Thursday Writing Quotes ~ James Scott Bell

Avoid "happy people in Happyland" when starting a book. Readers don't connect with that.”  James Scott Bell

Nuggets for June

If you're making money from your writing, DON'T FORGET that you may owe estimated taxes. Thanks to Patricia Wrede for the reminder and, for us new to actually seeing money from our writing, an explanation of how estimated taxes work.

If you've been around here for very long, you know I'm not a fan of following rules off a cliff, however I like these rules because guest blogger Jodi Renner post on Style Blunders doesn't just list "the rules," she explains what the logic behind the rule is, so you can figure out when you need to take the rule to heart.


What makes a great character? Insights from successful authors:

There's more difference between first and third person narration than you think. A lesson from Jennifer Crusie.

Questions that really get to the heart of your character

Patricia Wrede shares some tips and tricks for revising
And then she has a good post on differentiating character voices

David McFarland has an interesting post about how to choose the pov character in a scene:


But the Book is Better . . . Or is it?

The Hunger Games and John Carter are just the latest to prove that books are a profitable source for movie material. The practice goes back a long way but many believe that the book is always better. I thought I'd look at that bit of folk wisdom to see if it's true.

Die Hard AKA Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp - This is a case where the movie was a definite improvement on the book. McLane's wife doesn't even appear in the book. Instead, that spot is filled by McLane's bratty grown daughter. In the scene where McLane saves Holly from falling at the end of the movie, he fails to save his daughter, so you don't even get the possibility of a happy ending, but given how bratty the daughter was... okay, so maybe that was the happy ending.

P.S. I Love You - There are differences between the book and the movie but the simple truth is I love both of them for mostly different reasons. The book is set 100% in Ireland (Cecelia Ahern is the daughter of the former Prime Minsiter of Ireland), but the movie changes the heroine to an American. Since I saw the movie first, this didn't bother me, but it does rather smack of pandering to the US audience. Still both are excellent.

Shining Through - This seems to be a sleeper movie, but I love a good spy story, and I loved this. The book? Not so much. If I remember correctly (and it's been quite a while), the "hero" of the book is married, so the heroine is sleeping with a married man. That completely put me off (yes, deep in my little black heart lurks the ghost of a puritan) but even had that not been the case, I just didn't enjoy the book. If I'd read the book first, no way would I have bothered with the movie.

The Lord of the Rings is a book many people hold almost sacred. Far be it for me to argue with that. I first tried to read it when I was 13 or 14. As much as I loved fantasy, I thought it moved too slow. (I was an avid Andre Norton fan and her books MOVE.) There have been a number of attempts at making this into a movie, but those never grabbed me either. Not until the technology to do it right came along and met Peter Jackson. I love the movies. Still can't get through the books though.

I was in high school when I first saw Gone with the Wind. I thought Scarlett was a spoiled brat. As far as I was concerned, I never needed to see it again. So I can't say what made me think reading the book a decade or so later was a good idea. Scarlett is just as spoiled in the book, and yet . . . Something in Margaret Mitchell's writing makes Scarlett sympathetic. I could see that this young woman, who had been raised to never be more than a spoiled southern belle, had a streak of steel in her that made her able to do whatever she had to to save herself and her family. Wrong-headed as she often was, still spoiled enough to take the easy way when she could, stubborn enough to never back down from the unpleasant decisions that were necessary for her survival, in Mitchell's book, Scarlett is someone to be admired for overcoming her upbringing and surviving in a world she could never have imagined before the war. Mitchell deserves the kudos she received for this story.

Please share your favorite comparisons (good and bad).

Thursday Writing Quotes ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald

Writers aren't exactly people. Or if they're any good, they're a whole lot of people trying to be one person. - F. Scott Fitzgerald

How to Write a Three-Dimensional Villain

Alfred Hitchcock said, "Audiences are smarter today. They don't want their villain to be thrown at them with green limelight on his face. They want an ordinary human being with failings."

I recently read a romantic suspense story by a well-respected author that had this limelight problem. The moment the character appeared, I knew he was the villain. How did I know? Because he was portrayed as politically & religiously conservative. It's become all the rage to cast conservative characters as bad guys. I'm going to resist saying that it's a symptom of the current political climate because I can see that it's appealing simply because it gives the author the opportunity to write a villain with that most horrendous personality flaw of being *gasp* a hypocrite. (Like being into child pornography or white slavery or *name your crime* isn't bad enough.) 

But here's the problem: It's been done to death.

To the point that before I knew anything else about this character, I knew he was the bad guy, which made him:
A) trite
B) cliché 
C) a cardboard cutout 
D) all of the above

In my opinion, that makes the villain a failure and the story was much less than it could have been.

Yes, villains can be tough to write. It doesn't help if the author takes the easy way out and goes the done-to- death route.

I'll bet you spend a significant amount of time thinking about the hero's goals, motivates, and conflicts. If you don't want your villain to be cliché, you should spend just as much time on him.

So before we get into the nitty-gritty of what the villain is, let's define what he isn't. Unless you're writing a cartoon, he's not going to look anything like Snidley Whiplash. There will be no mustache twirling, no maidens tied to railroad tracks, no evil for the sake of evil. Like the uber-conservative character I mentioned above, that's not a villain; that's a caricature. Flat. One-dimensional. If you're villain is being nasty just because that's what you need someone in your story to be, that's boring. Yes, even if he's a sociopath. Remember Hannibal Lecter, arguably the coolest villain in modern literature? Even he had reasons for what he did. Reasons that were made perfect sense if you were looking at the world through his eyes. And that's what you need to do: get inside his skin and look through your villain's eyes.

Even if you're not looking to delve deeply into the villain's psyche, if all you want him for is to create problems your hero has to surmount, do you really want the reader to know at a glance who he is? Okay, yes, in some stories, you do--it works well if you're writing a Columbo-style mystery--but most of the time, you want the reader to wonder who is behind the threat to your hero. If that's the case, ask yourself if you've been original or if you've taken the easy route. Does your villain have the same character traits you've read in other books? Remember that old saying, "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is"? The same holds true with villains. If they feel ready-made for the role, then you've read this villain before. Probably a lot.

There's an axiom about everyone being the hero of their own life. If you want to write a really "good," three dimensional villain, you need to hold onto the awareness that few people see themselves as "the bad guy." An effective way to put this into practice is to stop before you get very far into the story, turn it on its head, and pretend that the story you're telling is the villain's story. Pretend that, instead of being cast as the villain, he's the hero. How does that change how you see his goals? Why does he need the things he needs? This changed perspective will probably force you, the writer, to dig deeper into his back story. What childhood trauma made him need the things he needs? What makes his choices the only ones he could make?

Dig until you find that thing that makes you feel sympathy, or even better, empathy. You're looking for that thing that gives you the sense that "but for the grace of God, there go I." When you feel that, when you know him at least as well as your hero, then you have the groundwork to write a "good" villain. The only danger in this process is that, the more successful you are, the bigger the risk of finding your villain more interesting than your hero. (I suspect this may be how the anti-hero was born.)

Not all of what you discover will end up in the story, of course, but if you understand your villain, you'll care more about him, maybe you'll even cry a few tears over his damaged soul. The payoff will come in the form of reader satisfaction as they sense the depths you've plumbed to get to that stage.

So who are your favorite villains? And what details earned them that spot in your personal hall-of-fame?