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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Building Character in Your Characters

  Character is defined as the nature, quality, temperament or moral fiber of an individual. Adults become the child and its environment. Much is said about slum children or ghetto children or even one-parent children, their disadvantages and the poor likelihood of their success. I dispute this. While disadvantages are just that, disadvantages, character makes the person.
  What about your characters? I know they do not spring full-grown from your mind and fall glibly upon the page. Somewhere deep in your psyche they undergo conception, birth and childhood. You set them upon their course and direct their movements. Are they cardboard cutouts, mere automatons upon which you heap the trials of Job or Jonah or are they flesh and blood people who live, love, yearn and die?
  Characters make the story. Indeed, without them, there is no story. Doesn’t it follow that a compelling story needs compelling characters? What would Moby Dick be without peg-legged and whale scarred Captain Ahab or Lord of the Rings without good-natured, loyal Samwise? Not only your protagonist, your antagonist and host of supporting characters need lives as well. Who cares if a cardboard cutout dies a violent death or if a spineless, sniveling whiner threatens to destroy the galaxy?
  Just like a child, you develop them from the ground up. Reading is visual but the images are created in the reader’s mind by your words. Help your readers by giving them a framework with which to work. Describe your characters, not coldly and clinically as if they are admiring themselves in a mirror, but in bits and pieces as the story unfolds. How do they move – boldly, timidly, with a limp? What color hair – red hair brings connotations of quick anger or taunting as a child (Towhead?) Long black hair often denotes sultry, exotic. Is their face stern, jolly, handsome, scarred, fat, thin? Do they speak with a lisp, in rhyme, with a foreign accent? Do they play ball, jog, smoke, sit on the couch and chug beer and eat pretzels?
  Look around you. There are millions of characters out there, each with a story. Just take a typical bar (Or pub in the UK). Are your characters as varied as the people sitting around you? If not, they should be. Above all, your characters should be individuals with which the reader can relate and form a bond that lasts until the end of the story and hopefully farther. Your characters determine the direction, the scope and the theme of your story as much as the story develops and grows your characters. Like individuals, they grow from their testing their environment, the obstacles you place in the way of their quest, whether it is saving the world, winning the big game or finding the perfect mate. Both grow together, story and characters. Nurture them well.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Five Easy Steps to Success

Writers often forget the most important factor in becoming a successful author – the reader. The reader is essential, the life and breath of a writer. An author’s job is to satisfy the reader. Author satisfaction is secondary. After all, don’t you want to make each novel better, to improve your craft? An author should never be satisfied until the reader is. Below are 5 points in which I firmly believe. I hope they prove useful to you.
1.      Credit the readers. Readers are usually intelligent creatures. It is best to think of them as more intelligent than you, the writer. This avoids those nasty little details that trip up readers – loose plot points, disappearing characters, obvious foreshadowing that fails to materialize … the list goes on. As a writer, you know what is going on and don’t need those little hints or adding a name instead of ‘he said’ or ‘she said’ or ‘He looked at her’ to keep track of the conversation. This is my biggest mistake, which I have to dutifully go back and correct. My dialogues flow rapidly and it’s easy to confuse the reader, especially with multiple characters speaking.

2.      Be original. Don’t think for a moment that your readers haven’t read the classics or perused more novels than you have. They often have. Rehashing earlier movies works for movies but often does not for novels. If not plagiarism, it is at least an insult to the reader and the original author unless, of course, you give them credit or are writing a spoof. Originality scores high marks with readers.

3.      Challenge the reader.  Surprises keep the reader interested. A flat, dull chapter ending discourages turning to the next chapter. Why do you think serial adventures were so popular at the movies in the 40s and 50s? Cliffhangers still work.  

4.      Teach the reader. Readers usually choose authors and topics with which they are comfortable. Using strings of polysyllabic words is okay for textbooks but not for light reading. Be concise and real, but do choose some words that send the reader to the dictionary. Learning new adjectives or words or phrases from other cultures keeps the reader coming back. No sixteen-year old or even thirty-something reader wants to read a Grade School level book. Most people inherit the vocabulary in which their culture, their geography or their literary preferences immerse them.

5.      Enlist the reader. The average writer will author more than one novel. If you want to retain readers, you must enlist them in your cadre of fans. Encourage dialogue though social networking – blogs, websites, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Encourage critiques of your work. They will be honest in their opinion and, after all, it is they you need to please, not friends or family. Social networking is easier and less costly and time consuming than book signings or conventions and you can reach more people. Become tech savvy. Utilize the new technological tools available to writers. Even an old dog like me can learn a few new tricks.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

World Horror Con 2011

  I just spent three glorious days in Austin, Texas at the WHC 2011 mingling with big name writers, old friends and new ones. Our suite at the Doubletree was awesome. It was as big as a small apartment with four windows and a balcony and the beds were great. The Doubletree is an old hotel with amazing architectural features, a far cry from most cookie-cutter hotels. It made relaxing easy. The Doubletree was easily the nicest hotel I’ve stayed in at a convention. Now, on to the convention.
  Wrath White outdid himself this time. The set up was fantastic and went as smooth as clockwork. I had three pitch sessions and pitched three different books. All editors asked for copies. Nice! My reading of a few passages from Hell Rig at the Damnation Book party went well and I sold a few copies from it. It was lots of fun. I especially loved Lincoln Crisler’s reading with his animated voices of characters. Kim and company did a wonderful job.
  Note to networking – I met Clair LaVay, writer of House of De Bauch vampire comics at a pitch session. We talked a bit about my book Hell Rig and she commented it would make a great movie. About ten o’clock Saturday night – I was already undressed – she called my room and told me she had met a man on the elevator looking for an action-filled horror novel for a movie and told him about mine. I met her at the Cutting Block Press party and talked to an unnamed gentleman about my book, gave him a copy and he said he would read it and contact me. He and some friends make 3-4 movies for the Cannes Film Festival every year and wanted some horror. Here’s hoping! Thank’s to Clair LaVay. Hope her comic flourishes.
  My wife and I ate at Pappadeaux’s. Great Cajun food. The red beans and rice and seafood gumbo were to die for and I should know. I’m a chef who learned his trade in New Orleans. I wish there was one in Tucson. The food in the Doubletree was very good but the menu was limited. Chili’s and Pappasito’s Mexican restaurant were next door though.
  The mass signing was a little weird. There were about a hundred writers and maybe fifty buyers but it was a good experience. My real luck was at my book launch party in my hometown of Corinth, MS. I sold about forty books in two hours. It was good to see my family. We just made it back before the floods got too bad in Arkansas. We left in the middle of the night and made a 125 mile detour that wound up taking 5 hours but that was better than the 11 mile backup on I-40 the next day.
  I’ve been to several WHCs and HWA Cons and Killer Cons and Copper Cons but this was the best ever. I hope it was productive and fruitful.