Tag Archives: David Carrico

If Your Character Isn’t Memorable, Don’t Despair – Here’s Help!

You’ve read all the books, taken the workshops, and you’ve created your character bibles. You’ve even thought a little about which characters you like and why (see my post Memorable Characters – Who Do You Like?). Still, your character isn’t quite quintessential and therefore not memorable. What to do? Learn from the best. “But!” you say, “I don’t have time to study all those books, see all the movies!” The solution is easy – read April 2016’s blogs on Creating Memorable Characters. I’ve gleaned some tips and have summed them up (or have taken excerpts). Click on the links to each person’s blog to read it in its entirety.

These are the best how-to’s! Seriously, there’s a lot of great take-aways in these.

Sometimes less is more …

For David Carrico (Enter the Villain), Baron Vladimir Harkonnen is an absolute sadist, a pederast, and an incestophile, yet very little of that is shown “on screen” so to speak in the novel. The reader is given glimpses here and there of the raw evil lying beneath the surface of what is otherwise a very forceful, articulate, and urbane man. Herbert made the Baron memorable by understating him

Leigh Galbreath (Chaos For It’s Own Sake) says she doesn’t want to sympathize with a great villain and wants a villain that will make the hero work for every inch. What she loves about the the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, is Nolan’s conscious decision to leave some of the story up to the audience.

Mat Cauthon in Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series is a stellar example of how to make a character funny not by what they say, but by who they are. In Gambler, Trickster, Son of Battles, Gregory D. Little notes that the humour of Mat’s character isn’t in what he says, but rather the irony the series continually thrusts upon him: contemptuous of nobility he, of course, marries an empress.

 A Mix of Good, Bad and Ugly or, the Imperfect Character

In Taking Strides in Character Development, Sean Golden points out that Strider’s mysterious past, his wit and wisdom, all factor in to create a reluctant hero in an almost a surly way. Strider struggles with self-doubt. He falters. He worries. He doubts. He takes chances. And in the end, he finds himself.

Characters become more likeable and sympathetic when they suffer or show genuine concern even if it’s at their own expense. In The Roller Coaster that was Tig Trager, Jace Killan explains that Tig wasn’t all good or all bad and it was Tig’s good traits that got him into trouble and sometimes it was his bad traits that got him out. It wasn’t easy and it took time for Tig to recover from what he had done.

Not every memorable character needs fisticuffs

You don’t need fisticuffs to be a hero or memorable. Evan Braun (The Ultimate Philosopher King) writes that Jean Luc Picard is the philosopher who rules as king, the true pilot who observes the stars and the heavens to preside over his ship. In the midst of near-perfect humanity, Picard shines brightly. As Shakespeare might say, he is the paragon of animals.

Inner strength without physical prowess can make for an admirable persona and Dashti in Dashti of a Thousand Days proves that. Colette Black notes that it’s complex characterization, where Dashti learns to temper a character flaw and discovers that her real power lies, not with physical prowess, but in her determination, an inner strength and loyalty.

The everyday man is tested…

In Yippee-ki-yay: The Most Reluctant Hero, Kristin Luna writes about how John McClane is a great example of how a hero doesn’t always have to be willing. He can be the wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time and still kick some major butt. Giving your hero a strong personality and a little reluctance can be a recipe for one of the most memorable heroes of all time.

For Frank Morin (When a Gardener Helps Defeat a Dark Lord) Samwise Gamgee is memorable because he accepts that his place in the world is not to be the hero, but to be the hero’s cook, assistant, and bodyguard. And yet, he demonstrates in his simple way that heroes are not always the great warriors, with the flashy armor or dazzling magic. Heroes get the job done. Any one of us could be Sam.

In the life of every evil person there is a series of decisions that lead, inevitably, to damnation. This is the moment where your villain goes wrong. The moment where he or she makes the decision to do the wrong thing for all the right reasons. After that, it’s a slow and gradual slide into hell. That’s Frog Jones’ take on Walter White. To learn more, read Regarding the Humble Blowfish.

Just because that’s the way it is…

Kim May (Marty Stus by Moonlight) writes about Chiba Mamoru being an ideal of a man: strong, silent, and enigmatic. The perfect gentleman whose sole purpose is to be Sailor Moon’s love interest, to rescue her from peril when her klutziness and fears get the best of her. You have to admit. There are times when we really really need that kind of rescuing. Marty Stus were never meant to be the ideal we should hold out for. They’re the ideal that we have little escapist fantasies about on a moonlit night when reality is too much…and there’s no shame in that.

Which brings me back to Leigh Galbreath’s post about the Joker because sometimes you want Chaos For It’s Own Sake.

Villains come in all shades

The reluctant villain and one who you can’t resist! In A Character You Can’t Refuse, Marta Sprout talks about how Michael Corleone does some terrible things and yet we still like him. We’re drawn to him as he is slowly pulled away from his own honorable world and into his family’s mob dealings. When a character changes so profoundly it’s engrossing and it was done one reasonable step at a time. At each moment Michael is held tightly into his role where he can’t back out.

The loveable antagonist. Instead of hating Gollum, David Heyman, reveals in A Preciously Complex Character that he liked Gollum, felt sorry for him, and hoped Frodo would find a solution to his problem that didn’t force Gollum (and Smeagol) to lose. Gollum’s love of the Ring is heartbreakingly pure: even as it destroys and corrupts him, he wants nothing from life other than to possess it.

That’s me! Sometimes the villain is us pushed to the wall. In Walter White, you monster, E. Godhand says that a villain protagonist whose methods may not be right, can win your sympathy and support because after doing everything right and getting nothing in return, he has nothing left to lose. We feel the adage, “But for the Grace of God, goes I.”

Pure Evil. And, as David Carrico said in Enter the Villain, Baron Vladimir Harkonnen is an absolute sadist, a pederast, and an incestophile. Pure evil works too!

A Personal Truth We Can Relate To – and it comes in all shapes, sizes and tropes!

Character Arc – In Summoning Character Development, Sarah Golden found that Yuna’s response to adversity (not the sword but endurance and wisdom) made her an admirable character with emotional and spiritual strength. But, she didn’t start out that way. She develops from doing what other people want to having her own thoughts, and making her own decisions.

Someone different yet real – When you bring in a character who is so different from the others, she not only illuminates the cast, but her character is more profound. But, as Peter Clampton explains in The Girl Who Changed EVERYTHING!, Asuka Langley Soryu is no cheap trope, used to simply spice things up for she brings her own history, strengths and weaknesses. She’s a protagonist with real and profound problems who deals by self-medicating in isolation.

I love doing this! Jacqui Talbot’s admiration of Flavia de Luce (You Had Me at Nitrogen Pentoxide) comes from her own love of chemistry and solving mysteries. As she says, Flacia is a beguiling cross between Pippi Longstocking and Sherlock Holmes. Flavia is an eleven-year-old sleuth with a passion for chemistry (specifically poisons) and a penchant for crime solving.

The hero within rises! D.H. Aire (A Lesson in Character from Superman) tells us that Superman was created during the cusp of Worlds War II to illuminate Americans about the Nazi threat. Thus a superhero who fights for truth and justice was more than a mere story for Siegel and Shuster. Superman is memorable because he had a secret identity (a hero deep inside), and that’s a feeling we all have, that inside, we too are heroes.

Do what must be done! For Joshua David Bennett (The Power of Pain) Kaladin Stormblessed’s ability to overcome pain and hardship, not wallow in it, made him memorable. He’s an inspiration to rise to the occasion, to do what must be done.

The devil is in the detail so find one!

As Josh Vogt explains of his own writing in When All Else Fails, Bring in a Lizard, the protagonist, Dani wasn’t memorable until he gave her a quirk. A pet lizard! The lizard seems at odds with her original self. That presented a mystery (even a minor one) to unravel, which created personality paradoxes which were entertaining.

Taken to another medium, some characters sometimes become more memorable and others we wish we could forget.

Watching Sidney Poitier play Kimani Wa Karanja was profoundly moving for W.J. Cherf (Something of Value: Of Boyhood Friendships and Harsh Realities). Kimani (Poitier) became his favorite character (actor) because of his immense depth, passion, pride of place, and desire to succeed. Even with his dying breaths, after bitterly fighting his boyhood friend Peter, Kimani died hoping, yearning, for “something of value.” Poitier absolutely nailed the character and the role.

Good characters usually have clear motives with stakes involved Matt Beckett states in Lex Talk About Lex, Baby. Reintroduced characters shouldn’t rely too much on a savvy audience already familiar with the brand. Lex Luthor wasn’t given a good platform this round. His motive didn’t hit home and wobbled.

When Kevin Ikenberry (The Most Successful Bankrobber Ever) saw Jack Foley played by Clooney it was the perfect match! Kevin wrote: as I read Road Dogs, I could not stop seeing and hearing Clooney in the role. That’s where Foley transcended being a likable sympathetic character into something different. Clooney’s effortless performance as Foley indelibly attaches his “aura” to the character. But is it the actor or the character that is memorable? I vote character. No matter the actor’s talent, commitment to the role, or appearance, the character is developed on paper and is the vision of the writer/screenwriter that the actor is to bring to life. When it’s done perfectly in a book, it resonates with us. When we see that on camera, it’s more than memorable. It’s legendary.

Readers must care about a character!

Memorable characters, Mary Pletsch wrote in More than Meets the Eye, must be seen as people we come to know, then we become invested in them and their stories. When we see that their actions not only affect the plot but drive it forward, we care about what they do. And when we wonder and worry about what will happen to our favourites, we keep coming back–issue after issue, year after year. It’s the character work that makes the story shine

Marta Sprout sums it all up best when she said: When we write characters, we balance two seemingly oppositional things: the character must have qualities that resonate with the reader and he or she must venture into areas the reader would never go and take actions that the reader could not do. Therein lies the grounds for spellbinding characters.

There you have it – great lessons for making memorable characters. Pick your angle, work with it and you’ll have readers asking for more!

Goal Setting: Another Perspective

“There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays, and every single one of them is right!”

— Rudyard Kipling, winner of the 1907 Nobel Prize for Literature, first native English-speaker to attain that prize.

The above is taken from a poem entitled ‘In the Neolithic Age’, which is a piece of comic poetry. Kipling was good at comic poetry. For that matter, he was good at a number of styles of writing. Look up the Nobel committee’s motivation for giving him the prize to see what they thought.

The reason I led off with this quote, though, is because, comic or not, it is a solid truth about writing. You’ve probably gathered that already if you’re a regular reader here at Fictorians: there are many different ways of practicing our craft and art.

What does this have to do with this month’s theme of goal setting and attainment? Only this—I don’t do the whole goal setting thing. So I’m writing today from the position of heretic, or at least Devil’s Advocate.

Do I have no goals at all about my writing? Of course I do. That’s not what I mean when I say I don’t set goals. I agree that everything living has at least some goals in their lives, even if it is nothing more than to survive until sundown. But I follow goals in a personal manner.

I do not set out at the beginning of a year (or any other regular time period) and establish a defined set of goals to keep in the forefront of my mind. I do not try to shape my productivity and my behavior to attain those goals. I don’t have a list of bullet points pinned to the wall above my desk, nor do I have them serving as wallpaper on my laptop or tablet or phone. I don’t have yellow sticky notes with hand scrawled encouragements stuck up in my workspace. I don’t review my performance daily/weekly/monthly/quarterly to determine how well I am performing in attaining the ‘current’ goals.

Why not? Well, I’m not really sure. I haven’t really thought about it much. One possible explanation is that I am by nature an introvert, and the establishment of a rigid structure of goals feels to me like something imposed from outside. Artificial, you might say.

Another explanation might be that I am a seat-of-the-pants (or organic, if you prefer) writer, given to much flexibility in my compositional styles and processes, so that I would find a lack of flexibility in other areas of my writing career somewhat distasteful.

A third explanation could be that I feel that all the brainstorming and monitoring sucks up energy that I would much prefer to pour into the creative processes.

And last, let’s not ignore the fact that I am a champion procrastinator, as well as just a smidge on the lazy side.

So if I have goals, but I don’t do the detailed specific kinds of goals that are very measurable, what are the goals I do have?

 

  1. Write. This, more than anything. Just plant my posterior in my chair, put my fingers on the keys, and start flowing words. If this doesn’t happen, nothing else is of import.

 

  1. Tell good stories. Tell stories that make people feel the emotions of my characters. Tell stories that make people laugh; tell stories that make people cry; tell stories that make people say, “Damn, I wish I could have seen/heard/felt/experienced that!”

 

  1. Keep my promises. If I tell someone I’m going to write something for them, then do it.

 

  1. Have some fun along the way, even if it’s just imagining the look on the face of my alpha reader when he gets to this scene.

 

  1. Finish what I start. I can’t sell incomplete stories. I can’t present my craft and art to readers if it hasn’t been brought to fruitful culmination. And, not-so-incidentally, I won’t get paid for unfinished work.

 

Those are my goals. I may come up with more as I mature in my craft, my art, and my career, but that’s what they are today.

 

How well am I doing in following them?

 

— Since 2004, I have written and sold over 400,000 words of short fiction, all but one story of which have been published.

 

— Last year Baen Books published a story collection and a novel. Let’s just say that sales are good.

 

— My co-author and I just turned in to Baen a novel in an established series which should be published next year. (Approximately 175,000 words.)

 

— The one short work which hasn’t been published? A 33,000 + word novella sold to a hardcover anthology.

 

I currently have four projects in progress: one on the front burner, one simmering on a back burner, and two have been started but are waiting for my limited mental creative space to open up for them to be further developed.

 

My approach seems to work for me.

Remember Mr. Kipling’s words above, “. . . every single one of them is right!” If the rigid detailed goal setting doesn’t work for you, that doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you, just like it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you if you write organically rather than by outline. It just means you need to explore other approaches until you find one that will work for you.

 

But goal #1 always has to be “Write.” Otherwise, the whole exercise is worthless.

 

Have fun.

Manage Your Business

The Fictorians and our guest bloggers have spent the month of March covering a number of legal topics and issues with which we feel every writer should have some familiarity. If we didn’t cover a topic you’re interested in, drop us a line and we’ll see if we can squeeze it in in the upcoming months.

All of these posts, however, rest upon a common premise; that is, as writers we should also be business people. Writing a work is only the beginning of the story—getting that work published and in the hands of readers is the rest of it, and that takes some understanding of a lot of different aspects of the business. And perhaps even more of the story is revealed when you consider how you’re going to keep that work in front of and available to readers after the initial blush has worn off. That’s all part of the business world in which we writers—now more than ever—have to operate.

We have to be business people, and we have to be focused on our own business—the marketing and dissemination of our creative work. Emphasize the ‘we’. Underline it, put it in bold italic 24 point Gothic font with flashing red lights. If we don’t manage our own business, if we don’t take responsibility for managing our own affairs, we can’t expect anyone else to do it for us. We have to know enough to take care of the day to day work and decisions. We have to know enough to know when we need to consult with or hire a professional to address a problem. And we have to know enough to be able to tell if that professional is getting the job done.

I wish that Robert Asprin was still with us. More than any other writer I know, he could have given a testimonial about this.

Robert was a pretty successful mid-list fantasy and science fiction author in the 1980s-1990s, who unfortunately ran afoul of the Internal Revenue System after one of his books actually made it to the New York Times bestseller list. I don’t know all the details of the story, but I do know that he ended up having to make monthly payments to the IRS for over a decade. He died in 2008, literally just a few weeks after making the final payment to pay off his tax bill.

So, yes, paying attention to detail and keeping track of the information and getting the forms right and turning everything in on time is important. Robert would bear witness to that. Just like reading the contracts and taking the time to learn what each of those paragraphs of legalese really means is important if we want to continue to own and manage our works.

The problem is that most creative people really really really don’t like the boring humdrum routine of doing what the commercial world calls the back office routines. I certainly don’t. But if we don’t stay on top of our correspondence, if we don’t gather all the material together for tax preparation and payments, if we don’t read those contracts before we sign them, etc., then we’ll deserve the problems that come of them.

The goal of every Fictorian is to not only be a successful writer, but to be a professional writer. Hmm, actually, that may be two different ways of saying the same thing; because every successful writer that I know is also very professional about taking care of business.

That’s the consistent message of the Superstars of Writing seminars: that to a great extent, a writer’s success is founded on not just his skill at the craft of writing, but also how well he manages the business side of his career.

So in pursuit of that goal, we’ve spent this month talking about various aspects of the writing business. Our hope is that you’ve found knowledge or confirmation among the various topics. Keep in mind that none of what has been presented represents legal or financial advice. Always consult an attorney or an accountant if you have issues arise. Pay the money. You’ll be better off, and the fees are tax deductible.

I want to thank all the Fictorians and guest posters for their many and excellent contributions, most especially M. Scott Boone who gave us not one, not two, but three guest posts this month.

Stay tuned—we’ll resume our themes about the writing side of the writer’s life tomorrow.

Record Keeping, Part Two: . . . But Necessary

Okay, now for a couple of specific issues:

Tax Records (U.S. version)

It is a commonly held belief that the IRS requires you to keep your tax records for seven years. Actually, according to the records manager of a company I used to work for, that’s not quite the case. According to her, the IRS regulations require you to keep your records for three years. However, if they do decide to audit you, they can go back seven years. And since no one would want to depend on an adversary for records concerning his or her own interests, everyone just automatically keeps seven years’ worth of records. And just so we’re clear, that means not only your tax filings, forms, and schedules, but also all of the supporting documentation: receipts, 1099 forms, spreadsheets, QuickBooks reports, e-mails that pertain to the taxes, and anything that would be necessary to defend deductions or interpretations, most especially any communications from the IRS. In this area, it’s better to err on the side of caution; if you’re not certain you need to keep it, you should probably keep it in the file.

Contracts (U.S. version)

Every state in the U S has regulations that define certain types of records which businesses must keep, even self-employed businesses like writers. As long as you as a writer are a one-person shop, most of them won’t be an issue. If you get to the point, however, where you are paying people to perform business functions for you (accountant, secretary, researcher, etc.) then you need to educate yourself on what your state requires.

There is one type of business record retention about which even the one-person writer shop needs to know, and that is your contracts and agreements. Almost every publishing contract between an author and a publisher or a publishing platform will contain a clause that says that in the event of disagreement between the parties, the contract is to be interpreted under the laws of a certain state. Most of the traditional publishing contracts indicate they will be interpreted under the laws of New York.

Obviously you want to keep the contract or agreement as long as it is active; in other words, as long as there are obligations between you and the other party which must be observed or performed.

But at such point in time as the contract has basically terminated—all parties no longer owe anything to anyone under its provisions—what do you do with it then?

Hint: don’t throw it away.

Every state has statutes or regulations that stipulate how long such a terminated contract must be retained by the parties subject to it. Here’s the summary: if you or your publisher reside or work in Louisiana, or if the contract says it will be interpreted by the laws of Louisiana, the rule is to hold it fifteen years past termination. All the other states have settled on a term of five years.

In states other than Louisiana, the only caveat I would raise would be if the contract had provisions that dealt with finances, you should probably keep it until the last year it operated has passed its seventh year tax retention.

And finally, the contract file should contain anything that would have a bearing on the intent of the parties in drafting the agreement, as well as anything that might bear on how it should be interpreted. So yes, you may need to keep some letters or e-mails to support that contract.

In summary: be organized, back everything up to protect yourself, and manage your records.