Category Archives: Authorial Trust

Real Characters

Like many of you, I read a lot. I love the new stuff and the classics. LOTR, Les Miserables, Moby Dick, all fantastic books. But there is no denying that they hold a different voice than novels of today. It’s not just words either. 

First Person POV like, “Call me Ishmael. Some years ago- never mind how long precisely- having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought…” has changed. Before it was like the telling of something that happened. But now, even though most First Person POVs are written in past tense, there is a closeness to them that makes it feel as if it is happening now. Present tense often has the effect of feeling like it is taking place in the near future.

First Person today or Close Third allow the reader to get inside the POV character’s head. This sets the medium apart from movies or television and I would propose that this is why the book is most often better than the movie.

For an author to do this effectively, the character needs to be alive with real thoughts and preferences and opinions. How else will they react to what comes their way? And isn’t this fantastic story telling? When the characters take hold and even argue with us the author.

I saw a documentary about the filming of Indiana Jones, Raiders of the Lost Ark. There is a scene where a samurai guy whips around his sword and taunts Jones. The documentary said that the original script called for an intricate fight scene where Jones eventually beats the Samurai. But Harrison Ford argued that his character had a gun and would simply shoot the Samurai dead. The story was rewritten.

Recently I have been writing a thriller involving a hitman, an FBI agent, a financial guru in witness protection, and I needed another character to round out the mix—a face of the evil corporate conglomerate. Fei. She is a middle-aged Chinese national and she runs a section of the corporation, laundering money made from sex trafficking and drugs.

I’m a discovery writer so often times I start with an idea and see where it goes with a distant idea in mind. I did not expect what Fei decided to do.

I needed her to ask the hitman to kill this guy, but Fei let me know that this was not an easy thing for her to do and that she’d developed feelings for this dude. I pushed it. She had her lover killed. Part of her was sad, and another felt power and control. She handled the death in a very interesting way. Two chapters later and Fei is now a serial killer. I did not expect that at all, but Fei, with her personality, her childhood issues, her lust and disgust for men, her struggling marriage with a husband who is reluctant to come out of the closet, all of these dynamics have formed and created Fei, a person, a character, someone that I would recognize if I bumped into her on the street (and then I’d run like hell in the opposite direction).

Real characters aren’t cliché. They aren’t faceless drones. They are a compilation of many people. They have wants and goals and dreams and they struggle and have weaknesses. And when they are real, we as readers recognize that and the story resonates with us.

I watch people. (Not in a creepy way). I observe their mannerisms. I listen to their word choices. I notice their posture and eye movements. These things make someone unique. And I ask them questions. I listen to how they respond. I strive to understand their ambitions and fears.

All of these mesh and mingle and come out in my writing.

I came up with Jared Sanderson about 7 years ago. He is very real to me. I could describe his physical features that are a mesh of three of my friends. But this little segment, which is his intro into the story, shows a bit of who he is as a character.

“Jared Sanderson gnawed on the side of his thumb as he waited for the attorney. He had forgotten to moisturize so his skin flaked and cracked at the sides of his fingers. By impulse, he chewed away the dead skin, especially when nervous.”

THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER
Jace Killan

I live in Arizona with my family, wife and five kids and a little dog. I write fiction, thrillers and soft sci-fi with a little short horror on the side. I hold an MBA and work in finance for a biotechnology firm.

I volunteer with the Boy Scouts, play and write music, and enjoy everything outdoors. I’m also a novice photographer.

You can check out my books here or at my website www.jacekillan.com.

The Series Trap

So you want to write an epic sci-fi or fantasy series… Related image Been there, done that. I know authors who have written double-digit books in their series. I suppose that’s a great thing if it’s making money. But to me there’s a sort of hidden trap in creating a series that becomes self-perpetuating and endless. Part of that may just be my own proclivities as a reader. In general I find three or four books to be about as long as even the best writers can keep my interest in one story, one protagonist, and/or one set of supporting characters. I just have too much interest in other stories to keep going back to that same water hole. So when I started my War Chronicles epic fantasy series, I very deliberately set a story line that would be finished after three, maybe four books. I had no intention or desire to be writing War Chronicles books for years. I wanted to write other stories. Now, had that series taken off like Harry Potter, and publishers were flying to my home to shove money in my mailbox, maybe I’d have a different perspective. But that didn’t happen, so I’m happy with what I did earn on my first series, and am glad that I have since written a sci-fi novel, and am now working on a contemporary murder mystery novel. From the first time I decided to pursue writing as a hobby and (hopefully) a career, I wanted to keep my options open and write widely in different genres. I think that will make me a better writer in all genres. Now, from a career perspective, maybe that’s a mistake. Maybe sticking with one sub-genre for my entire career might be a better way to establish a loyal fan base and churn out stories that are eagerly anticipated by those fans. But even if it is, I’m enjoying my foray into contemporary murder mystery. Who knows, my next book might be a romance novel.

An Infinity of Choices

Let’s engage in a little mental exercise, shall we? At its heart, a story is nothing more than a series of choices made by the author. The author begins a story with a blank page, which is to say, an infinite number of possible choices. They can choose to write about literally anything. Nothing constrains them but the limits of imagination. Then they make a choice. They decide to tell a mystery story, or a fantasy story, or some combination of two of those. Or maybe they don’t make this choice. Maybe their first choice is about their main characters: a shepherd who has been selected to save the world, a rag-tag band of space mercenaries who can’t help but find themselves smack dab in the center of pivotal events in the solar system, the teenage daughter of a terrorist and a business magnate and who is in training to be a jailer of the gods, or the son of an alcoholic caretaker of a hotel closed for the winter forced to confront demons of all sorts. The point is that as soon as that choice is made, many more possibilities vanish. Your main characters will probably not be both loveable space mercenaries and shepherds destined to save the world (I say probably because with sufficient thought and creativity applied to that problem, you could pull it off). By making that first choice and selecting a path, you are foregoing many other paths the story could take. This can be tough as a writer, particularly a new one. Your tendency is to want to cram every cool concept and idea into whatever story you happen to be working on. That’s a mistake and can result in a story being overbloated, but an equally risky move is to try to have your story be too many types of stories, and to cover too many story possibilities, at once. It’s tricky enough to manage your enthusiasm for the length of a single book. Then your story becomes a series, and the problems compound. Unless you (or your publisher) are inhumanly patient enough (as I see it) to hold off on releasing your series until all entries are done, you’re going to have earlier entries out there while you are still writing later entries. There’s going to be something in those earlier entries that you wish you hadn’t included upon hindsight, because it complicates a later entry by introducing a potential for a plot hole when held up against later decisions you want to make, or it just creates a dangling plot thread you wind up not wanting to address. And guess what? Unless that little issue is absurdly minor (in which case, is it really worth fixing?) you aren’t going to be fixing it. It’s out there, part of your story’s canon. So the more you can plan ahead, especially the major stuff, the happier an author you will be. But unless your story is so heavily outlined that nothing is left to chance, there will be something you look back on and think “well, I really wish I hadn’t written that.” Don’t beat yourself up too much about it. It’s an opportunity to actually improve your story, after all! What do I mean by that? Well, those of us who read a lot (and if you want to write fiction, you’d better be among that number) have an unconscious tendency to jump to familiar story beats when trying to plot a story out. If something in a previous volume in your series prevents you from doing this, that’s actually a good thing. Familiar story beats can be good. They are familiar for a reason, after all. But string too many of them together and you wind up with a clichéd, predictable tale. Instead, use this self-imposed obstacle as a goad to think of an unorthodox means around it. Put that creativity to work! Your story will often end up even more interesting for it. And remember at the beginning of this blog when I talked about closing off choices? Well, here’s an area where writing a series can help. If Book 1 is a chase book, it probably also shouldn’t be a slow-burn mystery, or a heist, or a war book. But Book 2 could be one of those things. And Book 3 could be another. Most importantly, don’t let either the infinity of choices or the inevitability of having them taken away from you impact your writing. Each story starts afresh, with limitless possibility of where it can go. And each story results in the inevitable consequence of all the decisions you make along the way.

About the Author: Gregory D. Littleheadshot Rocket scientist by day, fantasy and science fiction author by night, Gregory D. Little began his writing career in high school when he and his friend wrote Star Wars fanfic before it was cool, passing a notebook around between (all right, during) classes. His novels Unwilling Souls and Ungrateful God are available now from ebook retailers and trade paperback through Amazon.com. His short fiction can be found in The Colored Lens, A Game of Horns: A Red Unicorn Anthology, Dragon Writers: An Anthology, and the upcoming Undercurrents: An Anthology of What Lies Beneath. He lives with his wife and their yellow lab. You can reach him at his website (www.gregorydlittle.com), his Twitter handle (@litgreg) or at his Author Page on Facebook.

 

Balancing Multiple Viewpoints

AvengersOne of the coolest things about a series is also one of the biggest challenges for the author: managing a large cast of characters. One film that I think managed a large cast of characters well is the original Avengers movie. There are a lot of strong characters, and somehow they all got good screen time and some memorable lines. Part of me wonders how successful the upcoming Infinity War movie will manage the balance, now that the cast of heroes has grown so much. As authors, the challenge of balancing our cast of characters can be even harder because it takes longer to develop characters in book form than in a movie. Precious words must be dedicated to the effort. Luckily, there are many options available to us. Depending on the story and choices the author makes, the entire series may be told exclusively from the main POV character. For example, I can’t remember any scenes in Harry Potter not from his perspective. Other series are told from multiple viewpoints, or even from an omniscient point of view. The popular Rangers Apprentice series has such an omniscient POV, with the focus flowing constantly between characters. Then there’s the Warded Man series from Peter V. Brett, in which each book has a different main POV character. Each approach has pros and cons, which the author needs to understand to make sure they’re leveraging their story for best effect. Some of the advantages of using multiple POVs include:

  • Deeply exploring different aspects of a central theme from different points of view.
  • Leveraging multiple, different story threads and weaving them together into a more complex plot.
  • Exploring multiple socio-economic aspects of society that would be impossible to do with a single POV.

When done well, stories with multiple POVs enjoy a depth and complexity that is hard to rival. Unfortunately, handling multiple POVs is hard to do. Some of the disadvantages include:

  • For every major POV character, you need to spend time developing their voice, their plot, their character arc far more than other supporting characters. You’ll likely need to add at least 10,000 words to the length of your novel for each major POV character you decide to use.
  • Weaving multiple compelling plotlines is hard to do. If you start your story with a teen-age boy with a snarky, rebellious voice and attitude, your readers will grow attached to him. If you then try to weave that story with a middle-aged, reserved woman trying to protect the status quo, will your readers lose interest or grow confused?
  • Those emotional connections you’re building with your readers are fragile, and the more opportunities you give readers to break away from your story or lose interest, the more of them you’re likely to lose.
  • Can you bring all of the various plotlines to a satisfying conclusion through the final climax? Will readers who feel most connected to each of the POV threads all feel like their favorite character was given enough screen time?

Set in Stone CoverIt can be a daunting challenge but it’s doable, and the payoff can be amazing. I love big, epic stories, and I write multiple POVs. I personally find it’s useful to focus the majority of the story on the main character, and develop alternate POV threads with caution. In my Petralist YA fantasy series, Connor is definitely the main character, but I decided early on to make three other characters POV characters too. Each of them needs to get enough focus to develop their stories and satisfy the fans who love them the most. The temptation to keep adding more POV characters can be insidious. As a reader, I hate it when big series I love get bloated with too many side stories that interrupt the flow of the main narrative. So imagine how embarrassed I was when my editor pointed out in my first draft of my latest novel that I havd over eight POV characters. Oops. Although each POV shift had seemed reasonable during the writing process, the benefits of those additional POV characters did not outweigh the cost to the story. So I went back and re-wrote those chapters, restricting the number of POV characters. It made the story flow better and carry a more powerful emotional weight. So decide carefully what story you’re going to tell, and make conscious, deliberate decisions about how you’re going to craft your story. Will it be first person, or third? Omniscient narrator, or maybe deep penetration into one or more main POV characters. Study authors who handle similar stories well and analyze what they did. In the end, you have to decide. If you’ve got solid reasons for your choices, your story will be stronger for it, and your readers will appreciate it.

About the Author: Frank Morin Author Frank MorinRune Warrior coverFrank Morin loves good stories in every form. When not writing or trying to keep up with his active family, he’s often found hiking, camping, Scuba diving, or enjoying other outdoor activities. For updates on upcoming releases of his popular Petralist YA fantasy novels, or his fast-paced Facetakers Contemporary Fantasy/Historical thrillers, check his website: www.frankmorin.org