Tuesday, October 27, 2015

6 Eyesores to Chop in Writing

I edit my photos like I write. I want clarity and subject. I want to know exactly what I'm looking at. I want all the distractions out of the way so I can admire the view. If anything hinders that, I toss it. First rule: dump the blurry photos. Doesn't matter if it's a great shot; it's not a great shot if it's blurry. There are some I keep just for myself, like if it was a once-in-a-lifetime catch of my kid, but just for me. I don't post it for anyone else. Blurry makes the entire subject an eyesore. If people treated writing like I do photos, there would be more intriguing things for me to read. Like I toss my photos, I toss my books. If I see excessive use of narrating (someone telling me about something, and not letting me experience the moment through the character), I close that book. Especially first couple pages. I'm super picky because my time is valuable. I don't want to waste my day reading a book that could be good. I want to know it's good. (The Shack is still the crappiest book in existence. I don't care how many Christians try to tell me otherwise. I tried three times. I threw it three times.)

The huge turn-offs in reading are found in six eyesores of writing. Want your reader to keep turning the page? Dump the blurry photos.

The 6 (6?) Eyesores:

1. Passive Voice
2. Distracting Prose
3. Said Synonyms
4. Type Usage
5. Telling
6. Cliches

#1 Passive Voice

Active: Sam stabbed Tallis in the face.
Passive: Tallis' face was stabbed by Sam's knife.

Active: I ate the cookies.
Passive: The cookies were eaten by me.

Active: Active is aggressive and hits the point.
Passive: The point which Active hits is aggressive.

Nobody likes beating around passive entrails except politicians, so keep your voice active. In Active, the subject makes the action. Have you ever heard someone talk indirectly? I'd hate to bring up politics again (passive-sounding, did you catch that?), but they're so good at beating the dead Passivity that it's eye-rolling. During the Benghazi hearings, Clinton couldn't come up with a single Yes or No answer. "That could be correct." "That is possible." And so on. Besides making my military blood boil, she makes every use of INDIRECT voice, aka passive. She can't own up to the responsibility of the subject's actions.

Your job is to own up. In dialogue, you need your characters to get to the point because that's what your reader wants. Unless you have that conflicting character who's making life hard for everyone, or is trying to keep a secret. In which case, Clintonify the crap out of that dialogue. Annoy your other characters and annoy the reader. Then at the end of the book, make someone punch that character in the face, because that's what the majority of your readers will want to do.

#2 Distracting Prose

Those over-elaborate details of setting, the character's description (even though the character may not even be noticing these things about themselves), the long sentences with too many adjectives...

...stop it. Read some Stephen King. They're "scary" books. So what? Know what's scary? An angry reader with a tome in their hand waiting to chuck it across the room.

Here's an example page: Declutter Your Prose

When you're writing journalism, you do not use filler words, especially in the first paragraph. News is news, not excessive poetry. In this age, people are fast-paced. Make it so the fast-paced people want something to read in the short amount of time they have between checking Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and calling Mom before lunch break is over.

In fiction writing, don't overstep the "crisp, clear blue water cascading the mountainside, splishing with plumes of mist that cast a veil over the--"

I threw the book away at "crisp" and "clear". I used to write like that. I still might. If I do, and I notice, I growl at myself. Grrr... Yep. You're not the only one I'm hard on. *snorts* Difficult with. That's better. I spend enough time catching myself in my own errors, I really don't need others to do it for me. Color Code Personality: Blue. That's me. Honesty and Rules. I love them. I love rules. I know when to bend them but in distracting prose? No bendy! No breaky! Get to the point!

If you're going into descriptions of setting, make it a short paragraph. Practice journalism and realize what's really important for setting. What is it that your character notices? If it's a male character, do you think they'd notice what shade of pink some girl's lips are? What type of tree they're leaning against? If you leave out detailed descriptions, you give freedom to your artistic fans. You know...the ones that like to draw fan art. Yes. Make them happy. Give them freedom. Make them imagine for themselves what kind of tree he's leaning against. Unless he's an arborist. Then go nuts. But guys don't care about shades of color.

#3 Said Synonyms

One of the best poems I listened to used said over and over again. It didn't matter because it was about the dialogue.

If you keep the "saids" monotonous, it won't distract the reader from what's being said. Fuss over synonyms because you think you said "said" too many times and you're overthinking it. There's a post going around on Pinterest, talking about different ways to say "say"......do not like this. It's for amateur writers who aren't ready for the big books yet. If you're worried about using "said" then you're going to slow yourself down.

I use said even when I know my character is screaming. I use an exclamation point when a character shouts. The exclamation does the shouting for me because I don't use it often. And you don't need to make fence posts out of it.


#4 Type Usage

Italics. Underlines. Fence posts. They're distractions and the reader will come out of your world because they'll notice they've been reading. You don't want them to notice they're reading. You want their eyes to move over words, vessels into your character's eyes. Make them become the character. Type usage goes into deep perspective, or deep point of view.

Leaving out italics kept the words moving. It's Svetlana's perspective, so all words will be hers. The reader is in her head, so any use of italics to show she's thinking is irrelevant. Any underlines for a word she may strongly pronounce isn't necessary if the sentence structure is written well. The reader will get which words are emphasized. They're smart. Let them show you how smart they are. Svetlana wouldn't have an impact on the situation with Caelum if the reader had to read this:

Svetlana looked down at her hands.

If it were that simple then she could just turn her skin to ice.

Her hands frosted over into an amethyst hue.

Now I'm just telling you what she thought with type usage. You're not actually feeling it.

#5 Telling

Will Smith's character in Men in Black brought the viewers along for the ride in the world of sci-fi. If he was just sitting at Kay's desk, being told all the happenings of his new job, there wouldn't be a movie.

Show don't Tell.

We mean it. Get rid of the She thought, he thought; he realized, she saw. It'll look like the story is told to the reader, not the character going through the story. Telling is narrating. Narrating is bad, mmmkay? A character's thoughts are the words. Let them go.


“Holy spades on a rainy day. Did you quad-shot this?” Darlana asked.

“Only for you, my dear.”

Darlana plugged the port into the register; it beeped, and she placed it back in her pocket.

“You are a blessing,” Darlana said, walking away.

The straw never left her lips from the stand to outside. She even maneuvered herself onto the bike without having to drop the cup in her custom holder. How long was she at work for? In all the gloomy, rainy days, today turned out to be clear, and glistening. As Darlana pedaled (one hand on the handlebar), the chilly air nipped her face; she took in the scene, eyes glancing at the array of flowers and bushes about the parking lot, and the birds singing in the trees.

What a perfect day—away from the curse of monotony, away from judgement, away from the hassles of survivalism. She had a credit port to unleash on the sinking ship of capitalism. What a better place to go than where a girl can drown in a sea of fashion: the shopping center.

* * *

Getting coffee is a favorite pasttime, even for characters. Makes people happy. Makes them do things. Splurge, even. A fantastic example (not of coffee) is in The Shining, where Stephen King pulls us into Jack's mind, and uses deep perspective to make us feel Jack's experience. The movie isn't as personal as the book; recommend reading it to gain insight.

#6 Cliches

One of my problems as a writer is coming up with ways to twist a cliche into something original. Watching shows and hearing the characters talk and know exactly what they're going to say--. Hello, eye roll. I went to a writer's workshop where Brad Bell and Jane Espenson discussed several topics, including this one. They showed us a screenplay Bell did with Husbands (?), and how the character said "elephant in the room" without saying it. It was brilliant. They said, "Wow, how'd that elephant get in here" or something like that. I have the screenplay somewhere in my folders. If you catch your characters saying cliche things, maybe because you're just spitting out dialogue, and those words are the first things that pop into your head, then go back, and re-direct the phrases.

In the earlier text, I wrote "beating around the bush" without saying so, but you got the idea. "...beating around the passive entrails..."

It's time we get creative with cliches because there truly is nothing new under the sun...oh look at that...a bible verse. I wouldn't redirect anything from the Bible...but if it needs to be changed in your book, do so. I'm won't leave God out of anything, though. Bad things happen. O_o (<---oh look! distracting type usage!)

Cliches don't have to be about dialogue, either. Characters and genres play into it. I used cliches in my first book to make a point, that not everything is entirely cliche.

A mad scientist is one layer, a bad German accent is another layer, but add everything else into the story--like how he's not so mad, and he's actually a bio-engineer, and he really is German but only his accent comes out when he's stressed, and some other things I can't say cuz it would spoil the story of my first book...

But everyone loves a mad scientist. And everyone makes them their own style. In order for your audience to care about them, there has to be more than mwahahas and crazy hair.

Practice twisting the cliches. Watch what you say and see how people react. Watch a cheesy show. Once Upon A Time is good. Most of what they say on there is total cliche. Sorry, Espenson. I don't know what the writing team was thinking. Riding old characters for several seasons is a Hollywood cliche in itself. Make something new. Stop reliving old ideas. It was nice at first. Now?

Now I'm ranting. I gotta get outta here!

One week until NaNoWriMo. Are you doing it?

I am. Blogs will be shortened for November, if they exist at all. Maybe I'll post crazy somethings to inspire you, or terrify you, into doing NaNoWriMo next year. XD Fun times.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Why You Should Work In Scrivener

Why should you have Scrivener? 
Are you a plotter? A planner? Someone who needs to see the entire book? Maybe you care about the pace and need to see the spaces of your chapters. Do you want to keep all your work in one place without a mess?

My reason? It's awesome. 
Not to sound shallow, I shall explain. I write using note cards. Oh yes. Very messy. But fun, kinesthetically pleasing, and visually-stimulating. I move the cards around the table. I pick colors at random to keep my brain from washing out. 

I'm not getting paid for this. 
Maybe I should. 
I'm saying this because it has saved me tons of time organizing my book. 

Check out this website: Literature and Latte
Download Scrivener. Do it. Do it now.

After you get through and open up Scrivener, take a look around!

Starting off
Chapters/Scenes are like note cards.
Revision Mode! It's like Beast Mode for writers!

Character template is customizable.
Handy dandy Compile means it'll put it into manuscript format for you.
I used to write in Pages. My first book was "posties" on a wall. Don't believe me? Ask my family. My poor, poor family and the giant eyesore of creativity on the entire living room wall. We lived in an apartment at the time. I needed the huge visual to see exactly where the scenes were placed, where I should have filled in the holes of the story, and what I should have taken away. Then I pulled the posties off the wall and wrote them in the computer. Then started on the story.

My first book; my first pickle out of the jar. It was a pain. I devoted my time and tried to get in three hours every day, but I had a lot of stuff going on at the time. I didn't make my personal deadline, but I had gone farther than I ever did in my life. I finished the book after my last move. Whew!

Learning from all the turmoil of writing and organizing, I found note cards are the best for me. Then I discovered there are writing programs that allow you to switch around your chapters if you want. My friend and parents' neighbor told me what he uses, but when I couldn't get it for my computer, I needed to find something else. Found Scrivener. Haven't been happier (well...at least not since I got out of the Navy).

Still skeptical? It's worth every penny. Here's a video from L&L. They pronounce it "Scrivenah" cuz you know...Brits.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

NaNoWriMo Writer's Workshop Webinar 14Oct2015

14 October held the first webinar for NaNoWriMo. These authors have amazing insight into different ways of dealing with their books, managing time, and getting unstuck in their writing. Everybody has different ways of writing. Watch this and find yours.

Just don't listen to the authors when they're talking about snacks. You want your brain to be focused on healthy eating. 


(click on the words, not the image. I'm not HTML savvy enough to make it an easy click.)

* * * * *

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Write What You Want to Know

Write What You Know. I hear many people say this. I also hear many people against prologues yet I've read Clive Cussler and he seems to be doing just fine. Do you really want to be like most people? Most people can be awfully...sheep-like.

Instead, try this:

The challenge is learning something new, or refreshing something you have knowledge of. Maybe you like historical fiction. You write historical fiction. A reliable source (Mom) knew of an author who spent years studying her subject. She'd get into the language, the clothes, the "current" events they would read in the newspaper, and all the details just to write her book as accurately as possible. She'd travel to the location of her setting. She'd take tours, she'd go to the universities and ask for information.

Write what you WANT to know.

People live in this bubble and their knowledge only goes out so far. But I believe humans naturally crave information. They're curious. They have to know things. Anybody or anything that gets in the way of that disrupts what it means to be human. But anything in the way of it knows that it cannot be stopped, even if threats of death breathe into their face. And the more you suppress a human, the more they rebel. The more they think. Why don't you want a human to be curious, they'll think.

Curiosity is a circle. A hungry circle that needs to be fed. Get out of that bubble once in a while and learn.

Want to write about Italian mobsters but live in Britain but can't leave your floral interior-designed loft that smells like your nan? Do it. Go learn. Incorporate your living quarters with your mobster book. Fuse the info that you know and the info you're studying to know.

I'm from the Northwest. I want Russians in my book. I'm studying Russian history (I took it in college and still want more), have books by Russian authors, and books on the language (one for slang, the other for...other). When I heard my pastor lived there and still keeps in contact with his translator, I knew I had to put him in my network. Not only do you need books, you need people. If you want to know more, you have to play nice. I smile and joke a lot. My military-disciplined personality goes a long way.

But if I wrote what I knew...I'd be living a life that I knew years ago that I do not want to go back to. At least right now. Maybe I'll write what I know later.

But as a veteran, I want to escape what I know. I want to write what I don't know. And that makes it fun. Any time I can escape reality, create my own worlds, and dive into them, I'm there. I don't even think writers know what will come out of the world they make. Characters from fantasy just seem to...pop out of nowhere and tell you this is how it's going to be.

Isn't that right, Caelum?
Caelum and Svetlana - "The First" - Monsters & Mercies

Write what you want to know.

You'll grow because you chose to get out of yourself.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Dealing with Deployment: 7 Ways to Help Spouses and Kids

Since military life plays a big part in my survival as a writer, I'm sharing my experiences. All photos are taken by me and are a part of the DDG-60 crew and their families. Respect these photos and do not take them for your own purposes.

Being a Navy veteran doesn't make deployment easier, it makes it more understandable. I've only done three deployments but they were all on CVN-72 aka Stinkin' Lincoln. 5,000 sailors on a floating city takes its toll. My shippies and I believed it ran on despair. The more miserable we were, the better the ship ran. The more happy, we'd lose reactor power. (True story: a fellow cook shared a joke and we all laughed. Seconds later, the galley went dark. One of the reactors went out. So you're damned right we're convinced.)

Now that I'm married and we have an awesome kid, I'm on the other side. I stay at home while my husband plays Navy. He just finished his first deployment as a father--fourth, overall. I don't know how parents do it if they're active or sea duty. That's nuts to be gone that long and away from your kids. Especially for the moms. It's heartbreaking. It takes more than understanding deployment or the military, it takes miles long of perseverance, and strength beyond Wonder Woman's (or Superman's). So I can understand (now) why some females would just snap during deployment. They're not in their element. They're going against every particle of their womanhood; it's biologically unsound to be apart from their children. When their biology is disrupted, everything else is out of whack. It's why I left the Navy. No more turning me inside-out for the good of the world.

There are those who have no choice. Or they choose to stay in because they can handle it. Those are some women. The more the struggle, the more armor they wear. They are genuine heroes. I applaud them.

For those such as myself, who had the choice and chose to be the support team, this is for you.

Master Chief Villanueva with his family.

These are some of the things that got me through deployment. I have very little friends. Some of them barely meet five feet. In seriousness, I prefer staying home in my nest and being with my kid. But there are times when I need to do more than laze about. I need to keep my sanity. How do I survive my husband being deployed? While you're waiting around for homecoming to happen, why not make it come to you faster by getting active?

We're waiting...and waiting...
  1. Exercise
  2. Healthy Eating
  3. Being a Veteran
  4. Put Your Diplomat Dungarees On
  5. Make Sunday Family Day
  6. Get Involved
  7. Pursue Your Hobbies

(1) EXERCISE. Being a Beachbody coach and trying to stay consistent with my fitness groups helped. I'm not a fit guru, or a bodybuilding personal trainer, but I did lose a lot of weight, and never wanted to go back to that old, icky-feeling me. I know what it feels like not working out. I hate it. So I stayed with the fitness.

I involved myself in Stroller Warriors, a running club for military families. They accept anyone to join but it's easier if you have base access as the meet-ups are usually on base. Check your city if you have one. They do Couch to 5k, which is beginner level running. And 5ks and marathons are totally optional. I joined because it's a place for my kid to have a social outing. He gets to play at parks after we run. He's a great coach too. Hahaha. "Ready to go run? Okay! Let's go! Hurry up, Mom!"

No joke. It's a good way to be a good model. My kid also likes working out with me sometimes, especially if it's P90X-3. He loves Tony.

(2) HEALTHY EATING. I get crabby and tired if I carb load. Your body knows if it's not receiving the proper nutrients it needs; your brain will feel it. You might get "edgier" with others, more emotional. Don't forget to eat Vitamin B! Broccoli was the winning vegetable for me. Yep. That rhymed.

Want help eating healthy? Get a hold of me and don't let go. No, really. Don't. I love hugs.

(3) BEING A VETERAN. A weird one. An obvious one. But this helped immensely. Understanding the other side. Knowing exactly what's going to happen on that communist floating prison--I mean--ship. If my husband didn't call for a week, I noticed, but I knew why. I remember everything. I mean...EVERYTHING from my deployments. There would be times I wouldn't call my parents for a month. I worked 18-hour days. I would be happy with my hubby if he told me "can't talk, I got off work early so I'm going straight to bed for a good six hours." Six hours? Hot dog! That's a lot of sleep! You go, dude! Sleep away!

(4) PUT YOUR DIPLOMAT DUNGAREES ON. Be a diplomatic wife with his chain of command. Before my husband's ship pulled out, I handed off a gift bag to my husband the morning of, and told him to deliver it to his senior chief. It contained a letter letting Senior know that I love my husband, he's a very good worker (we used to work together, so I know), and that I am watching you. In a nice way. With that letter was a bag of homemade cookies. Nothing better than homecooking to the military.

If you think you're kissing tail, you're not. You're putting a positive spotlight on your spouse and giving him an attentive barrier. A barrier, meaning, the command will be more lenient if he messes up (he will mess up; everybody does), and they'll take special note that he has a family who's watching out for him, and that'll boost the possibility of getting more opportunities. My husband was going up for first (E-6) and was having a difficult time with the test part. He got awards for good performance at work 'n' stuff. I think that helped. At least...I hope my diplomacy helped with some of that. Keep in mind that everyone on that ship will be under stress and they will forget about those cookies and letters you send. It happens. In the end, it doesn't matter. They'll kick themselves for saying things that shouldn't've been said. Cuz when you see them, you'll thank them for being nice to your spouse (even if they weren't). And you'll thank them for keeping an eye out on your spouse (even if they didn't). You're the diplomat. You're the face of the family. Be civil. It calms the storm on the ship during deployment and the storm at home. It really does help.

(5) MAKE SUNDAY FAMILY DAY. Do it. Pay attention to your kids. My father said Sunday was his favorite day when he was young cuz every night was pajamas, cocoa, and TV. His mom did laundry only on Sundays and cocoa was dinner because they didn't have a lot of money back then. But those were his best times. Make memories with your kids. They love you. If Sunday doesn't work, figure out another day. Schedule the whole week for different things if you want. It's up to you.

You could even go on an extended vacation to see family. That's what I did to kill a few months.

(6) GET INVOLVED. Go on Facebook, find the ship's Ombudsman. He or she will have a page you can follow. They'll ask for some information and then you'll get to know what's going on with the ship. A huge load off your shoulders instead of waiting around for your spouse to tell you, if they know anything at all.

Also, join the ship's Fleet Readiness Group page. You don't have to be a part of the group, but joining the page will give you updates as well as events to show up to. There are parties, meetings, and community work. Knowing exactly what goes on during deployment is what kept me from going full Dependa on people, or just a total jack-monkey. Plus you get to meet people dealing with the same issues you are.

It's a great networking opportunity if you're a photographer, artist, salon specialist, etc.. No shame giving them your business card even if it is just a hobby. You'll connect, meet friends, and time will pass by if you have events scheduled, like helping with homecoming.

Fence cup display event for our ship.

(7) PURSUE YOUR HOBBIES. I had lots of hobbies and care packages to keep me busy. Focus on them!

Practice photography so when homecoming comes around, you'll be better at taking different types of shots.

Do your nails, so when you feel good enough, you can give other military spouses a free manicure. Get some nail stamp plates that nail salons charge lots for a girl just wanting to look pretty. Make it a nail party! Have someone buy the wine if they insist on paying you for a mani-pedi.

Take up painting. Use your garage or maybe go some place peaceful with your canvas and easel. Maybe you like digital painting. Ask your spouse if it's okay to buy Photoshop and a tablet. Artistic route is always good because you can make things for others...including your spouse for a care package or homecoming.

Or if you're a writer (and you are if you've been following my blog), get to work! Is it a novel? Get that outline finished so you can dive into the story. Is your kid hindering you? Get up earlier. You're gonna have to make time if you really want that first draft done.

Have you heard of NaNoWriMo? <----- clicky

Become my writing buddy if you think this November event is a good distraction.

It's a social event that can really help you push your first draft along. My first book's 50,000 words without NaNoWriMo took me half a year, when I was actually focusing on writing. This year I plan on using NaNoWriMo as a fantastic excuse to push through the 50,000 in the 30 days given. 50k, for my first book, was a little over half my first draft. This is doable!

*    *    *    *    *

Before you know it, your sailor will be home.

It takes a lot of patience, planning, and coming up with distractions for you and your kids. Include them in your hobbies. I taught my child how to use my camera. He's a careful type for four years old. We also drew and painted a lot.

When homecoming was a month out, I started contacting family members, friends, and celebrities to send me a short, welcome-home video. I put all the vids together and my son and I added our own flavor.

This is it:

Something you like? Dislike? Is there something you would add? Leave a comment! Don't be shy.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Gone Running - Take Time For You

Since I posted on Saturday, 
I'm taking Tuesday to run my family with Stroller Warriors.

He's usually much more photogenic, but he is chewing a mouthful of Skittles.

Now, now. Don't look at me in that tone of voice. 
Before fitness, I used to look like this:

230# - secretly crying every night because I hated myself

Now that fitness is a part of my life, I look like this:

170# - smiling on the outside and inside

Can I go play with my kid now?
Thank you.


My success is not a secret.
I'll gladly tell you more.
If you want to become more active
and healthy,
contact me: briannetoma@zoho.com.
I'm always your friend first
and can be your Beachbody coach second.

It is always important to take time for you. Don't let your book or whatever else you're working on
swallow your life. If you don't take care of yourself first, how can you take care of anyone else?

Can't share water from an empty basin.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

5 Must-Dos for Creating Believable Characters

She came to you in a dream, at the dinner table, in the shower. What did she tell you? Did she speak at all? Did her looks explain everything?

The majority of writers understand they cannot completely control their characters. Why? When you create them they become their own person. The writer is just there to report the journey through the conflicts they made. 

(If you need help with conflicts, start here: Conflict and Character.)

I've read from several reference books on how I go about creating characters. It's not so much that they help me come up with one, they help me dimensionalize (oh yes, new word) them into helping me create plot. Once you understand your characters it's easier to make the plot-plot-plotting as you type-type-type your pages. Your characters are the ones that move plot as they deal with the conflicts you've put in their way. Does that make sense? Comment if it does or doesn't.

To figure out your character the best way is something we all know and love, but somehow we get the descriptors prioritized differently, perhaps wrongly. What do I mean: the color of your character's hair does not matter when it comes to the reader (unless it's purple, or it's an indicator into something else in the story, or both). The reader cares about caring: the heart, the mind, the soul. Create your character from the inside-out, and let the outside reflect inside. 

Designing Your Character

  1. Establish Goals and Motivations
  2. Prioritize Traits
  3. Believe The Lie
  4. Cue their "Aha" Moment
  5. Flesh Out the Face (and body...and hair)

Here is my character template sheet I customized on Scrivener. If you don't have this application, I wish I could throw it into your computer right now, so you could get to work on it right away. But I can only send you this handy link from Literature & Latte. (It's a free trial; please take advantage! I adore Scrivener. It makes outlining and note-keeping so much easier. I'm an index-card kinda gal and this app really works for me. )


Look at all that craziness. Okay. It's not totally crazy. Actually makes some sense. Are you ready for the explanations? Here we go:

  • Establish Goals and Motivations

  • This is foremost because this is your plot-driver. Your character is nothing without desire, and your book is plotless if the character isn't wanting enough to be motivated. Establish a concrete goal and figure out why they are motivated to achieve it. 

    A motivation might be an over-protective family and the goal might be freedom to be their own person. 

    I have a character who comes from an abusive household. She wants to be independent and do her own thing but her family restricts her. The motivation might also be the conflict. It depends and that's another subject. Focus!

  • Prioritize Traits

  • You don't want an info-dump to make the reader groan and toss your book aside (or over the fence...cough). Put your character in pieces throughout your story. What trait do you want to show first? Choose wisely. The first trait is the one that'll stick to them the entire book. Like a first impression. This trait will be in their first scene. Are they a womanizer? Lazy? Hot-headed? Family-oriented? You choose. And then choose another. Remember Shrek? Your characters are onions. Make them sweet, sharp, or purple (purple poppin' everywhere today!), but peel the layers one by one, and give your reader a taste. Just a taste.

  • Believe The Lie

  • The Lie is their belief. What do they strongly believe in? What are they convinced about that is their truth? 

    Possible Lies: 
    • all women are manipulative See-You-Next-Tuesdays
    • You can only rely on yourself
    • money brings happiness
    • people are too stupid to live independently
    • killing murderers is not murder, it's justice
    K.M. Weiland wrote an excellent post on Believing the Lie and it's where I got all the questions for it: The Lie Your Character Believes

  • Cue their "Aha" Moment

  • Characters will grow. They will change. Their belief system may be shattered. An "aha" is the moment of realization. Their Lie will be put in the spotlight and crushed before the character's eyes. Truth rises from The Lie's remains and the character sees everything, from their first scene up to the "Aha" moment. What has changed? Why? How? If your character has no "aha" moment, there is no growth, and the reader will be left empty, and your book flying over their fence.

  • Flesh Out the Face (and body...and hair)

  • I said the outside should reflect the inside. Now is the time to look at their personality through their goals and motivators, their traits, and beliefs, and consider their physical appearance. A lot of factors come into play here: their location, origin, discipline, vocation, positive or negative traits, finances, etc..

    You're not going to have a soldier with long hair and a beard (unless they're special ops) but maybe they have a tattoo that indicates something more. Or a woman who is very uptight and doesn't have a single wrinkle in her wardrobe. Maybe you have a rebel teen who can't afford a professional haircut, so they cut and dye their own hair against their parent's wishes.

    Physical descriptions are lesser priority than what will help move your story. There are a couple exceptions that I use, but they don't overrule the goals and motivations which push the characters through conflict.

    Ultimately, it's up to you. I have given you my template in hopes of inspiring you to build your characters with depth.

    My character sheet is from months of adding and subtracting what I need to make it work for me. As you can see, I have "Food" and "Song" as a helper.

    I'm a former chef who worked in the Navy for eight years. The culinary world is a part of me and I know how it feeds into people's lives (you see what I did there?). Favorite food might not be priority, but it gives me perspective on my character. Kinda like going out on a date with them outside the book and just seeing them as a person. That's this blog, by the way: Dating Your Characters.  Their food doesn't even have to show up in the book; it's just something to help dimensionalize them.

    Just like the Song, which is my interpretation of their theme. When I need some motivation to write and need to get into a character's head, I have a playlist. But their theme song generalizes that playlist. For instance, my boy Caelum's song is "King Me" by Lamb of God. I listen to it if I need to and feel the anger, the frustration, the driving factor of him. That's why it's in the template. Add Song to your template, if it helps you.

    What would you add to your template? Would you take away anything? Please comment below and tell me if this helped or didn't help. I'd love to hear from you.

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    Thursday, October 1, 2015

    Conflict and Character

    Apologies if my posts for this week and next seem distracted. I have good reason: my husband returned from deployment! Yay! We've missed him fiercely, especially our little monster. Happy to be under the same roof again.

    We're Whole Again
    As a military family, we are bombarded with obstacles. We signed up to serve our country (yes, I served for a while, but got out when we had our son) and face conflict only 1% of this nation will ever experience. Those conflicts are why I love fantasy genres. Anything to escape our reality is the best story, as long as it is, really, the best. I want a book that entertains and steers my mind from current events, the real world. I want conflict that I won't deal with if I was at sea or at home. I want an escape.

    But I also want to relate to the characters. Conflict with unappealing characters means I close that book, either putting it down, or throwing it across the room. Maybe I won't even touch it at all...(cough) Twilight.

    I mean no one is going to care about my husband working in the Navy if they don't understand why he puts up with the deployments all the time. There's conflict and then there's character. It's characters that drive the story. Conflict only propels them to reveal who they really are.

    One reason I started writing is because I got sick of people eating up these awful books that have the weakest female characters in the world. They're not role models and they sicken me. They get published and I can see why: the conflict is believable in its genre, but the characters are lacking for some reason. Maybe it's just me, but I don't find boring personalities entertaining. They're...boring. Or annoying. This usually happens when their motivations are lackadaisy.

    So how do you get out of that rut? I have some characters that I debate on allowing their existence. But I set them aside because I know they're not ready to tell me who they really are. Or I have characters that I never knew existed and there they are. My prot goes into another world and I'm just as surprised as she is to find out all the different people that live there. And it works for me. If I'm not intrigued, the reader isn't intrigued. It's a journey I love to go on despite my need-for-control quirks. Because if the story isn't driven by the characters you know and not know, then the story isn't believable. The conflict is there but the characters are who go through the conflicts. If you force them to go through the motions to solve situations, readers will know.

    I can go into great detail on creating characters that aren't boring but that's very basic and I think new writers have more potential for nailing this part than they do balancing out conflict with character. So let's focus on the balance.

    What is CONFLICT? Anything that hinders your character to satisfy her desires. Much different from a delay or incident, like a gun just out of reach when a victim falls while the attacker is closing in. The conflict is the attacker, not the delay, which is the gun inches from fingers.

    Conflict will exist when your character has a goal. Make this goal clear to your reader.

    For example: (Goal) Svetlana wants to be her own person. (Conflict) Her father, Ruslan, forces her to join the military.

    The conflict will elevate when both try their hardest to achieve their goals. What makes this more dynamic is understanding the inner conflict that goes with the external. Sveta's external is her dad, and her internal would be her rebellious nature, or maybe her insecurity to stand up to him.

    And goals will change because the person changes. And that's fine. What is important is that the reader must care about the character before the conflict matters. Most readers are character-driven. Humans are social creatures and naturally seek connections with others. If they don't care, they won't read. The conflict will bring the story to life by the character's motivation to reach their goals, and the reactions brought on by the conflict. Your story's core is emotion. Why is the character pushing through to the end? Why should we care?  Answer these for yourself. Ensure your story has characters we'll care about.

    In the book Writing with Emotion, Tension, & Conflict, Cheryl St.John writes this principle: "What the character is doing is not as important as why he is doing it. What's happening is not as important as how he reacts to what's happening."

    I highly recommend this book to study her take on conflict, although I disagree with her when she says that being angry and bickering "is acceptable for antagonists because it characterizes them, but your protagonists must have more depth." She talks about conflict not being the foot-stomping moments. What I disagree with is prots being more in depth than antagonists. The ant and the prot should be equally-motivated, if not more.

    Antagonists are the ones with the most depth, I have read. They are the characters I love because they have relatable reasons to do what they do. You see? It's character-driven, not conflict. When the story has two characters with believable motivation to achieve their goals no matter what conflict, it makes for a more compelling read. When you adamantly know every character's motivations, you will soar through your writing. And St.John also explains this. And I agree with her. But let that antagonist shine.

    Find some writing exercises to help develop your conflict and understand your character's motivations. Choose your protagonist, and come up with one sentence to describe their goal. Is their goal based on the conflict or is it based on personal desires? Will their goal change throughout the story or remain the same?

    Do the same for your antagonist. Are they the conflict to the protagonist or is it something else? Will their goal change?

    How might each character's inner conflict fight their external conflict? Will they think one way and act another?

    Have fun this weekend! I'll be spending quality time with my sailor and catching up on some personal development. Later kiddos.