Author Archives: Jo Schneider

About Jo Schneider

Jo Schneider grew up in Utah and Colorado, and finds mountains helpful in telling which direction she is going. One of Jo's goals is to travel to all seven continents—five down and two to go. Another goal was to become a Jedi Knight, but when that didn't work out, Jo started studying Shaolin Kempo. She now has a black belt, and she keeps going back for more. An intervention may be in order. Being a geek at heart, Jo has always been drawn to science fiction and fantasy. She writes both and hopes to introduce readers to worlds that wow them and characters they can cheer for. Jo lives in Salt Lake City, Utah with her adorkable husband, Jon, who is very useful for science and computer information as well as getting items off of top shelves.

My Secret Ingredient

Once I went to a Comic Con panel about Joss Whedon and why he’s so good at what he does. If you’re unfamiliar with Joss, he’s directed the shows Firefly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Dollhouse and several of the Avengers movies and series episodes, just to name a few. He’s been wildly successful.

When I saw this panel, I was just beginning my Indie publishing career. I had two traditionally published books out, but I knew that was the tip of the iceberg. I had a long way to go, and needed some direction.

Well, I got it.

The panel moderator asked why people loved Joss Whedon’s stuff. By far the most popular answer was that the fans loved his characters. They were real, they were funny and they had great conflicts.

I took this all to heart, and wrote my next book, Fractured Memories. I included a large-ish cast of characters and thought I had them all worked out. Until my beta readers came back and said things like, “What is this character even doing in the story? She’s boring” or “Your characters are a little flat.”

Not. Okay.

So, I hit up the internet and Googled the best books on characters. I needed something deeper than Orson Scott Card’s Character and Viewpoint, which is great, but too broad for what I needed. I bought a couple: The Art of Character by David Corbett and Getting into Character by Brandilyn Collins, which is a book on what authors can learn from actors. I studied, wrote down things I hoped would help, and incorporated them.

The biggest change I made was to give each character a dream. A goal. Something they wanted more than anything else. My main character, Wendy, had these things, but n ot the secondary characters. Arie didn’t have a purpose until I decided she wanted to be part of the council that ran Shelter, which propelled her entire plot after that. Cal loved computers and movies, which again brought him into the spotlight for something besides his passable fighting skills. As soon as I incorporated this technique, my book got better. Even I could tell. And a couple of the first reviews I got on it specifically mentioned how much the readers liked the characters, including the side characters.

My little heart went pitter-patter, and I melted. It actually worked! Now I do this in all of my books. Sometimes it’s more apparent than others, but it brings a depth to the characters that I was missing and one that readers crave.

Well, that was Unexpected

 

I have a confession to make-I didn’t start watching Doctor Who until after my husband and I started dating.

I know, I know, most self-respecting geeks are at least familiar with the Doctor. Me? Nope. As a matter of fact, two friends and I went to England a few years back. Naturally we went to watch the Changing of the Guards at Buckingham Palace. I’d seen it before, but the others hadn’t, so we went.

During the rather dull ceremony (sorry, it’s the truth) the band played some great sci-fi music, including Star Trek. A number I didn’t recognize received thunderous applause from the crowd. Lucky for me, the friend standing next to me at least knew that it was the Doctor Who theme song.

While we were dating, my soon to be husband finally talked me into watching. The first season of the reboot is rough, and I didn’t particularly love Rose as the companion, but once I’d made it through a handful of episodes, I started to get it.

Then The Empty Child happened.

If you’re a fan, you know what I’m talking about.

The entire two-part story is based in World War II London, and through the whole thing a little boy in a gas mask keeps appearing asking if anyone and everyone is his mummy.

Seriously creepy.

I spent the entire episode trying to figure out what sort of wretched creature would do such a thing. Then the reveal at the end blew my proverbial socks off. It went so contrary to where I thought it would, that I probably sat with my mouth hanging open for a good fifteen seconds.

While my boyfriend pointed and laughed at me. (He’d seen it two or three times.)

The writers of Doctor Who have pulled this off a number of times. My personal favorite is Gridlock:

The Doctor takes Martha to New Earth, where she is kidnapped by two carjackers and taken to an underground Motorway, where the remainder of humanity on the planet live in perpetual gridlock.

What is left of humanity has been circling on the futuristic freeway full of flying cars/motor homes for who knows how long (years? Decades? Centuries?) trying to find an exit open. About half way through the episode we, the audience, figure out that they’re never getting off the freeway. It’s some sort of sick trap.

Well, the Doctor won’t stand for it (he’s got a very insistent need to protect humanity) and he and Martha set out to figure out what’s going on.

Adventure ensues.

But once again, when we expect to find a creature that is both parts cheesy and foul, we find something totally different. A friend of the Doctor’s who moves through time at a different rate than most. And he didn’t trap humanity underground on the freeway because he was mean, but because he wanted to keep them safe from whatever catastrophe happened on the surface of the planet..

It’s brilliant. In so many places the writers allude to something, and then allow the watchers to come to their own conclusions, which are totally wrong.

For me, this is one of the best thinks a story can do. Not so much trick the reader, but provide an insight that can truly delight them at the end.

The BFF in Fiction

I’ve often found that my favorite characters in stories are the trusty side-kick. Let’s face it Batman is a little crazy, while Robin gets the luxury of being a little more relaxed. Funny even, in the latest installment of Lego Batman. I prefer Ostin to Michael Vey. In my own Jagged Scars Series Wendy is amazing, but Kev is secretly my favorite. Do NOT tell the others.

Since seeing the topic for this month’s blog posts, I’ve been wondering why I’m drawn to the side characters. Why they make a story great for me? And after some pondering, I think I’ve come up with my answer.

The protagonist (main character) of the story has a few specific jobs. One of them is to go through the most pain and make the most changes in their lives. Often against their will. That’s why we read stories, to see characters fight their own tendencies and eventually rise above their limitations to a new level of “them.” Which can make them stressed out.

The side characters, often the best friend, doesn’t need to go through quite as much. A good story will give them a character arc, but it’s not usually as drastic. Which gives them the chance to be more fun. They’re there to provide comic relief and/or to be a confidant for the protagonist. Or to call the protagonist out when they’re off the deep end.

For instance, who tries to warn Frodo about Gollum in the long trek to Mordor? Who hasn’t been blinded by pain or regret or the ring? Who carries Frodo when Frodo can’t take another step? Sam. That’s who. And while Sam goes through quite a bit, his journey is more relatable in many ways than Frodo’s. He’s concerned about his friend, like many of us would be, and is only trying to help.

In the newest Spiderman: Homecoming trailer, we see Peter Parker beating up bad guys. It looks like he’s having a great time, but Tony Stark warns him to back off. But Peter doesn’t want to. He thinks he’s ready. He says:

“I’m sick of him (Tony Stark) treating me like a kid all the time!”

Ned, who we’ve already seen is Peter’s best friend (because who doesn’t kill a man when he drops your Lego Death Star?), says, “But you are a kid.”

Ned sees what we can see as the audience, that Peter is reckless, and probably in over his head. Ned tries to talk him off the ledge. He isn’t blinded by the situation like Peter. He can still think clearly, because he’s not the one with super powers who wants to save the world.

A hero needs that. Someone to ground them. Someone to make smart remarks when the moment gets too tense. Someone who will come back after the hero pushes them away.

That’s why we need friends in fiction.

Tension-Make the Little Things Count

I’ve worn glasses since I was eleven years old, and contacts since my late teens. I tend to do exactly what my eye doctor tells me not to, and wear my two-week contacts for about six weeks.

Hey, the little things are pricey, and I take them out every night and clean them and love them and sometimes I might give them names like stupid-lefty and why-do-you-hate-me-righty.

The other day I was sitting at my desk at work, and one contact started to feel…gritty. Like a tiny microbe of sand was floating around between it and my eyeball, almost scratching my iris, but not quite.

Often blinking can remedy this problem, dislodging the irritant, allowing that delightful eye goop to surround it and take it away, leaving me to see without wanting to scratch my eye out. But not this time. Alas, the speck of hate stayed, bobbing up and down with every blink of my eye, harmlessly scraping as it went.

Normally this wouldn’t have bothered me, but couple it with a sleepless night, one co-worker who can’t seem to shut his hyperactive mouth for more than two seconds, a project that keeps coming back for more and the fact that the candy jar was locked in the HR guy’s office, and this whole contact thing sent me straight over the edge. After five minutes of blinking, I stood up, rammed my chair into the table behind me, threw open my cupboard, grabbed my contact solution, slammed my cupboard shut and stomped off to the restroom.

Over a tiny piece of sand. Okay, probably a bit of dust, or hair. Whatever. It shouldn’t have been a big deal, but because of the series of unfortunate events before it, it turned into a drama fest.

We’ve been talking about tension all month. Check out the posts, I guarantee you’ll learn something. From sexual tension, to using your prose to bring tension to your story.

When you’re telling you story, don’t forget to introduce that irritant. Throw in that reason they can’t be together. Pull the audience’s emotions in the direction you want them to go. Like The Princess and the Pea, it doesn’t have to be big to be perfect.