Thursday Writing Quote ~ Jack London

You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club. - Jack London

(Click on the image and get the complete works of Jack London for your kindle for only $2.99. An amazing deal.)

Thursday Writing Quote ~ Chuck Yeager

You don't concentrate on risks. You concentrate on results. No risk is too great to prevent the necessary job from getting done. - Brig. Gen. Chuck Yeager

How to Save Your Characters from Being Bland

One of the problems new writers have is that they often related too closely to the main character. In their mind, that main character is really them. Albeit, the character may beprettier, smarter, sassier, etc than the author--a wish fulfillment self, you might say--but still she's still more the author than not.  I think that's something every writer has to get past before they can really build characters who aren't bland, because the one thing these characters tend to share is that they're uber nice and nice tends to be bland.

Hey, we all want to be liked. Well, most of us do. And people like you if you're nice. That's what Mom said, and most of us have internalized the things Mom said. So if we want readers to like our characters, shouldn't they be nice?

The answer is: yes and no.

They can't kick puppies and be liked, but if they're too nice they're just boring.

So what's an author to do?

One answer is to give them some idiosyncrasies. Or what I call personal tics. These can be so many things, that it was easy to come up with a sample list.
  • Fears, such as being afraid of heights or small spaces or public speaking or spider
  • Food issues, such as loving or hating certain foods (in the Ocean's Eleven remakes, notice how Rusty is always eating something)
  • Physical deficiency, such as being tone-deaf or color blind of have allergies (Diana Gabaldon made her hero not only tone deaf but prone to deathly attacks of seasickness that deepened Jamie nicely.)
  • Guilty pleasures, like trashy romance novels
  • Fettishs (Chick lit has so many heroines with shoe fetishes it's become downright clishe)
  • Hobbies, such as knitting or painting or building miniatures
  • Uncommon jobs, (one of my favorite examples is the demolition expert in Victoria Dahl's Lead e On)
  • Miscellaneous stuff, such as being clumsy, a bad/fast driver, or self-conscious (about anything). 

There are so many ways that these personal tics pay off.  One of the big ones I've found is that whatever you decide to build into your character will sink into your subconscious and, later in the story, your subconscious will spit out ways to make this tic advance the story that you'd never have thought of on your own.

For instance, I have a character who's been a supporting character in my books who will in due time get a book of her own. Daisy is a younger sister of several older brothers. None of them will let her borrow their rigs because she has a tendency to back up without looking with predictable results. I added this because her high school flame, who she would very much like to avoid, comes back to the small town she lives in to help his parents who own the local auto body shop. If I hadn't given her this tic, I wouldn't have invented the body shop. Together the two facts give me the opportunity to create some fun scenes that wouldn't exist otherwise, so this little tic of Daisy's will be something that comes up again and again in the plot. And that's how you build story on a tic. Of course, it can't carry the story on it's own, but it adds depth, and it makes Daisy a quality that will make her a unique character, saving her from the dreaded blandness.

Character tics don't have to be reserved for MCs either. A character tic or two from a secondary character can complicate things nicely when the character, who is afraid of heights, says uh-uh, no way am I going out onto the balcony thirty floors up, forcing your main character to do it themselves because the plot demands it.

These tics can also open up opportunities for niche markets the way Christie Ridgeway's Malibu and Ewe series did for her when she set the story in a knitting shop.

So have fun with this. Make a game of it. Be creative. And please, share the tics you've seen (or written) in your favorite characters.

Thursday Writing Quote ~ Mark Twain

"The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter — 'tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning." ~ Mark Twain

Why Your Characters Should Laugh

I've taken a long hiatus from my online critique group. I have excuses by the bucket load. In the last six months, I left my job, sold my house, made an interstate move, all the while, struggling with an uncooperative WIP. I'm getting back into the swing of things, however, and as usual, critiquing other writer's stories forces me to clarify my own thinking and teaches me at least as much as it teaches the writer who is under the gun.

So what have I learned this week? Well, I'm up to chapter 15 in one of the stories I've been reading and I knew it wasn't really working for me. I also knew that reason was that I found the main characters bland.
That wasn't my response to all the characters. A couple of the characters I actively disliked. (With at least one of them, that is the proper response.) But when your readers are responding more to secondary characters than they are to your main characters, that's not good. Being, at best, lukewarm about the main characters (MCs) is a good way to loose your reader before they get to the last page. In the case of the story I'm reading, the heroine is a nice woman. The hero is a workaholic but still a good guy. Blandness incarnate.

In an effort to figure out what to suggest to the writer to fix this problem, I started thinking about what draws me to people (the real, live kind), and I realized that one thing that most of my closest friends have in common is that I laugh with them. The social sciences say that women bond through talking and men bond through doing. I'm willing to bet that regardless of which method creates a bond, laughing with your friends will make the bond stronger.

Many of my "keepers" are books where the characters have made me laugh. When I think of those books, it's individual scenes that come to mind. One in particular struck me. Way back in the outback of time, I read a series called The Dragonlance Chronicles. It's a great series with an ensemble cast, but one of the characters I really love is a seriously tormented character. The character has a brother who is as different from him as anyone could be. Predictably, these two characters find each other emotionally baffling. It's the sort of relationship that really hooks readers and oddly (or perhaps not), the one scene between them that I remember most vividly is a scene where the brothers unexpectedly find themselves laughing together. And not just laughing but laugh-until-you-cry kind of laughing. What was emotionally significant about this scene to me, as a reader, was that it sparked a hope that somehow the brothers would find the connection that they both needed. We're talking about serious reader investment here and what created that? Laughter. Theirs and mine.

I found this significant when I thought about the piece I was critiquing because, in the fifteen chapters I'd read, I couldn't remember a single scene where the characters laughed or displayed their sense of humor. I can see how easy it would be to get focused on getting the story from point a to point b, to hit the plot points lined out, and to overlook this side of one's characters, but since getting your characters laughing is one of the easiest ways to get your readers to bond with those character, I don't think writers can't afford to overlook it. And when you're writing romance, where it's so important that the readers root for the MCs to end up together, showing them enjoying each other's company is critical, and what better way is there to do that than with laughter,.

Next week, I'm going to write about other ways to keep your characters from being bland.

Thursday Writing Quote ~ William Strunk

Omit needless words. Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. -William Strunk, Jr.