Author Archives: Jace Killan

Characters 101

MaleficentThis month we are discussing characters. When I first started writing my protagonist was all-good, while my antagonist all-bad. My protagonist was a saint, a genius, wealthy, good looking, and great with the ladies, like James Bond or Jack Ryan. But as I wrote these stories I struggled with taking them anywhere. My writing was extremely bland and I thought the problem lied in my plot structure, not my characters.

I guess I was raised on Disney movies where Maleficent was the evil antagonist without a single decent trait contrasted by Princess Aurora that could do no wrong if she tried—nor could Prince Charming.

The other Disney shows followed the same pattern, Snow White and the Evil Queen, Cinderella and the Wicked Step Mother, Ariel and Ursula.

Aladdin, Lion King, and many since have added other dimensions to characters and in my opinion were better stories. Aladdin was a thief, not a “good” profession, but he was kind to the monkey and the children, so we forgave the sin and became more endeared to the character.

The movie Maleficent was incredibly creative. Disney took a character that we learned to hate as children and endeared us to her by adding more dimensions. I think that multi-dimensional characters resonate more with readers. No one that I know is all-good or all-bad. Some might appear that way on the surface, but when you dig in there is always layers that make them real—human.

Series like The Office were successful because of the Characters. Anyone that has seen the show knows exactly what I am saying when I state, “That is so Dwight,” or “That is classic Michael Scott.”

Multi-dimensional characters allow us to go deeper in our stories. We can play off their strengths and weaknesses to deepen plots, relationships, and conflict.

I’m excited to learn from our guest writers and fellow Fictorians this month as we are shown how to better utilize our characters to make a better story.

That Moment it went from Hobby to Career

researchWhen I picked my topic for this month (titled above) I didn’t realize the title of my first Fictorian post this year, “Keeping the Day Job.” The two titles definitely describe where I was and am in my writing and I’m happy to see the progress made this past year due in part to my keeping goals.

I wrote everyday. There might have been a month or two that I didn’t hit 20,000 words, but there were others that I surpassed that. I did not submit something each month, but I submitted 12 pieces for publishing during the year. I finished a novel, my first, The Broken Amulet, and am in the stage of cleaning it up and editing. I went to Phoenix and Salt Lake City Comicons. And I attended David Farland’s writing workshop.

It was there that writing changed for me from a hobby to a career. In that workshop I was able to see how I could actually make money at doing what I enjoy. I’ve started working on a new book. David Farland helped me see how to craft, research, and frame the story and I’m confident that I will have it in the hands of an excited publisher by the end of 2015.

There was a moment in the workshop that I realized that I could be a successful author if I continued to learn and grow and develop as a writer. There wasn’t a month last year that I wasn’t a better writer than the month before.

So I’ve set some new goals and have developed a bit of work ethic. Here are some things that I am doing different now.

  • I set up an author email, that I use to keep all my writing stuff in one place. As I have ideas for short stories or plot twists in my novels I email those to myself with a descriptive subject line so that I can find them later, but I don’t spend too much time thinking on new things and forsaking my current work in progress.
  • I set up an author profile at Wattpad. At some point I will share a short story or two. It seems to be a great tool for aspiring and published writers.
  • I write at least a couple blog posts each month. This gives me a break from my work in progress and allows me to process things on my mind. It also helps in developing a readership.
  • I started outlining my novels. This was a hard thing for me as I’m a prancer or discovery writer, but Farland’s workshop helped me get some direction without losing interest in a story once it’s laid out. Another great tool is Farland’s Million Dollar Outlines.
  • With a good outline, I’m able to research with direction. I’ve spent the last month scouring old books, the internet, and museums for research on my work in progress. The picture above is of my readings this past weekend. In my hobby days of writing I would have taken the lazy, less expensive, less timely road of just making it up. Actually, I wrote a chapter of my current work in progress before Farland’s class.

The scene takes place in Milan, Italy in 1774, where the protagonist is enjoying chicken parmesan after having travelled a great distance from Nice, France. After Farland’s class I learned through research that Milan, Italy didn’t exist in 1774 but belonged to the House of Savoy in a country known as Sardinia. And tomato sauce wasn’t really used in Italian cuisine until later. And Nice wasn’t yet a part of France either, but also belonged to Sardinia and it wasn’t until a few years later during the Napoleonic era that Nice was annexed. So I rewrote the chapter and it no longer reeks of novice.

  • I started using Scrivener to keep track of my research and keep my thoughts and outline organized.
  • Every movie, television show, book that I experience is now analyzed for its story telling features.

To wrap up, my goals for this next year are as follows

  1. Finish my work in progress
  2. Find an agent
  3. Submit at least once to Writers of the Future
  4. Finish editing The Broken Amulet
  5. Outline another novel
  6. Attend two cons
  7. Attend two writing workshops
  8. Register for Superstars in 2016

I’m confident that I will become a published writer and professional author because I continue to improve, I continue to learn, and I continue to write.




Learning from the Masters

les-miserables-jean-valjean-hugh-jackman-candlesticksI’ve converted my den into a writing sanctuary, filled with souvenirs from my vicarious and real lives. On the corners of my desk are two matching silver candlesticks to remind me of the lessons learned from reading Les Miserables.

Hugo, Melville, Tolkien, Twain, and Lewis have all taken me on unforgettable journeys, and it might sound cliché but their writings have had a profound effect on my mortal existence. This post was meant to be about them, but I was invited on a journey last week by another amazing author and I must write about that experience.

David Farland is the author of the Runelords and many other works of fiction. And his books are fantastic, but that isn’t what I’m writing about in this post. Farland pulled back the curtain and gave us a look behind the scenes of becoming a successful author.

When I first started writing, I tried my best to adopt Victor Hugo’s omniscient style of point of view and was surprised when my writing was met with strong criticism for doing so. Farland explained that two centuries ago, many writers would jump around the characters’ minds much like a movie in omniscient POV, but with the developments of film this style of writing no longer worked for the readers. The one thing that books offer above film today is the ability to become intimately involved in the mind of the Point of View character.

Farland’s classes are offered online and in person. I’ve been to similar courses before but was never taught by this level of insight and genius. I have been struggling with several short stories that I started to write but had difficulty finishing because I didn’t know where to take them. I had strong characters and setting but I lacked conflict. I struggled to place my creations into hard situations that might cause them to change.

Jean Valjean is my all-time favorite character. Analyzing it now, I see that what made me fall in love with him, as a protagonist was the pain and suffering he endured. The irrationality and unfairness of receiving a 19 year prison sentence for stealing a loaf of bread played on the Man vs. Society conflict in the story. (I know it was compounded because he tried to escape several times). And the bread wasn’t even for him, but his starving nieces and nephews, which endeared me to him further. Farland called this “petting the dog.”

In Farland’s class I learned that characters of the story didn’t necessarily need to be people. I used to think Javert was the antagonist of the story but now I see him as the contagonist. The real antagonist is society, selfish and unwilling to help the miserables.

Javert and Valjean were both good and bad. They both believed they knew what was right and for the most part tried to live according to their moral code. Both illustrated the Man vs. Society conflict and in the end it turned out that society was wrong. Valjean refused to bend his moral code and was blessed by providence while Javert struggled to see a world beyond himself and so he took his own life.

LesMisThenardierHugo’s genius is found in how his characters struggle through the conflict they are placed in and how their conflicts play off of the other characters. For instance, most that have only seen the play version of the story do not realize that Eponine is Gavroche’s sister, children of Mr. and Mrs. Thenardier who changed their name when they moved to Paris. One of the most touching parts of the story to me is at the wedding party when the Thenardiers show up to loot the guests, seemingly celebrating in the wake of the barricade where they lost two of their children who saw something greater than themselves and were willing to sacrifice their lives for that cause.

Farland showed us how to develop such a story by brainstorming character conflicts. Not just the protagonist against the antagonist but analyzing how every character would interact with every other character. There may be multiple protagonists or antagonists or contagonists and so on. As I have employed this type of brainstorming, I’ve been able to finish my stories.

I am grateful to the masters of old like Victor Hugo and to the masters of today like David Farland. I’ve added a book to my writing sanctuary, Million Dollar Outlines.

The Lesson Is: Never Try.

Simpsons TryI showed up to the writing group early, nervous and anxious and excited for the group to critique my work. I couldn’t wait for the other aspiring writers to “discover” my talent. I had felt driven to write for some time but hadn’t ever shared my craft. I was certain that I was the next big thing. If only people would read my stuff they would fall in love with it and me and I’d be golden.

I chuckle now at the memory. I had contacted a writing professor who referred me to a real-life published author (whose name somehow escapes me). She invited me to join an intimate writing group at a small monthly fee.

(At the time I didn’t know about free writing groups and networks and Superstars taught by real superstar published authors like Kevin freaking Anderson and James freaking Owen and many others).

I had presented the first three chapters of my work in progress, certain that they’d be begging for more. The group took the work home and returned with their critiques in hand. What came from the session was not what I expected.

Putting yourself out there for others to see can be scary especially if you care a lot about what others think. Unfortunately there are those that follow Homer Simpson’s advice to never try.

I have a friend that used to write. She’s got an incredible imagination and has developed some great plots. When more than one editor told her that her prose lacked structure and her characters needed deeper development she abandoned her efforts to get published.

I almost threw in the towel too.

As my writing group went around, one by one, dissecting my craft, I wanted to run away and hide. I regretted ever trying. It would have been far easier to remain a closet writer, telling myself that if only I were discovered, I’d be golden. Hiding behind mediocrity would have been much more comfortable than discovering that my perceptions were so very off base.

Good news is, I didn’t quit. As difficult as it was to look in the mirror, my writing lacked skill. I focused on the group’s advice and practiced. With time I started to see what they saw.

Later in my writing development I joined the Absolute Write Water Cooler. I couldn’t wait to be allowed to submit my writing for critique. How it works is, you post a part of your craft for the other members to see and critique, then you wait for the comments.

At first, I assumed that every member had mad writing skills and would try to be helpful. After receiving conflicting advice and disagreeing criticisms I grew confused and my writing suffered because of it. Eventually I stopped trying to please everyone online and instead relied more on folks that I knew to be great writers.

In summary, here is what I’ve learned about feedback, critiques, and criticisms:


  1. Have no fear; have no regrets.
  2. Feedback is a gift.
  3. Feedback can have a different value depending on who is giving it. If you take it in and it doesn’t jive, it’s okay to dismiss it. Take what’s helpful and leave the rest.
  4. If it’s right, do it. Practice.
  5. Don’t quit. I believe that if I keep at it, success is inevitable.


  1. Only critique when invited to do so.
  2. Be kind, helpful, and honest.
  3. Be clear and specific. Examples can help.
  4. Encourage, support, and cheer because if they keep at it, success is inevitable.