Haunting Characters

Good characters should haunt you. They should linger with you long after you’ve finished the novel. If a character has been written correctly, you should see traces of them in the people you meet day to day. Perhaps your mother has a similar laugh or your friend at work has that same habit.

Whatever it is, you see it.

The whole purpose of writing is to expose humanity, to dredge through all the nonsense we fill our lives with and highlight the different aspects of being human. We remember characters precisely because they echo our humanity and we identify with them. That’s why it is so hard when we see them struggling or when one of them perishes in the novel.

Jem Carstairs and Will Harindale from Cassandra Clare’s Infernal Devices series always pop to my mind when I see my son playing with his friends. I want him to have that kind of friendship, the kind that hooks deep and shapes who you are. He’s only nine, so he doesn’t understand any of that, but I do.

Elizabeth Bonner from Sara Donati’s Into the Wild constantly challenges me to stand firm in what I believe and not to shy away from hardship. I tend to read this one every spring. There’s something about the descriptions that lets me breathe deep of another time and place.

Jamie Fraser from Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series reminds me that men and women are very different, and it helps me to communicate and better understand my significant other. And I do mean the books, not the show. Although I’ve enjoyed the show quite a bit too.

My own characters are harder to pin down here. They are essentially part of who I am, even the bad ones, so they haunt me quite a lot. Some of them, such as Liana from the upcoming novel Usurper, are difficult for me to understand and I find myself lingering over her more often than the others.

I’ve come to the point in my life where I recognize that a lot of my writing is an effort to know people. If you’ve ever said; “Ugh, I just don’t know why people are like that.” Or “I will never understand people like that.” Then you know what I mean. I write to understand, and I understand more with every character I write.

My current work in progress, a fantasy revolving around a world divided by war, was originally going to be written with just two voices. My protagonists are both from the poorer faction of society, the slaves/servants, and the outline has them surging through all the prejudice and hate in the effort to bring about peace. But I realized early on that I could not tell a story about forging peace without bringing to light the other side of society.

Thus, I added two more voices to the book. One is a high-ranked official in the government who is working hard to keep things as they are. The other is a lower ranked official who has very good reason to hate the people he is subjugating. Through these two voices, the book is shaping into something a bit more meaningful and, while there is a part of me that will never understand the desire to keep people in slavery, I do understand the fear these men have.

Not merely a fear of losing power, but a fear of losing their homes and their families. With bitterness on both sides of the war, it is hard to imagine that anything less would be done to them and theirs should they lose.

Characters linger, they teach us and help us to see the world we are living in for what it is. And they help us cope, reminding us that humanity is more complicated than good versus evil. Check out what characters haunt my fellow authors in this month’s Round Robin Discussion…

Anne Stenhouse  http://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com/
Heidi M. Thomas http://heidiwriter.wordpress.com/
Victoria Chatham http://www.victoriachatham.com
Diane Bator http://dbator.blogspot.ca/
A.J. Maguire  https://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/ (YOU ARE HERE)
Judith Copek http://lynx-sis.blogspot.com/
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Rachael Kosinski http://rachaelkosinski.weebly.com/
Rhobin Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

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August Round Robin – Getting Unstuck

This is going to sound weird, but I have a crystal ball. It’s not one of those clear crystal balls that you see fortune tellers use in the movies, it’s a crystal that is cloudy on the inside, full of facets and glimmering spots within the stone.

It’s big enough that it stretches my fingers whenever I hold it, and no matter what time of day, it is cool to the touch. And it’s heavy… heavy enough that I think someone could commit a murder with it if they ever wanted to.

And should I ever write a murder mystery you can be sure that I’ll use a heavy crystal ball as the weapon.

When I get stuck in my writing, my first stop is the crystal ball. I only have so many hours in a day, so the act of pausing to mull over a plot point that isn’t working turns into a real hindrance. Thus … I stop, lift my crystal ball, let it cool and stretch my fingers while I eyeball what I’ve already written.

Then, I sit back down and I write some more because if I wait on my Muse to help me get things done, I would never finish a book.

That’s just the nitty-gritty of writing, though. That’s not what I do if I’m having trouble plotting.

So what do I do when something is broken and I’m having trouble with the plot?

I go to the gym.

Or I go for a walk.

Or a swim.

Basically, I get out. I leave my desk behind and I go do anything other than think about the novel.

… That’s a joke, the novel inevitably comes with me. It clings to my subconscious while I busy myself with things. And, in the middle of doing these things, I will eventually get the eureka moment that tells me what I need to do to fix the book.

But the point is, living life tends to be the best solution when there’s a plot issue in a work. Going out to the park to play with my son has often inspired me to go in different directions with a novel. And once I’ve done that, I find that the book is stronger for it.

But one trick I’ve learned to do is ask this basic question; “What’s the next thing they (character) need?”

For example … the book I’ve been working on the last few weeks is another fantasy novel. I have an outline, but it’s already been broken to bits, and that’s a good thing. Because as I’ve gotten to the end of each chapter, I’ve asked myself that question … “What’s the next thing Cassy/Lorden/Macbyrne needs?”

Well, by the end of chapter 4 I had one very naked Lorden o’Lir with a broken arm. So the basic answer is … Lorden needs clothes. And then he needs to see whatever passes for a medical practitioner in Neargate. Which … completely messes up the outline but makes perfect sense AND makes the novel better.

I suppose it says a lot about their culture when clothes are more important than a broken limb.

See what some of my fellow authors do when they get stuck in a work in this month’s Round Robin discussion …

Diane Bator http://dbator.blogspot.ca/
(YOU ARE HERE) A.J. Maguire  https://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/
Anne de Gruchy https://annedegruchy.co.uk/category/blog/
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Victoria Chatham http://www.victoriachatham.com
Marie Laval http://marielaval.blogspot.co.uk/
Judith Copek http://lynx-sis.blogspot.com/
Dr. Bob Rich http://wp.me/p3Xihq-137
Helena Fairfax http://www.helenafairfax.com/blog
Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/
Heather Haven http://heatherhavenstories.com/blog/
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Rhobin Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

 

Dead Weight Completion And Beta’s

On August 3rd, three days after I’d hoped to have it done, I wrote “The End” on Dead Weight.

Breaking the deadline by three days isn’t so terrible, so I’m counting this as a win-win all around. The book will need at least two more rounds of revision, but I won’t be touching it for the rest of the year.

Normally at this point, I would track down my wonderful Beta Readers and beg them for their time to read and give feedback on the draft. Some of them require a pint of blood for this transaction, but I’m happy to pay the price if it means I’ll get solid critiques to work with.

However, this year I’ve been studying my craft a bit more and I’ve come to the conclusion that I send the drafts out too soon.

This would be the difference between the Alpha Reader and the Beta Reader. I do have one Alpha Reader who gets my work almost as soon as it’s done. He gets me excited for my work even when I’m frustrated and can’t figure out what’s broken in the manuscript, which is invaluable for a writer.

If you’re a writer and you don’t have an Alpha Reader who happily (or sometimes just politely) listens to your ideas, and then constantly asks if you’ve written that day, I encourage you to find one.

A Beta Reader, on the other hand, is supposed to see a more completed draft. They aren’t — or shouldn’t be — hunting for any huge problems in the plot structure. They look for the motivations of the characters, and the places where the description gets so scrambled they can’t quite picture what’s going on.

Some people can give a second draft to their Beta’s, but I have learned that I cannot.

Why?

Well, because with certain novels my second draft has a completely new ending to it.

Okay, so many of my novels end up that way. I get to the last five chapters of the book and then I have to step back. I go work on something else for a while.

And by “a while” I mean a couple of months.

Then, when I’ve been separated from the novel for long enough, I can sit down and do a “revision” of everything already written. This helps me see the promises and sub plots and themes that may have worked themselves into the manuscript so that I can create a more satisfying ending.

But that ending is still a first draft ending.

So … My wonderful Beta Readers, who I love so much, and who – hopefully – understand this plight, will not be receiving a request for feedback until after the next revision.

Which won’t be happening until January.

Camp NaNoWriMo – July 2017

Camp-2017-Winner-Profile-PhotoThis year for Camp NaNoWriMo I chose to focus on revising/rewriting the ending of Dead Weight, the sequel to Tapped. I gave myself a modest goal of 30,000 words, which I surpassed.

However, sitting 3 days away from the end of the July I can say that the first week of August will have to deal with the last chapter or so of the book. Even if I could ignore the fact that I’m a parent and let my child live off Ramen noodles and chocolate donuts, I’m not sure I can write 4 chapters in three days.

Well … maybe I could, but they would be 4 really awful chapters and that would defeat the purpose of revision/rewriting.

So while the word count goal was met, the overall goal of revising the entire novel was not. I still verified my word count and earned my little banner and whatnot from Camp NaNoWriMo because I did participate and … rewards are important.

To anyone else who may have participated this month … Congratulations! Whether you met your goal or not, you got words on paper and that’s what’s important.

To anyone who is flirting with the idea of participating in one of these … I hope you do. I can encourage you to check out NaNoWriMo in November because that’s the big one everyone participates in. And yes, I’ll be there again in November, tackling a completely different project.

For now, however, I have 4 chapters to complete on Dead Weight, new words to write on Song of Swans, and Trenna fans will be pleased to know that the editor got back to me on Usurper so I am knee deep in revisions there as well.

Usurper is scheduled for release in February 2018 and will be available in all digital forms as well as paperback. It is the third installment of the Sedition series featuring Trenna and her husband Nelek as they battle through politics, magic, war, and perhaps the most frightening of all; family.

Since Usurper is put out by Wings ePress, it’s all on the publisher’s schedule and more information will be relayed as it comes to me.

 

What I learned from King Arthur

Yes, I mean the new movie King Arthur Legend of the Sword. And unlike the critics, I’m going to admit that I loved this movie. My son loved it too, which I find awesome because anything that gets him into King Arthur and the legends of old makes me happy.

So if you’re leaning on critics to tell you whether or not to see this movie, ignore them this time.

Now, the beginning was a little rough. They could have done without the very first tower exploding scene (which happens to be right at the beginning) because we had no idea what that tower was or why it was important, we just saw exploding tower and it just plain felt awkward.

Lesson #1)  Watch your beginning carefully. Just because you know what’s happening doesn’t mean the readers/audience does. I know we abhor too much backstory being thrust at the reader in a novel, but sometimes it is necessary.

Lesson #2)  If you have a vision for your work and it’s a little off-the-beaten-path … just stick to it and trust your readers to give it a chance. Those who do will be rewarded for it. Those who don’t … well, I guess this particular work isn’t meant for them.

I say this because of the music. At first, I was a little taken aback by the soundtrack but as the story moved on it just … fit. In fact, I own that soundtrack now.

Lesson #3) Failure is important but equally important is to emphasize the promise of what will come to pass once the character succeeds.

Without giving too much of a spoiler here, Arthur and Excalibur don’t get along at first. Arthur keeps failing. But with every failure, we see the promise of what this combination is going to become when he finally gets it right.

And when that moment comes in the movie, it is extremely satisfying.

Now … if I were a stringent “legend of King Arthur” person, I imagine I would have guffawed at this movie. They took the very basics of the legend (Arthur, Excalibur, Lady in the Lake) and they tossed out the rest, making it into something new. In an age of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, I think we’re more than capable of having a new vision of Arthur.

So … I enjoyed this movie. And my son loved it too. And in the middle of enjoying it, I was able to gain insight into a few things for my own craft. All in all, I’d say it was money well spent.

 

What I Write vs. What I Read – July Round Robin

I haven’t always loved to read. As a writer that seems like a scandalous admission but honestly, there had been too much going on inside my head for me to fully appreciate the work of other writers.

In my defense, this was sometime between grammar school and high school, so when I say “younger” I mean pigtails and Barbie dolls. That isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy writing back then because I did. And in fact, I have a cousin who used to swear I made Barbie dolls more interesting than anyone else. Instead of just going to work and coming home, Barbie (who was given a different name because honestly, who wants to be called Barbie?) we would go on adventures through time or try to avoid dying in some major natural disaster.

I don’t mean that to sound pretentious. At the time I had no idea that the way I played with my toys was any different from other girls.

But all of these stories and “play” in my imagination where I created the rules made reading about someone else’s rules and worlds a little more difficult. And then … Wait Til Helen Comes traumatized me in the 6th grade. I read the whole thing in a day, hiding it under my desk during school because I absolutely had to know what happened.

I’m pretty sure the teacher knew and didn’t say anything.

After that, it was like reading exploded into my life. My Aunt Debi has always been a big reader and every now and then I’d get one of her books. That’s how I found Jurassic Park. And The Hobbit. And this one novel whose title I can’t remember but it was about a big octopus/squid thing that ate people.

Genre’s didn’t matter, and they still don’t. I will read anything and everything, which is probably why I write in various genre’s as well. I broke into this business with Fantasy novels, moved to science fiction, then historical fiction, and I have a horror novel waiting to be edited in October.

The one thing I haven’t been able to write, but I will certainly try it again at some point, has been the murder mystery. I’m not sure why, since I love Sherlock Holmes and intelligent mysteries of that ilk, but those books tend to linger in a dark place. You have to understand your murderer, after all, and I find that unsettling.

I used to watch Criminal Minds but stopped because it was leaving me with that unsettled, distrustful sense too.

Anyway, I’m not sure what attracts people to read any one particular genre. I’ve never been able to restrain myself to just one, so I find it a trifle bizarre anyone could say; “Oh, I only read Urban Fantasies.” Or, in the most snobbish voice I’ve ever heard; “Fantasy and Science Fiction aren’t real fiction. You should read literary fiction. Or at least the classics. Anything else is just drivel.”

… No, really. I’ve heard that.

My response to that was to avoid the literary fiction section of the bookstore for a couple of years. Which I suppose wasn’t fair to literary fiction authors.

See what my fellow authors have to say in this month’s Round Robin …

Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea/view/542

(YOU ARE HERE) A.J. Maguire  https://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/

Marci Baun  http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/

Anne de Gruchy https://annedegruchy.co.uk/category/blog/

Heather Haven http://heatherhavenstories.com/blog/

Dr. Bob Rich https://bobrich18.wordpress.com/rhobins-round-robin/

Helena Fairfax http://www.helenafairfax.com/blog

Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/

Rhobin Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/

Kay Sisk http://www.kaysisk.com/blog

The Character-Driven Plot

 

IMG_1186
Here’s a baby turtle for the heck of it.

I began writing Song of Swans several months ago and was determined that it would be more character-driven than my other works. I wanted to get into the depths of my characters, to follow them and find out what happens via their actions.

 

This means that my outline has been smacked around quite a lot. I am currently on chapter five, but the things happening in it are things I meant to have in chapter three.

There are some people who would say that if it is truly character driven then I wouldn’t need an outline at all, I would just discovery write (aka – go by the seat of my pants) but I have found that I need an outline in order to get to the finish of a book.

SO!

For those of you fellow Outliner’s who might be reading this … I learned a trick that I thought I would share.

You see, once I finish writing the chapter – the actual chapter, not the outline – then I go through and I highlight all the things that have happened to my character and make a note of it in the margin. Then I go through everything that’s happened and I write down in my OUTLINE for the next chapter the things that still need to be addressed.

Example …

Cassy steals something in chapter 1. She isn’t a thief so there was already a debate about taking said item, but in the end her curiosity and hunger won out. MARGIN NOTE: Item has not been fully investigated yet.

Chapter 2 has her on the run, trying to get someplace safe before she opens said item and

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And some baby geese, too.

sees her loot. Unfortunately, she gets caught. MARGIN NOTE: Cassy got knocked on the head pretty good and likely has a mild concussion. ITEM STILL NOT INVESTIGATED.

 

Basically, anything highlighted in the margins of the previous chapter needs to be addressed in some fashion during the next chapter. Even if I don’t want to answer it yet, I have to at least mention it somewhere in the narrative.

This has had an unexpected benefit. While I might moan about the fact that I’m two full chapters longer than anticipated at this point, the flow is remarkable. I had always meant for the characters to get to where they are now – currently huddled in a cave, suffering from shellshock – but what is happening on the page is far deeper and makes more sense than what I had originally outlined.

Another thing I’ve had to do is take a step back, breathe, and really put myself in the room with my characters, to let them lead and show me what happens next.

As an author with several published novels under my belt, it seems strange that I would only just now be coming to this point in my writing, but it’s true. And the difference is undeniable.