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.

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.

Tension

If you pull on an object with a rope, the rope will stretch slightly (often imperceptibly). This stretch in the rope will cause the rope to be taut (e.g. under tension) which allows the rope to transfer a force from one side of the rope to the other.

We’ve all seen movies or read books that had us either figuratively or literally sitting on the edges of our seats. Those crazy action sequences where you can’t see a way out for the hero, or the moment when the love interest has to come clean about lying to the heroin in order to win her heart, or that breathless heartbeat right before the couple’s first kiss.

As a writer, your reader’s emotions become ropes, and your story the force pulling on them. Not pushing, but pulling. Drawing them in, keeping them wondering how the guy can date two women on the same night and get away with it, or watching as the characters step farther and farther into the haunted mansion.

I remember reading Fellowship of the Rings for the first time. It was early in the morning and I was in my creepy basement on the treadmill. I only turned one light on so I could read while I walked. This particular morning I found myself in the section of the book where the fellowship enters the Mines of Moria. The prose is of course beautiful, the language masterfully chosen to set the air of fear, suspicion, and abandonment.

By the time the party reaches the room where Balin made his last stand, I was on the edge of my seat. They find the book and begin to read about how the dwarves were overwhelmed by the orcs. Then the drums begin.

Boom.

Doom.

My heart was pounding far faster than it should have been, and I kept turning the speed up on the treadmill.

Seriously, I was practically running. It was at that moment I understood what an author could make a reader feel with tension. How Tolkien slowly pulled on that rope, tightening it with each page while at the same time giving the characters just enough hope to keep them going.

This month we’ll be sharing some of the ways to put tension into stories. From romantic to action. There will be something for everyone. Stick around, it’s going to be good.

Today Could Be That Day!

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Does anyone else think that their creative process is about as effective as trying to walk on Jell-O? Sure, you can do it, but the trip is precarious, and the outcome is iffy at best.

January is usually a time to reflect on the past year and look forward to a new beginning. Many people make goals without having an actual plan for change, while others simply don’t bother, knowing themselves well enough to understand that writing it down won’t change their daily run to the gas station for a doughnut or a soda. Or both.

I think most of us are good at spotting our big picture goals, but where we stumble is with an actual plan to get from here to there. And once we throw ourselves off the wagon, even just for a moment, the goal is then forever out of reach.

Well, I’m here to offer a different approach. Because why is it that January 1st is the only day we all feel like we should maybe change something in our lives? Or start down a new path? What about, oh I don’t know, tomorrow? Are we allowed to start over tomorrow?

Back to my creative process. I go through spurts. I can write an entire novel in a month, then I have two months where no matter how much I try, it seems that nothing will work. Not creating, not editing, not fixing, not even eating lots of chocolate in order to make everything better. Sometimes even my trusty Diet Coke fails me. I can throw hours and hours at a plotting problem, and I’ll get exactly nowhere. Then, the stars align and suddenly I’m once again a writing machine. Nothing can stand in my way as I masterfully fill all of my plot holes with the perfect puzzle pieces and my novel is a work of art!

And then I go back to the slums of my process to wallow while I take another few weeks to figure out how to fix the one little problem a beta reader pointed out. It’s exhausting, and it makes me feel like a total looser.

Like so many others, I need to be more healthy this year. I said this last year as well, and nothing really happened except me feeling guilty about nothing happening.

I once heard a brilliant mantra that I’m sure this man stole from someone famous. “Nothing changes if nothing changes.”

I’m not going to lose weight if I don’t modify my diet. My writing process isn’t going to get smoother unless I change something. And instead of saying I’m going to put out five books this year, I’m going to take things day by day.

If today fails in the writing department, then I get up and start again tomorrow. I decide to jot down fifteen ways that won’t work with my plot, or ten horrible ways to fix the problem that involve ninja monkeys. My goal is to have a goal each day—something more than “I will fix this!” or maybe get some Sonic for lunch. No, instead I’m going to take a moment each night before I go to bed and decide how I will tackle my problems the next day.

Starting over is difficult under any circumstances, but each day can be a new chance at success. Don’t waste it! Decide tonight how you will approach your problem tomorrow, and at least you will be moving forward, not lying on the treadmill as it unceremoniously dumps you back on the ground at the end of the belt.