Adam's line would be in a new paragraph.

Pete watched his friend anxiously as he read the rule book.

"We have a problem here,” Adam said.

If you have a long bit of narrative, it's usually a good stylistic choice to paragraph before the character's lines.  This breaks up the lines visually, and it also emphasizes the dialogue.

When you are writing a long speech by a character, you paragraph to emphasize subject, changes in subject, and the rhythm of the scene.

If you aren't sure about any of the above, read the dialogue aloud as the character would speak it.  Notice when you have natural pauses.  That's a good place for a paragraph break.

Dialogue shouldn't be too long, though.  Break it up with a bit of narrative. 

Adam shook his head in disgust and continued,

Or have other characters react or comment.  

"I can't believe Pete said that.  It doesn't sound like him."

For straight narrative with no dialogue, you should paragraph when the action shifts to another character.

Pete tripped but caught himself before falling flat on his face.  

Behind him, the sound of Adam's running feet moved toward him, then his friend stopped at his side. 

On the whole issue of paragraphing, don't be too uptight about it.

As long as the reader is clear about what is happening and the page isn't covered by long paragraphs, he won't even notice when you paragraph. 

Monday, December 10, 2018

Using a Letter in Narrative

QUESTION:  In my story, important information is revealed by a character reading a letter.  What is the most suitable way to write it?

I’ve written this kind of scene a number of ways.  

When the letter is being viewed by the viewpoint character and isn't terribly long, I've put the text in its entirety on the page but separated it from the regular text by having an extra space break above and below the letter and an inch-wide margins on both sides.  (The inch is from your normal margin, not from the paper’s edge.)  Some writers put this text in italics.

This method works particularly well when the content isn't highly emotional for the character.  It also works when the character is alone.

For longer letters, particularly those with emotionally charged content, I have a character read it aloud as dialogue to another character.  At certain important points where the character or characters are emotionally affected or the content changes things in a big way, I'll have the reading character stop and express an opinion, feelings, or questions.  A bit of dialogue/discussion between or among the characters will also break up a long monologue to make it easier for the reader to keep up and not be bored with too much information.  

When the character begins reading again, I say something like "Adam continued reading," or "Adam picked the letter up again and continued."

Normally, when a character quotes someone else, you use single quotes to denote it.

“Gramps always said, ‘You reap what you sow. boy.’”

If a character is quoting a letter, and the reader knows he is quoting it, you need only use standard double quotes.


Monday, December 3, 2018

Info Dumping and Modern Technology

I read a novel recently where characters researched other characters by using their smart phones to check out Facebook and search engines.

To a certain extent, this worked.  The information was given in a tidy manner without some character thinking about his past or offering too much information via dialogue, and, these days, it’s a very common way to check someone out so it was realistic.

On the other hand, the writer went overboard with this technique by giving too much time and attention to facts in a massive info dump at the very beginning and stalling the story for pages.  He also spoiled the reader’s fun of figuring out what makes this character tick and wondering about the dark hint some other character gives by mentioning the hero’s final Superbowl game.

Sure, the hero is a former NFL player, but the YouTube video of him accidentally killing another player during a tackle doesn’t have to be presented immediately if that information doesn’t inform the reader of what is happening at the present time.  Later, when the hero makes a comment about this moment changing his life, another character can watch the moment of YouTube.

Just because information is easy to find these days doesn’t mean that the reader needs all of it at the beginning of the story.