Messing Up Your Characters

Once, at a writers’ meeting, a fellow writer said he was quitting the group. His explanation? He’d had a happy childhood. We all understood. Some of the best writers out there grew up in unhappy homes. Not all, but a lot. Those unhappy childhoods gave them both content and incentive to write great stories.

I had a happy, normal, well-adjusted childhood. As a beginning writer, I started out writing what I knew about and that was happy, well-adjusted … and boring.

I realized I’d have to learn how to create characters that don’t put my readers to sleep or go to work at Walmart. I did so by creating characters who have difficulty with adversity because, like me, they’ve never known it and so, don’t know how to deal with it when it hits them over the head. It worked and I started selling.

I still struggle with the process.

As a writer, you must do whatever works for you to create great characters. You can throw problems you are familiar with at them or you can throw problems at them that you … and they … know nothing about. Doesn’t matter which as long as they end up with problems they can’t handle.

Your characters will grow, your story will be better and, most of all, your characters will be more interesting.

Try, Try, and Try Again

First, a little housekeeping. I’ll be gone this week and might not be able to post to this blog. I’ll try, but if there’s nothing to read for the next few days, it’s not because I don’t love you, it’s just that I’m unable to connect. I know, I know! I should write ahead. Some day I’ll be that organized, it’s in my plans for the future. For now I’m still writing posts on a day-to-day basis.

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Writers should try, try, and try again. That’s a given in the writing business. You’re never done learning and never done trying. But did you know that this trait that’s so important for you, the writer, is just as important for the characters you create?

Think about it. What makes you a good writer? Trying and then trying again when you don’t achieve the desired result the first time. So what do you think would make your readers like your characters even more than they already do and cheer them on even more than they are doing now? Trying. Because people don’t admire success as much as they admire the struggle.

Not everyone has been Number One or won the gold ring. But everyone knows what it’s like to try. The struggle is what makes us human and is what makes your characters real.

Use that struggle in your fiction. Show the struggle. Show success if that’s part of the story, but also show failure. Your characters will gain depth, your stories will be better, and more people will read your books.

Finding Eden by C Beavers

Finding Eden  http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009J8EFF0

Review of Finding Eden by Camilla Beavers

This is the perfect example of a young adult urban fantasy story so I thought I’d review it here. And, by the way, I liked it. Most of all, I loved the cover.

It’s the story of Eden, a high school student close to graduation, who has always known she was ‘different’ because she could read the colors around people. That’s auras to those of you conversant with psychic stuff. I’ve known a couple people who said they could read auras. I don’t know if I believe them or not. Maybe I do, a little.

Anyway, Eden is informed by a really hunky new student that she’s the granddaughter of the king of the Fae world and is needed back home because her grandfather was murdered and someone has to take charge of the kingdom. Her father informs her that, yes, her mother (deceased) was the king’s daughter so yes, she’s about to become a queen. She agrees and goes with the hunky new student who turns out to be her personal security detail in this world sent when her grandfather was murdered to make sure she was safe.

From there the plot is predictable. She overcomes the bad guys, saves the throne, becomes a decent if not great queen and marries the hunky security guy. Like I said, it’s all predictable stuff.

But what’s wrong with predictable? I read romances because I know there’s a happily-ever-after ending. I dislike grim, depressing, horrific endings. I hate the feeling they leave with me. I like the feeling I get after reading a book with a happy ending. And if the way to get to that predictable happily-ever-after ending and the feeling it engenders is through a predictable story line, then I’m all for it.

And, yes, the grammar and typos and spelling, etc, were well vetted and nothing took me from the story. So, all in all, it was a decent read, even more so since it was free, at least for now.

I’m not sure I’d have chosen it if it cost money because I knew it would be predictable and that there are a lot of decent predictable books out there for free. But the cover was great, so maybe I would have paid something for it after all and I’d have been glad I did.

The Romance Genre Part 2

I started writing a review of Finding Eden, a young adult, urban fantasy romance. Then I realized it made more sense to first talk about young adult romances since they are a sub-genre of the romance genre, and to review Finding Eden after the sub-genre has been defined. So here’s my take on young adult romances.

First of all, you must understand that they are only partly aimed at high school kids. Yes, those kids read them, and they read them in droves. But adults read them too. I read them, though not often. But I know there are whole online chat groups of adults who read young adult romance. I suspect I know why.

Young adult romances never involve sex unless or until the couple are married as in The Hunger Games and The Twilight series. Furthermore they are about young people with their lives ahead of them, which is equally appealing. Put those two things together and you have coming-of-age stories written around a romantic theme without gratuitous sex.

But there’s more. The Young Adult sub-genre includes other sub-genres. Urban Fantasy is a big one. Small Town is another. Just about any other sub-genre of romance can be paired with Young Adult and that means a whole lot of people will read in that genre. Enough that there’s now another sub-genre of romance that’s an extension of the Young Adult sub-genre. It’s called New Adult. More about that another time, for now, it’s enough to know that romances about high school kids aren’t just for high school kids. They are for everyone.

The Romance Genre Part 1

Romance is the best-selling genre out there. And the largest. And the hardest to define. Wikipedia has a short, simple, to-the-point definition of romance. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romance  According to wiki, Romance emphasizes love over libido. I’ll go with that because it’s a definition that answers a question I’ve had for quite some time about the romance genre.

I wondered how erotica can be considered romance when the entire book consists of one sexual encounter after another and very little else. I used to think it was porn disguised as romance. I now know that it is a romance as long as the emphasis is on love, not libido.

When I read that definition of romance I remembered reading an interview with a writer of erotica who is also a professor of literature at a prestigious university, a respected writer of literary fiction, and the child of famous, literary authors. When asked why she writes erotica she said she did it because she enjoys it. She enjoys erotica. That made me think. I eventually realized that erotica, like car chases, appeals to some people and not to others and if the emphasis is on the romance, then it’s a romance.

I realized that some people enjoy reading detailed descriptions of human plumbing. I don’t. But, if it fits the story, I find the details of plumbing in a space ship quite interesting. Remember the first Star Wars movie where the main characters almost drowned in garbage? That was a wonderful scene, it was plumbing though not of the human kind. And the Star Wars series qualified as romance.

The romance genre contains a lot of sub-genres, as any best-selling genre must, of necessity, in order to accommodate every reader’s taste And the only thing that’s essential is that the emphasis be on love, not libido.

Space Junque by L K Rigel

Space Junque (Apocalypto, #1)         http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0041T59IY

Review:  Space Junque by L K Rigel

I liked this book enough to read it straight through. Though the book is complete in itself, (a wonderful and somewhat rare thing in a series), if you want to truly know what happens later, you must read the sequel. A generous portion of the next book is included at the back and I liked that but I’m  not sure I’ll go looking for the sequel though I will read it if I happen to come across it.

It’s the dystopian sci-fi story of the end of the world as we know it and of the few people who can start anew because they were on one of several space stations when the end came. The plot is a bit more complicated than I prefer but I like straight-as-an-arrow plots that go in a predictable manner from beginning to end. This book’s complex route took a couple twists and turns that I believe would have come off better if they’d been foreshadowed.  If there’s anything truly negative about Space Junque, that lack of foreshadowing when the plot suddenly makes a 190 degree turn is it.

But I liked the story. I like end-of-the-world stories as long as there’s a new future in sight and there is in this book. And I liked the characters, all of whom were the right people in the right place at the right time to do what needed to be done. And I loved that the sex, of which there was a fair amount, was done right. I got the feel for the emotions of the characters without being overwhelmed with details.

So it was a good story and I’m glad I read it. And maybe I will read the next in the series after all. I want to now what new world they can create.

The Science Fiction Genre Part 4

More about world building in the science fiction, fantasy and paranormal genres. Yesterday I wrote about world building for my wip, Earth Legend. I described a world similar in appearance to Earth but functioning differently. Such a world was needed for Earth Legend but it’s not what most novelists think of when they hear the words ‘world building.’

They think really, really weird planets that we humans would never recognize and shouldn’t be able to survive on. Or they need ghosts, goblins, etc to advance their story line so they invent them. I needed an Earth-like space ship. I invented one.

The trick, as any science fiction writer worth his/her credentials will tell you, is to make those strange story elements believable. And that’s where world building comes in.

Writers must create, in their own minds, the entire world inhabited by those strange creatures, or the world itself. So everything in the story hangs together. So some jarring element doesn’t take the reader out of the story.

Then they must ignore that world because the bottom line is that they are telling a story, not describing a world. That’s hard to do because writing is what writers do. What they must do.

Except in the case of world-building.

 

The Science Fiction Genre Part 3

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about world building because Earth Legend, my work in progress takes place on a space ship. The space ship in Earth Legend is intentionally designed to resemble Earth so that when the colonists, who have been in transit for up to a hundred years, reach their destination, they’ll feel comfortable in an Earth-like setting instead of wanting to remain forever on the ship because they’ve gotten used to it. Or, in some cases, lived in it their entire lives.

Because the ship resembles Earth, I hoped not to have to do a lot of world building. Because it’s hard and because I hate worlds that are so fake I’m embarrassed for the writer. I didn’t want to be embarrassed for me.

Where to start? With crops, of course, because it’s the story of a self-sustaining, greenhouse-imitating space ship. So how do you grow crops in a space ship in which gravity is the result of the ship revolving? There’d be gravity on the inside of the outermost skin and that’s where everyone would live. But would you have rain? Rain falls from the sky. In the case of the ship, that’s the middle and there’s no gravity there. So no rain because, without gravity it wouldn’t fall. So how to water crops? And what if the ship stopped spinning for some reason?  Hitting an asteroid. Mechanical problems. Whatever. Can’t have the trees, crops, and everything else fall upwards and suffocate everyone.  So what to do?

It was easy.  I imagined a dirt substitute, a substance that stays put and hold plants tightly, a membrane if you will, through which nutrient-rich water seeps to feed everything. And know what I realized? There already is such a substance or pretty close.  It’s found on many of those rooftop gardens that are now so popular.

So maybe world building isn’t so tough after all.  And maybe the best place to find ideas for other worlds is right here in our own.

 

I’m A Best-Selling Author

Why do writers put their works out there in cyber-space for free? Why do they give away something they’ve worked so hard over?

First, of course, they have something to say and if no one reads what they wrote, then why bother writing?

But some do so because they believe, or have been told, that if they put some of their work out there for free then they’ll eventually sell something. It’s a decent marketing ploy that works for some writers, though the numbers game means that most free reads will never lead to sales because there are websites and blogs with no purpose in life other than to direct readers to free or almost-free reads. Those websites and blogs have huge followings of people who will never pay for something again. No sales on the horizon for those writers.

So why do it?  The answer lies with Amazon.  Amazon used to have two lists of best-sellers. One list was of paid best-sellers and the other was of free best-sellers.  They’ve since gotten smart and deleted the free list, but it’s still there if you know where to look. And when you look, you’ll discover that Amazon’s software doesn’t differentiate between books that sell for $5.99 and those that sell for $0.00.  As a result, free books are listed as sales.

Which is why I’m a best-selling author.  I gave away enough short stories that The Eye of The Universe shot almost to the top of their charts for a brief period of time. I don’t feel like a best-selling author and I don’t have the income to show for it.  But I can legitimately claim to be one, and I will, laughing all the time.

The Numbers Game

Mark Coker is one of my favorite writers.  No, he doesn’t write fiction.  Or, as far as I know, anything with a truly creative flair.  What he does do is explain numbers without trying to skew them.  And that’s a rare thing.

Actually that’s a huge thing, especially considering that he’s the founder of Smashwords, possibly the largest self-publishing venue out there.  If not the largest, it’s close to it.  A writer can download Mark’s free book on formatting for Smashwords, then follow the directions and, in an hour or so, have a book published for free that can be sold on any venue Smashwords has a contract with. And that’s a whole lot of publishers.

I’m sure that Mark Coker makes a decent living through Smashwords.  But, in his many narratives about Smashwords and e-publishing in general, he doesn’t skew the numbers to make it look like a writer will sell more books than is realistic. And that’s huge because honesty could cost Mark Coker income by making potential authors choose not to publish through Smashwords.

It would be easy to skew the numbers without being dishonest.  All that’s necessary is to post averages.  Since there are a few very, very high-selling authors out there who pull the number of sales and the resulting sales figures way up, if you only post the averages, selling books online looks way more lucrative than it actually is.

I suspect Mark Coker isn’t worried.  I suspect he knows something intrinsic about writers.  He could probably throw negative numbers at everyone and shout to the rooftops that e-publishing isn’t profitable for most writers.  And those writers would publish anyway.  Because writers are optimists.

So read anything Mark Coker has to say on the subject if you want the truth.  Then go out there and publish your work anyway.  Because maybe you’ll become part of that small, select group of best-selling authors who do very well financially.