5 Things Your Protagonist Probably Shouldn’t Do

May 17, 2010 at 5:50 am (Character, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Unless, of course, there is a valid reason.

Under most circumstances these are 5 things that protagonists shouldn’t be getting up to.

1.  Waiting for another character to solve all of the problems and hand them a nice tidy package.  I’m not pointing fingers at any single, scarred, boy wizard for this one (in one of his later books), but protagonists should be actively involved in trying to work through the conflicts, not passively sitting on the sidelines waiting for someone to tag them and say that it is now time for them to get involved.

2.  Getting over things. This one is something I’ve found in quite a few stories that I’ve started reading and then abandoned. Midway through a major conflict the character just get’s over it and decides that something is no longer important.  If your protagonist gives up caring about a problem, odds are the reader is going to as well.

3.  Getting side tracked and never returning to the original complication. Yes, side plots are great but if your protagonist gets tangled up in a side plot to the point where the original problem is left dangling and never resolved then this is going to bother your reader.

4.  Have a personality transplant midstory.  There is a difference between developing a character and throwing out a character midway through the plot and suddenly having a doppelgänger with the same name but no other resemblance to the original character running around.

5.  Drop dead in the second act. By all means, kill your protagonist off if the story calls for it, but if we’ve been following this character so far and now they are dead and there is still almost a third of the story to go, as reader’s we are going to feel resentful.

What do you think?  Is there any thing your protagonist should just not do?

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Lots of Links

May 16, 2010 at 6:26 am (Thoughts on Writing, Weekly Review) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Not reflecting on the week anymore – mostly because I don’t know from week to week whether I’m going to be online or off anymore (hopefully I’ll be online more often than off).  However, I still want to share some great writing links so here they are.

I’ll start with the self-promotion and get it out of the way.  If you haven’t checked out Death’s Daughter, here’s the link.  Or you can read an excerpt here. And if you happen to have a kindle you can buy it from Amazon here.  Self-promotion over and onto some useful links for all the writers out there.

My Pick

Let the Words Flow asks nine writers whether they outline their plots before writing.  Some great insight.

Other Links

  • Jane Friedman from There Are No Rules has once again shared a list of the best tweets for writers – which comes with a whole lot of links that writers may find helpful. Well worth checking out.
  • Helen Ginger on Straight from Hel looks at the use of details in a story.
  • Beth Groundwater on Inkspot shares some useful brainstorming techniques.

Hopefully some of these links will be helpful for you and if you have some other links that you would like to share, feel free to leave them in the comments. Just try to make sure they are writing related. Thanks.

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How did Calandra get her name?

May 15, 2010 at 7:29 am (Character, Death's Daughter, fantasy) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Okay, it was brought to my attention prior to publishing Death’s Daughter that Cassandra (my name) and Calandra (my protagonist’s name) are kind of similar.  There are two things I have in common with my protagonist. One – we both like boots. I have a serious liking for wearing boots and my protagonist is equally obsessed.  Two – our names start with the letter C and have a similar number of syllables.

Possibly people who know me will point out a few other similarities but as far as I’m concerned, those two points are it.  I love Calandra as a character, particularly as she grows throughout the story, but I don’t know that I would ever want to be compared to being too much like her.

So, how did Calandra Delaine end up with such a name?

I remember reading a book as a child where one of the characters were called Callie. I always thought it was a great name. When I started writing the story I decided I’d like for another character in the story to call the protagonist Callie in an affectionate way and then I had to find a full name that could conceivably be shortened to Callie (It seemed like a good idea at the time). I pulled out a dictionary of names and narrowed it down fairly quickly.  Here are some of the easily rejected names:

  • Calanthe
  • Calliope
  • Callista

As you can see, not a lot of choice. Besides, I read the name Calandra and I just knew. I had found the name my character needed. If I ever had second thoughts about it, Calandra would be sure to point out to me that she knows her own name and that she would not stand for me arbitrarily changing it on her.

cover art

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I Am Not A Blade of Grass

May 12, 2010 at 6:31 am (Editing, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , )

Okay, I am aware that the list of things I am not would far surpass the list of things that I am.

I’ve recently realised that despite my being part of gen Y and being fully aware that language is a dynamic, living, changing  thing and that I am a very big fan of splitting infinitives and breaking other traditional grammatical rules, I am not simply going to go wherever the wind is blowing.

Specifically, I’ve recently realised that when I’m reading other people’s blogs, I don’t mind the occasional spelling error or sentence fragment. Most of us write blogs quickly, do a once over and a spell check and that’s about it. If someone points out a massive error in the comments, maybe go back and edit. Blogs are not generally going to be a perfectly polished type of text. Some people will disagree with me and I know there are people who spend ages over each blog and that works for them.

Despite that, it really bothers me when I’m reading a blog and it isn’t punctuated. I’m not talking about every comma being in the right place and correct use of semi-colons, I’m just talking about basic full stops and capital letters with an occasional apostrophe. It really puts me off to the point where I don’t remember the content at all. Same with lower case I’s. It doesn’t take that much more effort to tag the shift key while typing to make it a capital.

Maybe this is me being overly pedantic about things other people don’t find important but there we have it. It interferes with my ability to enjoy content.

I’d love to hear your opinion.

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Response to Writing Blind

May 11, 2010 at 7:39 am (Planning, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I ran across a post by Kyle on his blog “Exercise in Futility” called Writing Blind and really started thinking.  Kyle asks:

How much should I know about my story before sitting down to start on a draft?  Should I have the entire plot mapped out, with all the main plot points, or should I just go with it, and write whatever comes to mind?

And really, we all ask that question from time to time. We get an idea, get really excited and maybe want to leap straight into writing, and some people have to start writing straight away or they lose that spark, that fire, whatever it is that drives them to write the idea down. Others know from experience that they have to have at least an outline, while others still won’t consider drafting without detailed chapter by chapter break downs and six hundred colour coded notes on each character.

I’ve come to understand my own writing pattern fairly well and ever I still wonder whether I could do it better. I don’t plan too much. Mostly because I don’t look at any of my notes once I start writing the first draft. I just don’t. I close my eyes and type and when I feel my fingers slowing I read what I’ve written and sometimes start writing again and sometimes read blogs or tweets or go watch television or do some other work until I feel ready to write again.

However I never start a draft without having written out an outline and character profiles and concept maps. I have a notebook with all of these things in it. I just don’t use them once I’m writing.

My theory is it is a safety net. It’s like when I used to play the clarinet. I would practise a piece over and over again. I could play it perfectly. It could play it without ever actually looking at the music and I knew this because half the time I would forget to turn the page of the music. However, if someone took the music away I suddenly would freeze and wouldn’t be able to tell you what the first note was. The music was my safety net. I didn’t need it, but it made me feel like I knew what I was doing and so I was fine.

My note book with my plans is my safety net. If I get really, really stuck on something and I desperately want to finish it (though usually when I’m that stuck it is because what I’m working on is rubbish) I can go back and see where I was meant to be going and where I’ve gone wrong. That and I usually remember most of what I’ve written down in the book anyway and so I’m following the plan and just adding bits to it and tweaking it as I go.

And that works for me.

The advice I read many time, given to me by many of the bloggers out there, when I first started trying to write for something more than my own enjoyment was that every writer has to find what works for them. Read what others do and then try some of the different suggestions but don’t feel like there is some ‘right’ way to accomplish the task.

Incidentally, I would love to hear what is working for other people at the moment because I’m always looking for new ideas.

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One Method That Isn’t For Me

May 9, 2010 at 8:57 am (Character, fantasy, Setting) (, , , , , , , , )

I recently considered the plight of some of my characters and the fact that I put them through so many things I’ve never experienced. This is a small dilemma because I am often left wondering whether the character is actually responding realistically to the situation. I am not the character and I am not going through what they are. All I can do is imagine if I was that person, how would I feel.

That, and read other accounts of similar experiences and research how people have responded to certain events and read psychological discussions etc, etc. Does that enable me to actually understand how my character will feel? Maybe, maybe not. I hope it does enough that I don’t horribly offend any one with a lack of sensitivity.

Considering this, I momentarily wondered if maybe I should actually try to experience some of what my characters go through. Obviously I wouldn’t want to experience most of what I put them through (I would hate to be one of my characters in most of their situations) but it wouldn’t hurt to move a bit closer to understanding them.

The example is one I was playing around with earlier today.

I have a character who is hiding in a tree over night and is trying to sleep. Sleeping in a tree doesn’t strike me as being a fantastically comfortable experience and to be perfectly honest I’m not certain you could brace yourself appropriately and actually sleep.

I started looking at various trees and considering the possibilities.

Finally, I found a fantastic tree that had nice wide, reasonably flat branches, close together and with enough cross branches that you could conceivably brace yourself in the midst of them all and not plummet to your death.

I looked up at them. I wondered what it would feel like to be up there.

Then common sense kicked in.

I am not about to scale a really smooth trunk of a tree to reach branches that may or may not be sturdy enough to support my weight and then attempt to fully relax and hope that somehow I don’t fall sideways and crash to the ground, almost certainly breaking bones. How do you explain that to the ambulance attendant? By the way, I was just checking if a fictional character could sleep in a tree?

I think I’ll just imagine what it would be like and continue to try to put myself in the place of the character and hope I don’t go too far beyond the realm of possibility. Though given it is a made up tree in the story, I think I’ll go out of my way to design it so that it seems slightly more plausible that she didn’t roll out in the middle of the night and crash to her death.

How about you? Do you ever wonder what it would be like to be your character?

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I Wish I Could Draw

May 8, 2010 at 5:16 am (fantasy, Setting, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , )

Right now it would be a very useful skill.  See, I had that brilliant idea of a character and the story is literally falling into place around her, only I had this dream the other night that was filling in a lot of holes in my story plot but it took place in this fantastic setting.

It was this enormous rock dome with this central pillar type thing, which was actually like a multi-level sky scraper and there were other pillars that also had various buildings inside and they were connected by these smooth rock walkways (that of course had no rails or any means of preventing people from tumbling to their death).  The entire thing was very clear in my dream and became pivotal in this scene I was envisioning and I can see it really clearly when I close my eyes but can’t really think of how to explain it.

This brings me back to the idea where I wish I could draw. Then I could map it out on paper and see how it looks when not inside my head and that would help me figure out how to describe it so someone other than me could make sense of it.

I did actually try to sketch it.  It kind of looks like a wilted mushroom and it wasn’t particularly inspiring.

In the next few days I’m going to sit down and just close my eyes in front of the computer and walk through the scene.  I’ll see it in my head and let my fingers run over the keyboard and see what I come up with.  Probably some weird word vomit but you never know.  I might just figure out the words to describe it and then I’ll be back into tweaking my plan so that this story actually goes somewhere.

Have you ever seen something in a dream, known it was going to be perfect, and been unable to explain it in words?

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The Case of The DOA Idea

May 6, 2010 at 8:17 am (Character, Thoughts on Writing, Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

I was going to plunge into a new writing project a few weeks ago.  That was a funny idea in itself given how unfocused I’ve been in recent times but what was even sillier was that the idea I had come up with was terrible.

Terrible might not be the right word.  I’m sure every idea has merit, somewhere, hidden, deep down inside.  Maybe someone else could make the idea quite a workable writing project.  It won’t be me.

It doesn’t really matter what the idea was.  I’m sure we’ve all had flashed of inspiration and then realised that they were all flash and no substance.  This was worse than that.  It was all flash and no substance but left a really bad smell lingering in its wake.  The kind of smell that sits on your shoulder and whispers in your ear that there is something to the idea.  It isn’t dead yet. The kind of smell that makes you keep returning to the point of origin but you don’t have the heart to get rid of.

This idea was dead on arrival.  I should have just dismissed it, jotted it down in one of my endless notebooks and gotten rid of it, and yet something kept drawing me back.  I kept thinking I could, somehow, make this idea work.

Many failed plot plans and an opening chapter later, I finally conceded defeat.  Should I have admitted it earlier? Most definitely but it isn’t all bad news.

I came up with a name.  And then a face.  And then a brilliant idea for a character.  Since then I have planned a really intriguing plot and run it by a few friends who have helped me tweak the idea and fix it into something that is more or less workable.  The name and the character were part of the failed idea.  What made me decide to call the other project dead was the fact that I loved this character I had come up with and hated everything about what they were doing in the original outline.  I took the character and cut the rest loose.

Maybe this is just my flimsy rationalisation for holding onto things I shouldn’t, but I think that I needed one idea to die for another to come about.  It worked at least and I am ready to plunge headlong into the fun process of beginning a first draft.

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What’s the Secret?

February 11, 2010 at 5:36 am (Character, Planning) (, , , , , , , , )

I was recently reading Elizabeth Spann Craig’s post on Secrets and it really got me thinking because I’m currently weaving a few of these through my most recent story (which was going well and then I rewrote the beginning and then I got busy with work and so is now in the plan and replan phase but I think will work out once I have the time to put some serious work into it – wow, that was a long explainer).

Anyway, I really enjoyed reading Elizabeth’s post and found it really useful because she includes a list of what secret’s are good for in a story and that helped me focus on why I was trying to put the secret into the story in the first place. Once I figured out the purpose of having characters keep secrets from one another and why they were necessary to the story it all suddenly fell into place and now I’m wishing I had the time to really write.

Secrets are one of my favourite plot devices. I love it when we, as the reader, know more about what is going on than any one particular character and I also love it when we’re kept in the dark but once the secret is revealed all the little hints and clues fall into place. What I don’t like is when the story tangles itself into an unmanageable mess and one of the characters suddenly says “oh, don’t worry. I haven’t told you…” That is very much like throwing a ghost in at the last minute just to solve all the problems and wrap it up nicely when there is nothing earlier in the story to support this sudden revelation.

Following on from Elizabeth’s post I started thinking about what sort of characters keep secrets. We all know that in real life some people just couldn’t keep a secret if their life depended on it and others like to throw smug looks around like the cat that got the cream while they wait for someone to ask them what they know. They have to share but they have to be prompted to do so. Then there are those who file the secret away and simply get on about their business. Even when asked to share they simply dismiss it as unimportant and move on. Then there are those who share it but only with their best of friends, because they have to tell someone but they don’t really want to reveal the secret. Of course, as trustworthy as their friends are if they are the type that can’t keep a secret that secret is going to get out.

Can your characters keep a secret and what would they keep hidden?

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Why Yoga and Kittens Don’t Mix

February 10, 2010 at 5:37 am (Character, Tension, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , )

Or, why some situations are just doomed to end in tears.

I try to do yoga everyday. What that means is, I do it everyday on holidays and maybe once over the weekend once I’m back at work because I just do not find the time and when I have the time, I don’t have the energy. Occasionally I’ll manage the time during the week and I’m really glad about it because I feel so much better.

Unfortunately, my kitten seems to think that when I am stretching out on a mat that is must be an invite for her to come running over and to try to get pats. She rolls over my feet and if I’m lying down she’ll try to crawl onto my stomach and curl up and go to sleep, which doesn’t work for me when I’m about to move and try to keep the routine flowing. Clearly this is a situation where I am not going to win. Yes, I can put her in a different room and shut the door but that seems kind of mean and she is really cute and if it comes to a choice between spending time with my cat and yoga, the cat will win.

There are lots of these situations in real life where it is quite obvious that even though there are ways around a problem, it just isn’t going to happen. It is better just to concede and move on.

However, what if our protagonist was simply to concede and move on. They’ve been driven for page after page to accomplish something and finally they’ve decided to pass. How disappointing would that be?

The difference is that while I like yoga it is clearly low on my priorities (or at least lower than keeping my kitten happy). I work, I write, I spend time with family, I spend time reading, I spend time with friends, I watch television and let my brain take a break, I go for walks, I have lots of things that I do throughout the week that take priority over yoga. So, when I walk away from it, I’m still driven toward my goals.

Protagonists can walk away from things so long as they still have their main goal ahead of them. In point of fact it may make them more interesting if they are forced to make tough choices and give things away in order to achieve their other goals. It may be that they could save the world if only they didn’t try to bail their sister out of jail and left her to sort her own problems out. The protagonist may worry over this choice but in the end the choice is obvious.

In my life, yoga and kittens are not mixing well. For the protagnoist in my WIP her day job and her boyfriend are colliding and one is going to have to go. What choices do your protagonists face?

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