Tag Archives: characters

As close as writing can get


We are getting spoiled by high resolution. Actors now have to worry that every pore is visible to the folks at home. Photos take a lot of storage space – megabytes – because we can, and because we have Terabyte hard drives.

Most of us will never have occasion to use that detail, and we don’t want to write books that are that high resolution, either. Among other problems, they would take forever to read!

From November 12, 2012:

Digitizing reality: the fictive approximation

Even in the most connected and most fluid writing, choices have to be made. Which sentence follows which, which word is best. The basic principle of fiction is that reality cannot be duplicated, merely suggested.

When a painter uses a few strokes of red to suggest a roof, she must trust that the viewer will infer internal beams, two-by-fours, and nails to support that roof from the fact that the roof does not fall. Worse, even ‘fall’ is a suggestion: the painter does not ‘do’ gravity: the unsupported roof will not slide off the bottom of the page when the canvas is hung.

Reality is fine-grained

Reality consists of unimaginable numbers of tiny events, linked together by time, infinitely stretching in all directions. Fiction picks the stars in the skies as points, leaves us to connect the stars with planets, deep-space debris, and light.

So it doesn’t really matter which points are chosen, in some sense, because the same writer, on the same day, could select an entirely different set, and still tell the same story.

Beginners to digitization are astounded at how few black and white pixels it takes to express the iconic Abraham Lincoln. But even those few points are a random choice, because starting at each of a million different points, there are a million similar-but-not-identical digital Lincolns.

But what level of detail is REQUIRED for fiction?

It is only necessary to cover enough of the central story, at the chosen level of detail. “Wedding dress for sale. Never worn.” is in some sense exactly the same as “Great Expectations.”

What a writer strikes for is balance. For each type of story there are conventions, rough guidelines. An action thriller which spends half of its 300,000 words in interior monologue of its twisted dark protagonist is a deliberate contravention of the genre’s best-selling exemplars. It CAN be done, but must be written exceedingly well, and even then the audience for it will not be all thriller readers – because most of them want taut action-packed, skimpy-on-details, fast-paced writing with its interior monologue limited to “They killed my wife and child and now they will pay.”

Possibly, if done well, the audience will broaden to include readers who like longer stories, who appreciate the extra background, the crossover effect. A gamble. Done deliberately and competently and in a controlled manner, it may pay off. May.

How do you sketch a good-enough approximation?

I come by these thoughts today free of charge as a short scene–which had completely halted progress for over a month–suddenly resolved and melted into ink on page. I stopped trying to find better words to do what I was doing. I realized the words already there were a good digitization of the reality I was trying to portray–and that there is not a single perfect version of this scene which I have to locate somewhere out in the ether.

Life, complicated, millions-of-tiny-pieces life, had been getting in the way. I’m amazed at how few words needed changing, how few words I needed to add to what I already had. It is a good-enough version of the story reality. It isn’t missing any key pieces.

Time limits how much a character can do, say, or think

Finally, I could experience it from the inside of the head of the character whose point of view it was. In a few places, I added what she thought and felt to what she experienced–just a few touches restored that sense of balance.

I changed the places where I showed through: where her words would be different from mine, I chose hers. Mine were better–hers were hers. She comes from a part of me I disallow sometimes, with my over-educated, over-read self-image. She WANTED–in a way I rarely allow myself any more. I let her speak instead of censoring her–and the scene finished itself.

I love writing, because I get to choose the level of detail needed to tell the story my way.

My happiest readers will be those who like my granularity, somewhere between Hemingway and Rosamund Pilcher (or worse, Proust), whose brain needs the same distance from the subject. And it doesn’t hurt if they like my stories.

How much detail do you need?


To write a character become the character


I have taught myself to write from ‘right behind the eyeballs’ of the characters I’m giving voice to.

It is a process similar to Method acting – or to becoming possessed.

I even try to keep the observation of the character to the minimum intrusion I can do.

From October 2012:

Writing characters: To be someone else

The only way I can write a character is to find the part of myself that IS that character.

I contain multitudes.

Everything I have ever heard or read is part of me, and every part of it has to fit in to what I know of the world, my version of reality.

I don’t know what features and programs I came pre-loaded with, but the only access I have to it is how I react to things when they happen to me. Nothing inside me is untouched by the world I was born into, and the world I have added to that every day of my life.

Everything is a product of my experience plus how ‘I’ reacted to that experience.

One of the pre-loads is obviously that marvelous capacity for self-examination, the human consciousness, the ability to be self-aware. I don’t always know why I did something, but, with patience, I can often figure it out. Eventually.

What does this have to do with characters?

Before I can write how a character thinks and acts, I have to put myself into an alternate universe where I imagine or create how the character got to the place where he can be what he is, or she can do what she does. The backstory has to explain the present that I write in.

It gets scary: by the time I have it, at whatever depth, the character IS me – if I had lived through what she has and started with who she was born as.

I have to do some of that even for minor characters, where it helps to cast a few steps back from the present, so that the present at least seems grounded in some kind of logical conclusions.

But for the major characters, it has to go deep – deep and very far back. As far back as the baby he was, who his older sisters were, and where he fit his family’s needs.

I add his alternate universe, and mark him with the events that will take him to where I need him to be.

Then the present makes sense, a convoluted but self-consistent sense, and his actions and words are inevitable.

It takes extra time to switch from character to character, to give a reader the right perspective for each scene, so it contributes to the story whole.

It would be so much simpler not to.

But I would neither be doing my job – nor having so much fun.

Do you like to become the characters you read?

Life happens in between story moments


Where is the rest of life? FRIDAY

One illusion novels maintain is that nothing of importance happens in the moments the writer chooses not to present on the page.

I bank on that bit of prestidigitation myself; I’m not against it, but I have to remember to consult my story calendar, the plot, and logic, when I fill in one of the prompts I always use:

Timing considerations: Since last scene, or last scene for this character, what has changed/happened? Does it make sense? Does it have conflict opportunities? Does it have to be dealt with?

A novelist fills the gap with a word, a flashback later (if the reader is lucky), or a jump cut, simply switching to a new scene with the assumption that readers can figure it out.

And we do. Movies no longer need those silly calendars showing the pages blowing off – we get it.

There is still, in most novels, a sense of moving forward in time, and not bothering to document the smaller bits that make up existence: characters eat, take a taxi, work.

But readers have an innate sense of when an author left something important out. The reader’s mind goes, “Huh?” Too many of those, and the reader is no longer interested in the story because, truly, there isn’t one.

We’re watching a couple of streaming TV programs: Hinterland (set in Wales) and Crossing the Line (set in Europe), and have these little discussions about linearity of plot, because either they do things differently on the other side of the pond, or we’ve lost some important ability, because we don’t get things much more often than we expect not to understand.

It’s a minor annoyance when watching TV, and my guess is that something got cut between the script and the final edit – different people doing the work? The shows are atmospheric enough to carry through (though the first seems both skimping and padding because I think I could cut it from 90 to 50 or 60 minutes and it would be improved considerably).

Life is boring

And full of little details – things which have to be done – but which contribute nothing to the eternal verities. I spent my good time this morning talking to online pharmacy and doctor’s office personnel – and got no writing done. Eventually, the pills I depend on may make their appearance, and I won’t be in so much pain I can’t think, much less write. As many of us are finding, those drug-seekers out there (some of which are probably just getting crappy medical care, and are experiencing pain they should be) are making life much longer and more boring for those of us who are trying to follow the rules.

It’s always so: the rules are tightened, but the people who are breaking them aren’t affected, and the ones who were not doing anything wrong have to deal with more paperwork.

This makes the future scarier

I can sort of cope now – if I don’t do anything time-wasting such as trying to concentrate on my writing for a few hours.

Some day I won’t be able to cope at all, and someone else will have to do this stuff for me, and they probably will neither do it right nor efficiently, and I will have no choice but to suffer the consequences.It is laughably difficult to leave instructions for such things as “don’t feed me carbohydrates,” or ” I can’t lie comfortably very long on my left side without a VERY thin pillow under me,” or “I HATE raw tomatoes.”

I hope that doesn’t happen too soon.

Meanwhile, I cope day-to-day

Badly, because my coping skills are somewhat age-dependent, as everyone’s are, but much slower than most people’s to start with.

I really thought I’d be further along – that I’ve learned to gather the input for a scene faster, and turn it into prose faster – but it isn’t even keeping up with the increased pressure of “thing that must be done.”

The big ones

Settling my parents’ estates and filing the required tax returns – an exercise quite pointless, as there will be no tax money in it for the government.

Finding a retirement community – I have realized lately that financial information (ours and theirs), and knowledge of floor plans and meal plans, is barely the beginning. As I dig deeper, I find the questions of medical care when you can’t navigate it yourself, and even simply paying your bills in that condition, are much more important. And we haven’t even STARTED visiting the Assisted Living and Skilled Nursing components of the Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs), which are looming as more and more important to choose correctly from the beginning, because you’re going to end up in them if you live long enough! And you will not be gleefully looking forward to moving in to them in most cases.

Dejunking this house/Selling this house – a difficult pair of things to do requiring millions of decisions which we can repent of at leisure.

And the very worst of all

I resent not being able to work myself out of the current many holes. A lady doing the fast walking jog many people think is called ‘running,’ but won’t mess up her hair or get her too sweaty; the man with the white ponytail and the limp who goes out for a painful walk regardless of the temperature or conditions most days; the children – especially the one little grandson who spends HOURS trying skateboard tricks or shooting baskets when he visits next door – all these people are ‘working on it,’ my standard response when asked about anything, but they are actually working on something.

Me, I’m stuck. I get one little thing done, painfully, and the ‘things needing doing’ merely provides the next customer in a Black Friday-long line.

I gotta get out of this place, but it may end up being the last thing I ever do, at this rate.

I make a list, read it, pick one thing to do. It is the A1 now, and the system is to get it done, because it is the log that is holding everything in a jam. But I’ve been telling myself that for weeks, months, years – and it’s a lie. There’s always another. When do you know if something is real or just depression talking?

What’s the answer? Is there a solution? SATURDAY

I’m hoping so. I’m hoping it is to focus on all the little good pieces:

the last message from the online pharmacy was that they had approved my prior authorization – without any further calls from me to them OR the doctor’s office; they may even manage to send me my perfectly legal, non-narcotic, non-opiate pain pills without me having to chase them down, and possibly even repeat that twice more in 3 and  months. Meanwhile, I pray the generics figure it out.

I am much further along in the estate-settling – and can’t do anything further this weekend; I hope I have figured out the way that doesn’t require exorbitant taxes.

I think that ‘we have to get out of this place’ has finally penetrated – we’re both quite tired of the continuing stream of maintenance, and the computations are almost done; a trip to California may be in the offing (let’s hope I survive!).

I may have located the cause of a couple of physical problems – that would be a lovely set of things to remove from my life.

And my standby solution – rest and reset the brain – still seems to work. Happy weekend – I’m going to go use it now.

And maybe one of these days I’ll learn to advertise…

One for my side: Google confirms I can spell pretidigitation and know what it means!

How’s your weekend going?

And thanks again to Stencil for the ability to make images out of thin air.

Character motivation fail last ditch solution


I’m STILL a new author. Millions of words written over more than twenty years, but only one novel published.

It’s always something

And I’m surprised to land in a situation I haven’t had to write before? Gimme a break! There a huge numbers of situations I haven’t landed characters in and had to write them out of yet.

Sometimes I just have to laugh at myself. After the headache from pounding my head against the wall goes away, of course.

Book 2 of Pride’s Children, NETHERWORLD, has been giving me writing problems since the minute I got started on it – that should have been a clue.

There is no point in writing scenes and circumstances similar to the ones in PURGATORY, because I’m finished with PURGATORY. I know – have always known – that NETHERWORLD has to kick everything up to a new level, or I’m just going through the motions to finish a story I could be bored with.

How is the second novel in a trilogy different?

Only I’m not. I have a whole new set of story pieces that need exploring. Plotting with Dramatica does this. And writing with it has been described as going through a four-story house, thoroughly exploring every room on each floor before going up the stairs to the next floor. Everything on the second floor is new. Sitting on top of the first story, but not requiring me to go back down to the first-floor rooms, because they’re already done.

What I have to do, instead, is listen to the gut feeling that tells me I’m NOT writing something the way I want to (I know when it’s right; this scene isn’t).

And yet the process is complete. I know how to gather all the pieces of a scene, how to get it (or something like the final version of ‘it’) started, how to organize the flow, how to end a scene with a line that leaves a question.

Notes from the current Production file:

I have one per scene; that’s where I work all this stuff out because the inside of my head is not usable workspace for complicated stuff – I lose too much.

All this agonizing really means is there’s work to be done. So do it.

Other writers have written outlandish things – there are solutions. Only I will have to figure out my own.

And in all those years of stuffing my head with reading material, I must have absorbed something useful. Making the effort will bring up any pieces I can’t find in my writing books. It’s just work.

The Production file notes (pieces removed, so as not to give plot away at this stage, marked by ellipses):

Nope, there’s still a motivation problem. We know why Z is unhappy – Y is being a stinker about the …. We know why Z pushes X and wants W there.
But we don’t really see why X ultimately agrees to assist.
X is stuck – things are NOT moving forward.
X thinks W might be able to help.
W can say no, and X will be off the hook.
But X is the one who has to write a letter to go with the … Z is sending.

X has an ethical dilemma.

Turn it INTO an ethical dilemma

Let’s look at it from the other side: X DOESN’T write the letter. X argues with X to attempt to see what’s bothering X. X figures it out: sort of screwed either way.

Then X looks at consequences further down the line – and doesn’t like them.

Work OUT the ethical dilemma

Production files again:

Then Z goes ahead with his plan (and Z’s now pissed at X); W comes or doesn’t.
If W comes, W will wonder what the hell, and why didn’t W even get a whiff of warning from X.
If W doesn’t come, does W interpret it as X being protective? Or as X not warning W – for X’s own selfish reasons?

Ethical dilemmas in real life

I need to remember that in real life, if the answer is clear, an ethical dilemma doesn’t exist or is trivial, and it is BORING.

And that readers pay to see someone other than themselves grapple with consequences as a way to see a different possible solution.

I’ll work it out. Soon, I hope. So I can write it – and go on to the next one.




What does this character do for your story?


I’m just about ready to start revising the excruciatingly rough draft of Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD, and my last task is one I thought I wasn’t going to have to do much work on.

Why? Because many of the characters in PURGATORY carry over to NETHERWORLD.

And really, since I am writing a trilogy – split for the convenience of size, not because the stories are separate – you’d think I already had my characters well in hand, and that I would just give them a quick review, add a few, drop a few, and be able to move on.

I’m dropping four characters, and picking up four characters.

It doesn’t seem like much, does it?

And they are minor characters; our main characters, Kary, Andrew, and Bianca will of course be there for the whole, but there are changes, and some of the characters (two of whom come back for Book 3) don’t belong in this volume.

That’s typical, and not at all unusual.

Relationships between characters are half the story

But my plotting software* gives roughly equal space to plot/theme – and characters.

We don’t see the world abstractly. We don’t sit on the front porch and muse about honor.

We compare friends, one of whom acts honorably and responsibly (most of the time), with the one who seems to have an excuse for anything that somehow puts the responsibility for her actions elsewhere.

And from how it hits us, and from what the results of their behavior is, we come to form our own opinion of whether standing up is better than slithering out from under. We understand an abstract concept by its concrete representation in a form our brains are designed to respond to.

Characters are chosen to represent extremes

There isn’t much point in wasting space in a story on two characters who are very similar in their outlooks on life, regardless of how common it is in real life to surround yourself with people you have a lot in common with.

Stories are created from CONFLICT. DRAMA. TENSION.

Stories have word limits. Yes, even long stories like Pride’s Children. If the writer spends too much time belaboring the obvious, the reader starts skipping. Elmore Leonard recommended leaving out the parts people skip.

In Albert Zukerman’s useful book, Writing the Blockbuster Novel, he has an example which stuck with me: Ken Follett, in an early draft, had included two policemen in The Man From St. Petersburg. Zuckerman recommended combining them – and making the single remaining character a much more important personage – to kick up the potential for conflict.

When every word matters, the pages turn more quickly, and the point the writer is trying to make sneaks into the reader’s mind more easily.

In real life, there’d be a whole police precinct full of cops, most of them of similar personality type – those are the people who enjoy police work. But for a story, one is MORE than enough. Unless it’s a police procedural, and the point is to push the in-house conflicts of a group of officers, under pressure to solve a crime, fighting over the best methods.

But in a story we have to be parsimonious in the extreme.

And this means not adding a character to a story unless he or she is there for a multitude of purposes.

Relationships are where the story’s points get made

So the interactions between the characters have to carry their weight.

Ever notice how good dialogue skips all the small talk? In life we spend lots of time inquiring about family and friends, work and leisure activities, before we settle down to something as unpleasant as having a friend on the police force look up a license plate number for us because we have a sneaking suspicion a neighbor is responsible for the new dent in our car door. In a book, the reader would go mad with boredom!

Rule #1 of writing: Don’t bore the reader!***

But the dialogue or physical interaction that remains then has to serve as many purposes as possible: information exchange, state of mind, difficulty in responding to a request that is faintly illegal, status of the friendship… plus class and education and income level of the two participants…

And to set these up, the writer should know why she picked these two particular characters, and what exactly the reader should take out of the exchange.

Setting the web of character interactions into place

1 – For continuing characters interacting with continuing characters, the story must change. We already heard what they had to say in Book 1.

2 – For new characters interacting with new characters, the story must explain why these new characters at all, and what has changed/what has remained the same in the story that the new characters reveal.

3 – For interactions between old and new characters, what is new to the story.

Not surprisingly, planning takes time and a fair amount of effort

I found myself extremely reluctant to go into the relationships when I realize how many of them there were. Then I had the above talk with myself.

So the past two weeks I’ve been thinking about characters, what gets space in the story and why, and what can be left out – because somebody has to do it.

I’m almost to the end of it, and it’s been fascinating.

And since I’ve been having the best time planning to use all this.

I almost missed it due to that reluctance (missed doing it as a unit, because I would have certainly had to do it in every scene) to dig into what seemed finished. It wasn’t.

I hope readers like the results.


*Thanks to ShareAsImage.com for the ability to create graphics

**Dramatica – which allows me to look at a tiny piece of the puzzle at a time (drat that brain fog) and have some hope that the whole will make sense when I’m done.

*** The only rule that matters, so far as I’m concerned.

Writing tips: Letting characters tell stories

I know, I know: Show, don’t Tell.

And never ever use Talking Heads and As You Know, Bob dialogue to get your story out – and into the head of your readers.

I was so proud of myself for avoiding the above pitfalls, that I was baffled this morning when I realized that the only way to write the current scene was to have it told, one character to another, in a static situation.

Writing Rules and Mortal Sins

The thing is, like all writing ‘rules’ (they really ought to be labeled suggestions, for the damage they cause otherwise), this is another one which can be broken, to great effect, when the breaking is done deliberately and with intent and skill.

Whew! Go for it. Break lots of them rules while you’re at it: the general rule is, if you’re writing third-person multiple pov stories, that the viewpoint character for a scene is the one most affected by the scene.

But this scene is different!

I may be wrong. Someone may write to me after I publish 19.3 and tell me I did it all wrong, and there was a perfectly valid way to do it within the confines of standard practice.

But it made me think, and as a result, I came up with a set of caveats I think apply:

A dozen CAVEATS for Telling, Not Showing

Caveat #1: You can’t do this very often in a story. The story as a whole must still show much more than it tells.

Caveat #2: You can’t do this in the beginning. The problem with so many beginnings is that we don’t care about the characters yet, and we are going to care even less about something boring they tell someone else.

Caveat #3: You can’t do this without a lot of preparation. The reader must be literally panting for you to provide the information, because you’ve been dropping hints and pieces all along.

Caveat #4: There has to be a very strong emotional motivation. Characters have to have very good reasons for dumping in one chunk something they’ve been reluctant to let out.

Caveat #5: The setting must be perfect. Because setting is not the focus of the scene, but the reader has to know exactly where the scene is happening.

Caveat #6: The scene must be static. Nothing else can be allowed to penetrate the occasion. At most, the character hearing the story can interject a careful question to keep the story moving. The whole focus of the scene has to be on the story being told.

Caveat #7: This is not the place to develop characters. The reader must know them very well by this point, which leads to,

Caveat #8: The point of the story is to make a revelation. Don’t waste technique on something unimportant. And,

Caveat #9: It can’t be at the climax of the story. There are far more important things to do at the climax. And you don’t want to tie character’s hands with all these restrictions at a climax.

Caveat #10: There must be no better way to write the scene. You don’t blow all the rules for no reason.

Caveat #11: There will be only two characters present. Because you don’t want to dilute your reader’s attention. And the reader will be strongly identified with one of these characters, possibly wanting this character and the other to make a breakthrough. Just to round out the set,

Caveat #12: Select the wrong point-of-view character. Or, rather, don’t select the obvious character, the one that makes the most sense, the character most affected by the scene. This one I had to think about quite a lot, because it was definitely counter-intuitive.

Complicating matters – who tells the story?

Because, ultimately, by the time you get to this kind of a scene, both characters are going to be well-known to the reader, and the reader needs to be shooken up – climax and story end will follow, and the reader DOESN’T know everything. Readers only THINK they know everything. They would actually rather be surprised.

I remember listening to the audiobook of Our Lady of the Forest, by David Guterson (author of Snow Falling on Cedars), getting closer and closer to the end of the story, leaving himself absolutely no way out of the looming disaster, and me wondering how the heck he was going to give me an end which FIT the story – and was SATISFYING. It seemed to me only one of those goals could be fulfilled, and I was not looking forward to hearing the hand-waving that would be necessary to ‘splain things to the reader.

And then being absolutely flabbergasted by how he DID.

That’s my goal, getting to the end of Book 1, that its end must both FIT and be SATISFYING.

So I chose, for this scene I’m talking about, 19.3 (watch for it), to tell the little tale from the pov of the wrong character – and find other ways for the character most affected to express that effect.


It occurred to me, that, because this is so far into the story, that the Reader STANDS IN for the character most affected – because by this point the Reader KNOWS that character so well that when the non-pov character has no interior monologues, and is allowed minimal dialogue, the effect is going to happen in the READER.

At least I hope so, and have planned it so. MY readers will tell me if I achieve it.

Make sense?

Writers: some readers hate your characters

You know those extra-scenery notes I keep talking about writing every time I write a scene?

The ones where I write about writing, and end up with 10-20 words written per word of finished fiction?

Well, I thought I’d mine some of them for blog posts about the writing process itself.

The snippet from Journal 18:

And, since I’m posting Chapter 18, here’s a piece from the Journal 18 file I kept while writing that chapter:

“Just a minute, though: I had an interesting conversation with MM on Wattpad: she doesn’t like Andrew.


Rachel LOVES Andrew.

That is an important difference.

To capture more of the market, I need to at least THINK of all the people who DON’T like Andrew – and what he stands for.

They need to be able to like Andrew because Kary does, even if they don’t see it themselves.

Which is a biggie: a lot of people don’t like Mr. Rochester, either, or the husband in Rebecca, because they are flawed human males. Very flawed. TOO flawed for some people.”

You don’t control readers’ reaction to your characters

When you create characters, you HAVE to let the readers form their own conclusions about those characters. Once you write things as well as you can, make your case as compelling as you can, it is OUT OF YOUR HANDS.

The author doesn’t get to sit on the reader’s shoulder, pointing out what the reader should feel, and how the reader is missing the author’s point, or how this character will be revealed later as better (or worse) than he/she appears at this point in the story – or any other little thing the author DIDN’T put in the story. Or merely any little thing that the reader and the writer will DISAGREE on.

Hating Mr. Rochester

Lots of people wonder what the heck Jane Eyre saw in Mr. Rochester – they don’t get it. He is rich, mean to poor Jane, willing to be a bigamist, entitled, rude, whatever.

And some of us – lots of us, apparently, or it wouldn’t still be read – get that the attraction is Jane, and how she loves, and that SHE is what makes HIM attractive, because she is attracted to HIM and we love HER. Her gentle way with words, her ruthless self-examination, her faith: he can’t be that bad if SHE loves HIM.

And ultimately redeems him by holding HIM to HER standards.

What do you do when readers don’t see it your way?

But back to how this applies to whether all your readers will like all your characters, or react to them the way you want your readers to react.

It doesn’t matter.

If there are two groups of people in the world, those who like your character and those who don’t, it means you have to solve only HALF of the world’s problems. (Ignore, for the purpose of this exercise, those who never read your story, those who read and don’t like any of it, and those who don’t like this kind of story and wouldn’t read it even if they knew it exists.)

Just because some readers don’t like Andrew doesn’t mean there won’t be plenty of readers who do.

The conversation with MM reminds me that some people don’t like Andrew – they find him arrogant and entitled and self-centered.

I find him way too healthy.

But I love him – and half my readers may not.

Which just means that KARY will have to carry the weight of PC for them. IF they read, it will be because they identify with HER, and SHE loves Andrew with a passion she can almost not explain.

It is similar to Scarlett O’Hara’s misguided love for Ashley Wilkes – and didn’t keep millions of people who thought he was a wimp from finishing the story. (Including me.)

Phew – stop worrying!

ONE strong character can carry a story.

Some people will even identify with Bianca, and think I’m being horribly mean to her.

That’s fine.

I can’t be all things to all people, but with 7 BILLION people on the planet, I still ought to be able to find a few readers.

Maybe the people who don’t like Andrew WILL like my writing enough to read.

No writer can understand all readers

Whereas maybe people who read badly-written genre work somehow like the protagonists enough to forgive the bad writing. Must be the case in some readers – how else do you explain it?

Real world, Alicia. Real world.

MY TASTES ARE PARAMOUNT. For MY writing only, of course.

Which is exactly the same thing the literary writers/readers say – and I think they’re plotless hacks. Well, there’s little chance I will try to join them – I can’t write either literary or genre. Duh. You write what you are, what you have made yourself out of all the writing you’ve read, plus the teaching you’ve had (heavily biased by whether you like the TEACHER enough to listen), plus everything that has happened to you and how you interpret it.

Goes right back to: you write what you are, even when you think you’re being clever and hiding yourself as an author.

Back to work!

Which wildly popular characters do YOU find completely unlikeable?

Best writing part: BEING the character

My favorite part of the writing  process

After all is gathered, BECOMING the character, again, if the alternation between scenes leads me to the head of a different character, is the fun part of writing.

There is a reason for the point of view switch: something important is going to happen, and this is the character who will be most affected (which is why I chose her/him to tell this part of the story). And by the time I’ve gathered all the parts of WHAT will happen in this scene (that’s the ‘extreme plotter’ part of my writing process), I now get to write the scene, the HOW and the WHY of it, from this character’s viewpoint.

I am perfectly capable of writing long parts from a single pov in both first and third person – I’ve done both. But I’ve chosen to switch between Andrew, Kary, and Bianca in Pride’s Children because, well, it fits the story, and it works for me.

The particular joy of writing third person multiple pov

But I often forget, and discover with surprise, that getting back into a different character’s pov is fun for me, the writer. You’d think I would have figured it out by now, but there are so many other parts to writing that I have to pay attention to that  I seem to forget, while intensely involved in one scene and one character’s head, that I can and will switch.

While Andrew has one pair of scenes in a row at the beginning of Pride’s Children because it is necessary (and the way a TV interview flows), Kary is the character who gets all the rest of the scenes in Book 1 where the pov doesn’t change when going to a new scene. This is necessary because, in the story, though Andrew has farther to go, Kary is much harder to change.

Motivating change in a character

And you wouldn’t believe the change if I didn’t show you the pieces, so I have no choice: I have no patience with books where a character makes a major personality change for the convenience of the author and the plot, and you’re just supposed to take it (UNwilling suspension of disbelief) so the writer can get on with the story. Somewhere in the deep recesses of my brain, a switch gets set to ‘disbelief’ and the rest of the story is now fake. I may enjoy the story – and finish reading it – but I will never read it again to savor the character or the storytelling the way I do with books which dissect the change path.

I learned this from the good ones. I was rereading Dune last night and Busman’s Honeymoon (Dorothy L. Sayers) the night before, and it seems that it doesn’t matter how many times I go back to them, I get sucked in to enjoying the character-development steps all over again. Maybe because that’s how the authors made me care about the characters in the first place – and I DO care about Paul-Muad’dib and Peter Wimsey, long dead and never real in the first place.

Becoming the character

Because getting into the skull and under the skin of a character, so I can look out through the eyes, hook into all the senses, and listen to the dialogue and thoughts, is basically the same effect I hope to elicit in a reader, an indispensable part of the process is to go back and read the last couple of scenes from the pov of this scene’s character, SKIPPING any intermediary scenes from other characters viewpoint.

It is an odd exercise, seeing the story ONLY from one character’s pov, but an oddly satisfying one as well, because by the time I get to the actual writing phase, dialogue, thought, and movement are coming back to me in the way it must be for an actor returning to an old familiar role: this is how the head moves, this the habitual tone of voice, and the words another character might use do not fit.

I told one of my readers that I’m a frustrated actor. I have neither the ability nor the stamina for theater, especially in real time.

But it’s amazing how the other characters in this story fade, once I boldly seize the controls in this one’s head – and scary how my real self becomes subsumed in the virtual one.

Reader or writer – do you feel when this happens?

Writing the Great American Love Story

Say what you mean, mean what you say.

What are you trying to do?

Sometimes you have to take a stand, and declare, in public, exactly what you're trying to do. - Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

 Every writer reaches the point: fish or cut bait

If you were writing the Great American Love Story, what would you put in it? Continue reading

Bridging time gaps: 4 ways to switch pov character

WHO ARE YOU?  The writer chooses the point of view.  The writer becomes the character. - Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

How to write – from a writer unpublished in novel form

Another one of my ‘how to write’ posts which resulted when I had a problem, and solved it by writing it out – for myself, and for anyone else who might write like I do. Admitedly there are – and should be – few people in the category of ‘control freaks with CFS trying to write long complicated novels.’

It doesn’t matter.

I have come along to someone’s blog when I became aware of them, read a post from 2008, and been delighted because it was just what I needed. I’m not promising you delight, mind you – just the things which tickle my fancy (good) or keep me from writing fiction today (bad).

How to switch characters in multiple pov – identify the gap

‘BEING THIS CHARACTER’ – so I can write a scene in a new point of view (pov) – includes accounting for any time since the last time I was this character. Continue reading

X things to do when a character you write makes a choice you don’t like

I think readers of blogs – and search engines – are attracted to the ‘X tips to do Y’ kinds of posts.

I think it’s because they find the idea of a quick and dirty list they can check their own opinions against quickly – by the titles alone if necessary – appealing.

And, if they’re like me, they wonder if they’ll pick up at least one usable tip – which would make skimming the post (ie, reading the subtitles in the list) worth their time.

Unlikable actions by likable characters?

So here we go: characters in fiction often have to do things the reader won’t like – or the story comes to an abrupt halt, fizzles out, or becomes ridiculous. Continue reading

12 ways to prepare to write the next scene in the pov of a different character

Using multiple point of view

Many novels, including my novel-in-progress, Pride’s Children, are written with a multiple point of view (pov). I have three characters who get turns, two women (Kary and Bianca), and a man (Andrew).

Sometimes this is done by giving each character a chapter at a time. I prefer, in the WIP, to tell each scene in a chapter from the pov of the character who has the most at stake – but with no particular rotation. The story dictates who tells it.

More than half of the time, the next scene, after I finish writing or polishing the current one, will be in the pov of a different character. In writing the 26 scenes in the five beginning chapters, I switch to a different pov 16 times.

Why I switch when writing

Continue reading

A peep of Spring hearkens

It’s the Ides of March, and it’s been a long time since it wasn’t really possible to go out and do much gardening until this late in the year (not that I went out, mind you – but I always told myself I SHOULD get out there before the weeds got started, etc., etc.).

The Problem

When you’re disabled – and trying to use your available brainpower and energy for writing fiction – there isn’t a lot left at the end of the day, and the DECISION to go out is very hard to make.

However, I almost always find that I’m glad I did – when I get out for a while.

And it’s a lot easier to enjoy the necessary chores – which I’m sure God invented just for the purpose of getting suburban dwellers out of the house after Winter – when they aren’t critically late already and the weeds have taken over your whole yard. Continue reading

Meditation on a hard winter

It isn’t even the snowiest winter on record, but I will have to drive home into a huge storm.

I sit in my daughter’s living room, looking out at the crusted snow. I have never seen anyone out this window, and today the yard is covered in deep snow.

A round-faced teen boy is walking toward me down the hillside, toward the chain-link fence at the edge of her yard, taking careful steps in the deep snow.

I look at what he’s after: Continue reading

Letting go of previous drafts with gratitude and thanks

Roadblocks ahead

I think I’ve figured out another roadblock.

As I’ve been working on what is close to the final draft of Pride’s Children, I am getting more and more into the territory of a true first draft – scenes I wrote but which have little in the way of polish. Maybe my own limitations has made this extra hard – the ‘big picture’ is a composite of story pixels, only one of which I examine at a time.

These scenes are often even older than I’d like to admit – they pre-date, in some cases, the Great Reorganization undertaken in the Summer of 2007, when 6 pov characters were culled into 3 main pov characters. I had given, to tell the story, each of the main characters a sidekick. Continue reading