Sunday, August 29, 2010

3-Dimensional Characters

We hear that term all the time and I think there is an unspoken rule that we are supposed to create them or our work is 'pedestrian.'

I am going to say it is IMPOSSIBLE to write a 3-D character in any piece of work. Including film. It is a completely unattainable standard, and a standard that can freak people out enough to stop writing altogether.

Does that mean we should trot out cardboard characters and be happy with it? No, of course not. I want my characters (and yours) to have depth and feel organic. However, this lofty 3-D goal is simply silly.

Sure, on your fifth NTY Top Ten Best Selling novel, when you have a yacht and a winter home in the Caribbean, I give you permission to toil and fret about finally creating the world's first fully 3-D character...

Until then? How about we go with the characters we have and get a book written?

And yes, I do read a lot of genre material that is not known for its character work, but I have read the fine literary works as well. You know, the ones with real 3-D characters. But sorry, even in the best of hands, the character is still... a character.

There is no way in the space and time allotted within a work of fiction to bring every subtle nuance and quirk that makes up a human being. We can add depth, just not to the point of creating a flesh and blood person on the page.

Why do I bring this up? Because I see author after author lament their character work and keep going back and fiddling with it so hard and so long they give up on the project entirely.

So, I am here to give you permission to write the best characters you can write, RIGHT NOW. Then put them through your writing group (don't have one? check out next week's blog) and do a rewrite based on those notes or take a class on character, but then move on with the story.

At some point you must accept you are the author that you are for now... with room for improvement.

Your assignment this week is to check in and see if you are hung up on your characters. Do you spend an inordinate amount of time tinkering with them? If the answer is yes, then STOP for goodness sake.

Go look at the Bestsellers on the shelf. I can almost guarantee you that none of them have fully realized 3-D characters. So just because you don't have them, why should that stop you from finishing your work (and learning along the way ;-0

Want to check how fully realized (or not) my characters in Plain Jane are? Click here to read 50 pages free and here is a 50% off coupon: RH88E

Until next week!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

When I write poorly I...

Tend to have a lot of words with the ending 'ly'

I also tend to throw in a lot of 'buts,' as well as start out my paragraphs with prepositions.

Luckily I know this and scan for these frequently.

Now, of course, if I am having a bad day and am struggling just to get words on the page, I write all the adverb, conjoining, run-on sentences I want. I go to town. Let 'em rip.

But at some point I need to make my work, you know, enjoyable to read.

So over the course of a decade, I have learned my bad habits. I know where I go when I am not in the zone. I can easily identify when I wrote at not-quite-the-level I would like.

Let's be clear there are times when I think I DID write well. Then see all those 'badly,' 'hungrily,' 'angrily,' entries and go wow, I wrote 'crapily.' :-)

For me, this makes any re-write so much easier. I know where I screwed up and since I have had to fix it so many times, I have gotten pretty good at it.

So my assignment to you this week?
Figure out your 3 worst bad habits when you are not writing in the zone. Now go back to a section you are not happy with. Check for the big three. What can you do to 'fix' them?

Now how about you head over to Plain Jane here and see if I managed to recover from my addition to conjunctions :-)
If you decide to read the entire novel, here is a 50% off coupon: RH88E

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Stakes - Make 'Em Big or... well... your story will suck

And not in the good way! :-)

I can't tell you how many people I coach/critique that when I ask them what their stakes are in the first act and they look at me funny.

Well, ok, that happens frequently, but they also clearly do not know what I am talking about.

Everyone seems to have a vague sense of what stakes are; events that worsen the situation for your Hero, except they are so much more than that.

A good example is that in Act 1 your finger is being threatened to be cut off. In Act II, your arm is at risk. In Act III your head is on the chopping block.

Many times in action books the sequence of escalation is the Hero's life is in danger. Then the Hero's loved ones. Then the community or world is imperiled.

This not only applies to action novels, but even dramas/literary works. Usually the escalation for those genres is: The Hero's pride is in jeopardy, then his heart, then his soul.

You should be able to point to specific characters/forces/situations in each Act that acts as an escalator. If you can't, then more than likely there isn't enough threat in your story.

Remember the stakes must go UP each act. Each act's stakes must grind the Hero down a little bit more. Make it seem more impossible for your Hero to ever see the light of day.

Now, instinctively most people do this at the darkest hour. And most even up their game at the Tentpole.

It is the first Act, and most importantly the first chapter, that many don't make sure they have clearly defined stakes.

Look at your own work. What are the stakes in your first chapter? What risk is your Hero in? Where is the source of tension?

Now, the only caveat to this advice is that sometimes you have to build you Hero up before you bring him down so this first chapter may have him: win the lottery, get a juicy assignment, sleep with the girl.

This is one of those the higher they are, the harder they fall type situations.

But remember, that is building up process is done with a purpose and rapidly the stakes (taking away not only everything they just 'won' but everything else near and dear to them is at risk) must be escalated.

So either you need to be building your Hero up for a fall or putting the screws to him IN THE 1st ACT! If you aren't; you've got a problem (fixed by stakes luckily :-)

Want to see how I ratcheted up the stakes in Plain Jane?

Click here to read 50 pages for FREE (that way you can see if I followed my own 'first chapter' advice)

And if you wish to purchase the thriller, here is a 50% off coupon: RH88E

Thanks again and see you next week!!!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Don't Be Afraid to be Bold.

Which is of course a follow up to my "Don't be afraid to suck' blog.

Why is this the subject of this week's blog?

Well, I got reminded of this as I have been hired to do a page 1 rewrite.

I kept trying to 'honor' the original work(which was deemed by the editor as unpublishable so a little lapse in logic there) and I would quell my own instincts and try to write within the framework of the first draft.

Um, while that all is true, really what it came down to was the fact I was afraid to be bold on this new project.

How did I figure out, that once again, fear was the culprit?

I had a bold instinct. I did not act on it.

I turned in a scene. I got a note back from the editor "I know the scene works but what about if we switched the POV to the child?"

Urg! I could have kicked myself. I not only wanted to do just that but I wanted to ditch the stupid villain involved in the scene.

So I wrote back and relayed I agreed and suggested we ditch the villian.

She wrote back, "That's what I was thinking too!"

Now here I am having to rewrite (again) five pages because I didn't trust my instincts. I was so worried about putting together a decent draft that I forgot to write well.

I am being paid basically to write boldly.

Now, if you are having trouble writing consistently, don't worry about boldness. Just write daily.

However if you've got the giving yourself permission to write poorly thing down and are writing consistently, think BOLD.

The #1 thing that bugs me is if a writer just writes stuff that we've 'seen before.' When they take the safe route. When they give me the most obvious choice.

We talk all the time about 'digging' deeper. Most of the time your first thought is the easiest option. Most of the time the first 2 or 3 thoughts are your brain just skimming your creative waters.

Your creativity runs deeper than that. Utilize it!

Whether on the first draft or the third draft, stop and for every scene think "How is this bold?"

Now don't think I mean bold to mean stupid. I am not telling you to just throw everything and the kitchen sink into the mix.

What I mean is choose an unexpected POV. Commit to your descriptions. Be specific and somewhere along the way surprise us.

Your assignment? Go to a scene that you just aren't happy with. Imagine you had no rules to follow (internal logic, word count, suspension of disbelief). How would you 'fix' this scene? Think bold first, then make the solution follow the rules. #inthatorder ;-)

And if you would like to see how 'bold' I was with "Plain Jane" (so far most people are shocked I 'went there' so I feel like I fulfilled my boldness pledge) here's a link to read 50 pages for FREE.

If you decide to read the entire thing and find out EXACTLY how far I went (I am warning you, I went further than most consider acceptable), here is a 50% off coupon code: RH88E
Just use it at check out, then let me know what you think! :-)

Until next week!!!!!!!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Advanced Dialogue Stuff :-)

I am telling you, dialogue is the downfall of even the biggest NYT sellers.

Seriously, read the stuff out loud. Yikes! Then start going down mid-list and below and it can become downright painful.

Why? Because most of the time authors subconsciously use dialogue to their own purpose.

I need my Hero to say that he used to live in New York. Now, unless you are sitting around a new work or on a date, you not going to casually mention that you used to live in New York.

It is going to come up as part of a conversation:

"Wow, I really love this pizza." "Oh no, clearly you have never been to New York then because this crust is way too thick."

Ok, that was lame too, but at least it made sense that New York came up as a topic.

A better way to hide this important plot item would be in what your Hero DOESN'T say. Everyone else is reminiscing about New York and your Hero stays quiet. Someone, of course, notices this and probe into the subject.

Anything you can do to not blatantly state "Hey, I lived in New York" is best.

Another way to make your dialogue crackle is to have the two people in the conversation in conflict. Whether it is an all out fight or simply them arguing over where they are going to dinner, is up to you.

Also 'dragging' the info out of someone is better than blurting it out. Have your Hero duck, dive, and dodge the subject.

How important the information is to the plot, the harder it should be to get out of him.

Now my favorite way (no surprise here) is to relay critical information during a car chase or defusing a bomb, or some other incredibly awkward time to have a 'chat.'

Why do I love this technique so much? Well, besides the fact I get to write action?

I like this because it automatically fragments the conversation. Even my instinct is to have a conversation flow in a logical manner to a neat resolve.

But if the bullets are flying? If they are running for their lives? Having to whisper since the bad guy is approaching.

It forces me as an author to figure out what is truly pertinent. It forces me to find unique, interesting ways to put the information out there.

Plus it makes sense to cut off dialogue before it wanders into cliche-land if you've got ricochets to worry about.

Let's say you aren't writing a piece with physical action. That doesn't mean you can't use external circumstances to 'goose' your dialogue along.

Children, pets, crowds, mother-in-laws, meddling neighbors can all act as a 'distraction' away from a straight forward conversation.

Whenever you are up against having to use dialogue to impart vital information think, "What is the most dynamic way to say this?"

What makes this conversation interesting... besides the words coming out of my Hero's mouth?

Alright, that's it for this week.

Your assignment? Find an important plot point that is revealed in dialogue that you aren't happy with.

Experiment with one of the techniques listed above to 'freshen' it up!

And if you would like to see a real life example of my dialogue, hop on over to:
Plain Jane and either read the first 50 pages for free or use this 50% off coupon code: RH88E

Then leave a comment below on what you thought :-)