The 3/4 Mark – May Round Robin

This month’s round robin is open for a bit of interpretation. The main thrust of the question is how you maintain continuity from start to finish in a novel. Which brings me to the title of the post – The 3/4 Mark.

Over the years, I’ve discovered that my personal writing process requires a break in the rough draft that comes about the 3/4 mark. This is the point where I stop writing and I go back and start revising from the start, making little notes along the way.

I know a lot of people will boo and hiss at this, saying I need to get the first draft done and then go back and edit lest I suffocate my creative muse.

However, I’ve found that this process fuels my muse more than hinders it. And to be fair, most of the naysayers are focused on writers who have yet to complete a novel because they continually go back and revise rather than completing a draft.

If you happen to be a writer who falls into this category – don’t do it my way. Finish a draft and then go back and revise. There is nothing like the feeling you get when you finish a book and you owe it to yourself to push through.

Now then, a lot of things happen at the 3/4 Mark Break, which isn’t really a break.

At this point in the book, I have a deeper understanding of the characters and know what the story is really about. This allows me to go through the beginning of the book and edit the character voices, sharpen the focus of each chapter, and move things around.

Which adds to the flow and sense of continuity for the book as a whole.

This also allows me to make notes in the margins, pinpointing subplots that I need to either remove or complete in the last quarter of the novel.

And then, when I go to write that last quarter, my brain has had a nice refresher of the novel as a whole. More often than not, the outlined ending is drastically changed because of this. Which is a GOOD thing because my first draft endings are always horrid.

Take a look at what some of my fellow authors do to keep continuity from start to finish in their works…

Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Marci Baun  http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/
Judith Copek http://lynx-sis.blogspot.com/
Margaret Fieland http://margaretfieland.wordpress.com
A.J. Maguire  https://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/ (YOU ARE HERE)
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Rhobin L Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

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

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April Round Robin Discussion – How do you establish a story/character/setting?

When I started Tapped I knew I was going to be working with a larger series. I knew I wanted religion outlawed and an underground railroad put in place for refugees. I wanted to pose questions that would take more than one book to fully answer.

But I wanted it to mean something.

You can run out and find thousands of essays on the subject of religion, but those can only touch the surface and very rarely come with the emotional impact one can find in fiction.

Thus entered Devon Barlow, a young man travelling with his parents on a hauling vessel called Zephyr. I knew he was young enough to still be considered a minor, but old enough to chafe under that restriction. And I knew his parents were hiding big secrets.

Beyond that, Devon showed me who he was with each draft. I didn’t know he was courageous until the end of the first draft, when he insists on saving his mother against hopeless odds.

Once that first draft was finished, I had the basic shape of the story, so the only thing I can say about establishing a story is to write the rough draft. Once that’s done, you have round upon round of editing to help tighten and sharpen the story until it resembles something decent.

Establishing the character is a little different. The rough draft is a first date, so to speak. You have coffee or a light lunch with your main character, listening to them as they give basic highlights of who they are as people.

With Devon, learning he was courageous meant I had to show that possibility earlier in the book. Thus entered the spelunking scene on Pluto where we get to see him react to a horrible accident.

The second draft is like reaching the third month of a relationship. You know their basic personality from before, but now you start to find all those quirks that seem to have no explanation.

Devon noticed ships and blueprints in the first draft, but it wasn’t until the second draft that I understood why. He wants to learn how to design space vessels, which leads to a conflict over schooling (aka – a major plot point) and reveals his talent as an engineer.

By the third draft you’ve entered into the permanent status of your relationship with this character. You not only know who they are, you can anticipate what the absolute worst scenario will be for them – and if you’re evil like me, you then plop them in the middle of that scenario and watch them scramble.

Establishing setting is an altogether different beast. I confess that this is a weak spot in my writing. I am working to remedy that and envy authors who are able to describe their settings with a few brilliantly placed words.

That being said, a trick I often use is to make sure the settings are described in the character’s POV. For example, Devon views Zephyr as a labyrinth of secrets. His parents are hiding things from him and that is proven even in the vessel’s blueprints.

But when Jorry (his mother) describes the ship it is always in terms of a safe haven, and a home. She lingers on the notches in the wall where she measured Devon’s height as he grew up, and the security measures put in place to keep him safe.

Take a peek at what some of my fellow authors do to help establish their characters and stories…

Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Dr. Bob https://wp.me/p3Xihq-1eg
A.J. Maguire  https://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/ (YOU ARE HERE)
Marci Baun  http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Margaret Fieland http://margaretfieland.wordpress.com
Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/ 
Rhobin L Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

What I Learn from my Characters – February 2018 Round Robin

Characters are a bit like the writer’s pox. Instead of itchy red dots all over our skin, we have itchy personalities peppering our minds. Some are louder than others and we end up scratching those first because no matter how many times we’re told we shouldn’t scratch, the itch cannot be ignored.

As we scratch, fleshing that character out on the page, their voice becomes clearer and their story apparent. Often the process draws blood, a mix of fiction and fact that bleeds onto the page until it is difficult to distinguish between character and author. Neither would exist without the other, after all.

In my novel Deviation I have two women abducted through space and time, one a writerdeviation-510.jpg and one a mother. The writer finds herself being hailed as a prophet for things she wrote in her fiction, which was a horrifying thought for both the character and me, the author.

If you’ve read any of my work, you’ve seen the horrible things I put my characters through. I’m pretty sure most would want to kill me if they were real and standing in my apartment.

The other character, the mother, is desperate to get home to her family. She has a young son who needs her and she has to get back.

Midway through my revision of the novel I realized I had written my real life struggle into the plot. You see, at the time I was a new mother. My son was only months old and I felt like I was two people – a devoted mother who wanted nothing more than to see to the needs of my son, and an author who needed to carve out time to write.

As I completed my revision of the novel, I came to an understanding that has carried me through the last ten years of my son’s life; both the writer and the mother are essential parts of who I am as a person.

While the novel never addresses this personal journey, the ending still reminds me of the lesson Reesa and Kate taught me. I will always find a way to write, and I will always be a mother.

See what lessons my fellow authors have discovered through their characters in this month’s round robin…

Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
A.J. Maguire  https://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/  (YOU ARE HERE)
Marci Baun  http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/
Marie Laval http://marielaval.blogspot.co.uk/
Judith Copek http://lynx-sis.blogspot.com/
Dr. Bob Rich https://wp.me/p3Xihq-1c1
Rachael Kosinski http://rachaelkosinski.weebly.com/
http://rachaelkosinski.weebly.com
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Rhobin L Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

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

Naked Characters – January Round Robin (2018)

Among the very first decisions I have to make when I come to the blank page is what point of view to use. Some people come up with a cool idea for the world their building or a new technological advancement they want to display, but for me it is always the character.

Normally I go with third person limited, because that is what I enjoy reading. I like knowing exactly whose head I’m in and learning more about that particular character in the scene. To me this just seems orderly and natural.

I have great respect for people who can write in the Third Person Omniscient (aka – they can be in any character’s head at any time, even in the same scene) but my brain simply can’t focus when there’s all that head jumping. Sadly, this includes reading.

With the exception of Dune, I haven’t been able to read anything Third Person Omniscient. It confuses me.

Third Person Limited gives me the freedom to explore multiple personalities in a given story and allows me to “zoom in” with the narrative, which I really enjoy.

This idea of “zoom in” with the narrative is relatively new to me, in my early works I was… Well, I was winging it, to be honest.

But to give a running definition of how “zoom” works in a narrative, anything that the character is doing (running, kicking a computer, glaring at their partner) would have the “zoom out” and anything that deals with the internal aspects (why they are kicking said computer, imagining themselves strangling said partner, and all the reasons why they have to run because they absolutely must not be late… Character B will be dead if they are late… Character B, who knows exactly how much honey to drizzle on their oatmeal and labels their socks for each day of the week and life would be sucked dry of all meaning and hope if they are dead…)

OK, I got carried away there, but I think you get it.

Zoom Out = Physical world

Zoom In = Internal world.

If you read any work of fiction you will see a dance between this “zoom in” and “zoom out.” For me, I’m still learning how to balance this out. It’s something I end up layering during the editing process, but I try to have fun with it.

How much of my characters do I expose?

I strip them bare. I want their naked thoughts on the page as much as possible. I want everything that makes them uncomfortable and why.

Because that’s when I know I’ve got a real character. That’s when I know I have touched on something true. If I’m not digging into their guts then they will always be a two-dimensional bit part in a shallow story.

Check out what my fellow authors have to say about how they reveal their characters on the page in this month’s Round Robin…

Dr. Bob Rich https://wp.me/p3Xihq-1ag
Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/
Helena Fairfax http://www.helenafairfax.com/blog
Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/
Judith Copek http://lynx-sis.blogspot.com/
Marci Baun  http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/
Anne de Gruchy https://annedegruchy.co.uk/category/blog/
A.J. Maguire  https://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/  (YOU ARE HERE)
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Anne Stenhouse  http://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com/
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Rhobin L Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

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

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

All About Character – June Round Robin

Sitting on my bunk in the open bay barracks one Sunday afternoon, I entered a debate with the soldier in the bunk next to me. Her name was Culpepper and she was a skinny thing with cropped blonde hair and a thin face that made those awful military-assigned glasses look like goggles perched on her nose.

I can’t say much there, I had to wear those glasses too and any sense of vanity I had was forced to the side for those weeks in basic training.

We were both on the top bunks so much of what was happening in the barracks below couldn’t touch our debate, which was just as well because none of the other soldiers would have cared enough to join the conversation. You see, Culpepper and I loved to read.

This, sadly, set us apart from many others in our platoon. The difference between Culpepper and myself was that, at the time, I had already begun my writing career. Pieces of what would become the novel Sedition were written on 3×5 cards that I kept in my cargo pockets alongside a little pencil.

“Plot is more important than character,” Culpepper insisted and I, holding my latest letter home, shook my head.

“Nobody cares about plot, they care about who that plot happens to.”

“Yeah, but a character who doesn’t grow, who doesn’t go anywhere or do anything, is boring,” Culpepper said, which I had to acknowledge as true.

As the debate went on, we came to a consensus that there had to be an equal amount of plot and good characterization on the page to keep the novel going, but I’ve always remembered that conversation. Not only had I found a fellow reader, someone who I could relate to on an intellectual level in the middle of one of the more stressful moments of my young adult life, but she challenged me to remember that plot and character are inseparable.

Plot is born of character, and a character only grows through the plot.

For example, my current work in progress Song of Swans (title is still in the works) has a character named Cassy. I had originally planned for her to be a thief, someone whose circumstances had made her the lowliest of the low, forcing her into a life of crime.

This aided my PLOT quite well, as there’s a chapter in the outline where I have her executing those particular skills in order to survive.

However, when I went to write that first chapter I found that her character was flat. She had no life. There was nothing there that made me truly care about who she was or why she was a thief or … well, anything at all, really.

After several days of struggling, I came to the realization that I couldn’t have her be a thief.

#1) It felt too Dungeons & Dragons to me. (There’s nothing wrong with Dungeon’s and Dragons if you like to play, I just prefer not to have my fantasy novels be that on the nose.)

#2) There are many fantasy novels out there that have the main character as a thief, and I felt I should challenge myself to step out of the cliche.

#3) Cassy herself was telling me she wasn’t a thief, not really, and if I’d shut that plot up for a second she would be willing to tell me exactly who she was.

So I scrapped the thief bit and discovered that she was a laundress with one unique quality; she could read. Which led me to the obvious question of why she, a commoner in a very medieval-feeling setting, had an education and, more importantly, what she was doing with that education. 

What was she doing with the fact that she can read? Well, she was teaching a fellow slave.

Suddenly I have a character driven plot. Cassy is more complicated and more relatable than the original pages, and while I am left wondering how in heavens a laundress is going to survive everything else that’s headed her way, I’m confident that she’ll show me.

Take a look at what some of my fellow authors have to say about building characters and character arcs in their stories …


Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Margaret Fieland http://margaretfieland.wordpress.com
A.J. Maguire  https://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/
Victoria Chatham http://victoriachatham.blogspot.ca
Marci Baun  http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/
Judith Copek http://lynx-sis.blogspot.com/
Rachael Kosinski http://rachaelkosinski.weebly.com/
Diane Bator http://dbator.blogspot.ca/
Dr. Bob Rich https://bobrich18.wordpress.com/rhobins-round-robin/
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Anne Stenhouse  http://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com/
Marie Laval http://marielaval.blogspot.co.uk/

Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/
Rhobin Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com