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Archive for 'characters'

Thursday, May 17th, 2018
Definition of winning

Though he found the perfect spot, it would be the last time Sal the fish played hide-and-seek.

I’ve been sitting here this morning watching a Dr. Phil. An old one, a rerun from 2014. I don’t usually watch this show or other talk shows because generally they bore me or there’s too much drama. (A reason I don’t tend to watch reality shows, too). So the basic premise of the show is that a wife is sure her husband is cheating and he’s swearing he’s not and they fight about it a lot. She goes to great lengths to discover proof and get him to admit it, and there is a lot of fighting, including physical fighting. And there are kids in the house.

Okay, so that’s the background. My response to all this is–why the hell are you still together? Why not just walk away?

That got me to thinking about winning. I get the impression that this is all about winning. And as usual, the definition of winning is questionable. For me, winning would be no longer living a horrid life and getting my children into a safe, happy home. But for them, winning seems to be about getting the other to admit their ‘crimes.’ But then I wonder, what if they do get admission? What then? I don’t get the impression that would be enough to end it. Is it making the other person ‘pay’ for what they’ve done? Grovel? What would winning *really* look like?

I was thinking, if they did walk away, then would they think that the other one got off too easily? That both would win because they are both happier and better off? And so they’d rather suffer than let the other person get to be happy?

The reason I’m still watching the show after 45 minutes and listening to these super obnoxious people, is because they aren’t extraordinary people. They could be anybody on my block. And that makes me think about them as characters. I’m a writer; this is what I do. I have a hard time wrapping my head around people that would behave this way, so it’s interesting to watch them and try to figure out how to write them believably, and why I would include people like them in a novel.

I was also thinking how this would apply in political situations (from job politics to actual politics), to friendships, and so on. That element  that you’d rather suffer horribly than let the other person off the hook/win. I also read this morning a quote by Haruki Murakami and it’s tremendously appropriate: “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” In the case of not letting the other person win at the price of your own happiness, I think that’s choosing suffering, even if you have some element of triumph.

I think also that people dig in because they’ve already suffered so much, it’s too much to take to know that they could have walked away at any point and not suffered. On top of that, they have to make it worthwhile. They have to see something come out of the situation, some win, even if it’s a Pyrrhic victory.

As a writer, the hardest part of writing characters like this is making it believable. Truth is really no excuse for fiction. Truth can be bizarre and make little sense, but fiction has to make sense and be believable. I have to dig into figuring out the mindset and making it real for myself.


Tuesday, November 18th, 2014
It’s not as cold as Montana

And we don’t have six feet of snow. Or five. Or four. Or any. So I’m all about the happy on that front. It’s been cold here, but not as cold as Montana. Friend of mine sent me a card with the return address “Bitchin’ cold.”

Found out that they are rehiring my position at UMW. They’ll be hiring an assistant professor higher than what I made, and I’d been there 14 years with full prof. This is part of the problem with Academia: salary impaction. In order to get a raise, you have to get an offer somewhere else, and if they say no, you pretty much have to leave. On top of that, UMW pays some of the lowest salaries in the country for universities of comparable size.

Boy’s been sick again. Sicker. Hoping he improves for tomorrow.

I somehow forgot how much a sequel in a series has to recap what came before, and in the fifth book, that’s kind of a pain. Still, progress is being made. I hope. I think. I hope, again.

And, now, therefore, a Crosspointe snippet:

“Earthquake, or so it seems,” Keros replied mildly, breathing slowly as the majick swept over him. Did this happen to the Jutras priests? Did majick constantly assault them from all sides? He could lose himself in it, in the dreadful bliss of it. As good as it felt to hurt, he had not doubt he’d enjoy his own death. It was a sobering prospect.

“Why did you do this?” a woman accused, pointing a shaking finger at him. Her thin face was pale and exhausted bruised her eyes purple. “I told you we couldn’t trust the majicars anymore. He’s trying to kill us all. In our sleep!”

Someone grabbed his collar roughly and shoved him. Keros staggered. A grating caught his attention. It wasn’t so much a sound as a vibration in the air. He jerked back around, majick spinning around his hands.


So I’m not at all sure the characters are developing properly, but they are developing, and right now, that counts for a lot.

Also, I’ve decided to go to the Romantic Times Convention in Dallas. That means I’ll miss Miscon and Norwescon, this year. If you’re in the Dallas area, they have a big public signing. Feel free to come!

Wednesday, February 5th, 2014
shoring up

I’ve been shoring up the characterizations in The Cipher, as I’ve mentioned before. On thing that I noticed, in a happy way, is that the character of Edgar and the way I wrote him reminds me of Red Reddington on The Black List. This makes me very happy. He’s exactly the character I want him to be. And I wrote him long before The Black List ever came into being. I don’t want to say a lot about what I’m doing with Marten and Lucy as characters. I wanted to shore up Lucy’s independence, yet lend her a little more empathetic characteristics, and shore up her bravery. For Morgan, I wanted to similarly make him more empathetic to readers. To give him qualities that make him someone a reader can like and respect, even as the reader hates him for being an ass. Yeah, I’m not sure I pull it off either, but that’s what I love about this book.

Think about that though. In romances, you have male characters who are alpha and asses and still come out okay fairly frequently, but most of them aren’t asses in the way that Marten is. He does something really really bad. And then he compounds the issue and doesn’t learn his lesson. That totally makes sense given who he is and that he’s a gambling addict. He comes through in the end, but it isn’t quick or easy. It’s not so simple to a) learn your lesson, and b) quit your addiction, and c) take the consequences of what you’ve done.

This is one of my favorite books because these two characters seems so real and complex to me. I don’t know if anybody else likes them as much as I do. I’m having fun revisiting them. I hope I’m still doing them and the story justice.

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014
What a character fears most

I was looking at some stuff on plotting and thinking about what I know about characters. One of the things that you can do to sort out a character and story is to think about what that character fears the most and then make that happen. So for instance, personally my greatest fear is that something will happen to my kids or my husband. But I got to thinking about that fear. The truth is that while that is the biggest fear I know about, it probably isn’t my biggest fear. Or rather, it is, but fear is situational and relative.

So let’s take this away from me. Let’s create a character. She’s a woman with a child. No husband. She’s about thirty. The child is about six. Amy, our character, has a job at a local bakery. She’s a baker. She hasn’t got any other family. Her greatest fear is that something should happen to her child. A kidnapper, an accident, a pedophile . . . You can imagine the possibilities.  So she is watchful and careful. But she hasn’t imagined the other possibilities. Because her greatest fears are limited to her imagination, and while she surely can imagine a lot of bad things, she doesn’t imagine everything. So here are some more worst fears come to life.

She gets in an accident and her child is left alone and helpless with no one to take care of her. Amy is kidnapped and forced to carry a bomb into federal building or her daughter will be maimed. She’s never thought about murdering someone or causing hundreds of people to die. Is that worse than killing or maiming her own child? Well, it depends on her morals and values and how horrified by killing she’d be and maybe if she’s seen what happened on 9/11. Or what if she’s asked to kill her best friend. Or blow up a school of children. You see, the worst fear can be something unimagined by the character. And there are a lot of options for that. What if she’s tortured? And everybody tends to break under torture eventually, so what if that’s her worst fear? That she breaks and causes her daughter’s harm? Or something else?

When thinking about a character’s worst fear and making that happen,  think not just about what she thinks is her worst fear, but what might be one of the worst things that can happen. Or variety of things. And then chase them out, along with her reactions–emotional and physical–and her consequent actions to fix the situation or manage it, or what must happen. This not only generates character and conflict, but plot. Think about who is doing this to her and what she’s up against.


Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013
Writing Villainy

I’ve been thinking about villainy. I keep thinking about Tolstoy’s first line from Anna Karenina:

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

What does that have to do with villainy? you might ask. Well, I’ve been watching the coverage of the results of the interviews/interrogation of the Boston bomber, whose name I simply cannot remember. Everybody wants to know why–what drove him and his brother? Why would they do this? What changed them from seemingly nice, normal boys to terrorist murderers? The answer seems to be coming down to radical Islamist ideology. To me, this is no answer. It’s cliche. It goes back to that quote above, only in this case, Terrorists are all alike; every non-terrorist is individual in his or her own way. Doesn’t work, does it? It seems to me that villains should be at least as complicated as non-villains. And reducing this sort of attack down to radical Islamic ideology is, in a word, a copout. There has to be more, even if we never learn what that is.

This brings me to villainy in books. Villainy is as much about who this person is and what he’s willing to do, as it is about what brought him to this point. What was his journey of pain and disappointment, frustration, rage, torture, or what have you? What is individual and unique about this person? Because that’s the heart of the story. Bringing this individual person up against a very unique and individual protagonist. Bringing them into conflict. Especially since villains don’t necessarily or even often think that they are villains. They think they are doing the right thing (even if they are deluded), the necessary thing (even if it is painful and terrible), or they don’t see the terribleness of what they do (like exterminating and entire people to cleanse the world–after all, those people are just vermin and cleansing the world is a good thing, right?).

Then you add in that being Islamic is not by definition a bad thing, even there are those out there who would say it is. It is a form of religion no better or worse than others. So I can’t see how it’s a motivation or an excuse, unless it is twisted into something else. But even if it is so twisted, it has to tap into something in a person to drive them to being a terrorist. There has to be a need or a desire or a hole in a person that that fills. So I wonder, for these two bomber brothers, what was it? I somehow imagine that the older brought the younger in and I imagine that their bond of brotherhood is what mattered to the younger brother more than the religion. I’m absolutely making this up. But as a writer, I think that the two are not alike, they are not similarly motivated, and that something triggered them, and in different ways. I wonder what drove a college boy that everyone liked and admired to becoming a killer. Was he a sociopath? Possibly. But like radical Islamist ideology, that is too reductionist and easy an answer. The writer in me says there has to be more, more that comes from each person.

And to quote from Earnest Tubb: I know my baby loves me in her own peculiar way. Which is to say, everyone has their own peculiar way.