5 Motivations For Your Character to Cross the Road

September 17, 2010 at 5:25 am (Character, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

We all know our characters actions need to be guided by some sort of motivation. A character that simply reacts gets frustrating, and characters that have no logical consistency are usually unbelievable. So here’s the question for your character. Why would they cross a road?

My 5 suggestions:

1. Greed – They realised that by crossing the road there was something in it for them. Either something waiting for them or something to be gained. Either way, greed is a powerful motivator and most characters would cross a road for it (some would cross deserts, mountains, or outer space for it).

2. Love – Isn’t that sweet? Their true love is on the other side or they will prove their love by crossing. Doesn’t matter, either way, love is a powerful motivator.

3. Loss – Someone who has lost their way or lost a love one may cross the road just wondering whether the other side offers them anything to take away the pain. Or they may have made a promise to someone who is now gone and crossing the road will help them keep it.

4. Curiosity – Not such a good motivator because usually it is used when there is no good reason for characters to act in a certain way and so they ‘just want to see’ something. Still, if you’ve established your character as someone who likes to stick their nose into other people’s business you can probably make curiosity work.

5. The next logical step – If your character is on route somewhere then crossing the road might simply be the next logical step on their journey.

The point being here that characters need a reason to do things and as long as you, the writer, are clear about why they are doing something and it makes sense to the audience, everyone will end up happy. We usually don’t wonder why our characters cross roads but the same could be said of opening a door, running up a flight of stairs, taking that trip somewhere, or any of the other decisions our characters have to make.

What is your answer? Why would your character cross the road?

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Guest blog with Alex J Cavanaugh

September 13, 2010 at 5:40 am (September Blog Tour) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Note from Cassandra: Thanks Alex for hosting me on your blog today and thanks for your guest post here on the realm. I hope everyone enjoys reading your thoughts.

In Tune with Writing

Every writer needs inspiration. We can envision a great story, but if we’re not inspired as we write, it falls into the neglected pile of incomplete projects. How do we maintain motivation for our characters and scenes?

It’s no secret I’m a music lover. Music moves me on every level. It uplifts me when I feel down or depressed. Music channels my anger when rage threatens to get the better of me. Since music affects my mood, I decided to use that to my advantage when writing.

Every scene possesses a mood. An action scene contains tension. A tragic scene boasts angst. A love scene… well, that one’s obvious! But regardless of the moment, there’s atmosphere and mood in every scene we create.

This is where music comes into play. A soundtrack sets the tone in movie; the tempo dictates the pace and flow of emotion. It can do the same for our writing. I always listen to music when writing, selecting the best composition for each scene.

When I need to amp up the tension or focus on an action heavy scene, I select something heavy and fast. The rapid tempo conveys a sense of urgency and helps me to focus on a dire situation. The music magnifies the moment. I pour the resulting energy into my words, letting the rhythm carry the story. As an added bonus, I write faster as well.

For emotionally charged scenes and intense character interactions, I select music that fits the mood. It can be slow or fast, but it must stir the emotions. The feelings provoked by the music help me channel a character’s frustration, despair, or jubilation into coherent phrases and words. I connect on a more personal level with my characters, adding depth to their personalities.

Music allows me to feel what I am writing. It places me in the scene and inside my characters’ heads. If you’re seeking inspiration or connection with your work, try music. It helps me stay in tune with my writing!

Alex J. Cavanaugh
Website: http://alexjcavanaugh.blogspot.com/

Note from Cassandra: By the way, if you don’t know, Alex’s first book is going to be released in October. Check out the details and the trailer here.

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Guest Post from Laura Diamond

September 12, 2010 at 5:48 am (September Blog Tour) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Note from Cassandra: I’m over on Laura’s blog today but she has come to visit us here in the realm to tell us about her writing schedule. Thanks Laura for being here today. After you check out her post here, hop on over to Laura’s blog to check out my post for today.

****

Gosh, I’m so excited to be a part of Cassandra’s blog tour. What an exciting month, right? Cheers, Cassandra, for all the hard work you’ve put into organizing this international writer fest!

I’ve been asked countless times about how I squeeze writing into my schedule. I’m going to preface this with a disclaimer. You see, I think my answer is a non-answer, but it’s the reality. Okay, drum roll, please!

I don’t schedule writing time. Nope. I don’t.

Why? Because if I did, I’d feel pressure to write, no matter the quality or topic. For me, pressure creates angst and frustration. Angst and frustration actually makes me freeze up. I get too caught up in things like: What should I write about? What if it sucks? What if I can’t find the right words? What if it doesn’t turn out the way I want it?

Notice most of those questions have a negative connotation. SO not cool. Once the negativity wheel starts spinning, I dig myself deeper and deeper into a rut and my writing stagnates like a 1000 year old bog. Stinky. Yuck.

So I don’t even go there.

Sure, I still have goals and I still work really hard to obtain them. For the most part, I do get some writing in every day, but I don’t go all ballistic and start berating myself if I don’t. I trust myself and my brain that the right words will come out if I let them come at their own pace.

Yes, it’s true that I will go days, sometimes weeks, without writing. And that’s okay. Because my brain is still processing things even if I’m not actively thinking about it. I can tell because when I DO sit down to write, the magic happens. An idea strikes. A dialogue snafu gets smoothed. A plot hole gets filled in.

It all works out.

That being said, everybody develops their own strategy to apply to their writerly life and I’d LOVE to hear your routine for writing!

**********

Laura is a board certified psychiatrist and hopes to become a published author. She writes adult and young adult urban fantasy, fantasy, and dystopian fiction. Her blog: Diamond, Yup, Like the Stone http://lbdiamond.wordpress.com/.

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Guest Post from Sonya Clark

September 7, 2010 at 5:55 am (fantasy, September Blog Tour) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Note from Cassandra: It brings me great pleasure to introduce Sonya Clark today. Her debut fantasy novel ‘Bring on the Night’ is available from Lyrical Press. Thanks Sonya for hosting me on your blog today and thanks for sharing your thoughts today on your writing process. Hope you all enjoy this fantastic post and then jump on over to Sonya’s blog to check out my interview.

My writing process tends to be inconsistent and chaotic. Sometimes I outline, frequently I fly by the seat of my pants. Sometimes I start with a character, other times a plot or situation. Sometimes the words come quickly and I’m riding the rapids without a kayak. Sometimes I’m dragging a story, heavy and manacled to my body in rusty chains, across the desert Ray Bradbury called Dry Spell, Arizona. Hopefully one day I’ll figure out a sure-fire method to consistent writing.

One thing I have learned is how to start the actual narrative. I write urban fantasy, an action-heavy genre to be sure, but I think this could work for just about any genre. When I first started writing I made the newbie mistake of starting with set-up and background. I thought I needed that to set the stage, so to speak. I didn’t realize what I was doing was the dreaded info dump. I had a manuscript I was unhappy with. Well, I was happy with the manuscript but the beginning was seriously lacking. It was way too low-key and did a poor job of introducing my main character, a vampire named Jessie. One thing I tend to do when I’m having trouble with a manuscript is take a detour, write a short story or flash fiction about a character or two. It helps me learn about the characters and I’ve found it’s a good way to get past a block in the main work. So I did this with Jessie, and liked what I came up with so much I used it as the beginning of Bring On The Night. Rather than tell what she was all about, this showed it. From that experience I learned to always start with action. Find a way to introduce your main character that shows what they’re all about, and fill in the background details later.

Here’s an excerpt from that opening scene:

“Or are you one of those guys who want to take what you want, but you don’t want to put

the hurt on? Huh? You too tender-hearted to listen to some poor girl scream and cry and beg for

mercy?”

“But that’s not how I roll.” She laced the fingers of one hand in his hair and pulled his head

back sharply, black eyes boring into his. “I like to put the hurt on, and I want you to remember

every second of it when you wake up.” She leaned closer, close enough he should have been able

to feel her breath on his face. “If you wake up and you go looking for more girls to drug, you might want to think of tonight as a cautionary tale.”

She opened her mouth. He watched in horror as two teeth began to elongate into sharp,

curved fangs. He began to scream as she lowered her mouth to his neck, struggling in vain to free himself. Her fangs sank into his flesh like hot knives, ripping and tearing as she jerked her head. The blood began to flow, followed by the echo of his screams.

**

Learn more about Sonya Clark at her blog. Bring On The Night is available for purchase from Lyrical Press and the Amazon Kindle store, as well as other ebook retailers.

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Guest Post with Eric

September 1, 2010 at 5:34 am (September Blog Tour) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

Note from Cassandra: I’m visiting Eric’s blog today but he has generously agreed to guest post here in the realm. Thanks Eric, it is great to have you here. After you’ve checked out Eric’s post, pop on over to Working My Muse and check out the first post of my blog tour.

First off I’d like to say a huge thank you to Cassandra for having me at Casa ‘del Jade.  Guest blogging here (being the first person, no less) is awesome beyond words.  But since you’re all expecting at least a few words, I guess I better become temporarily brilliant.

When I began to search my brain for a topic, I’ll be honest;  I became a little stressed.  While I do have my own flair, this is a new type of fun and puts blogging on a whole new level.  And fronting for Cassandra is pretty dang cool.  This thought took me down an interesting path however, and I began thinking about my characters.

When we write our stories, it’s expected that our characters deal with change, with difficult situations.  This is part of what helps propel our stories forward and keep the reader interested.  But isn’t it reasonable to have our characters get a little stressed from time to time?  And how do we show that in our writing?  One way we can describe this is through physical effects.  For example, I tend to get cold sores on the inside of my lip when I get too stressed.  If I really get stressed out, upset stomach is an indicator.  I can imagine something similar for my characters.

What about situational descriptions?  If my characters come upon a body, torn apart from some unknown violence, do they just abstract about the nature of death or do they lose a bit of their usual cool demeanor?  Consider the following conversation:

“Oh damn Billy, that guy’s dead.  Lookit how his arm is hangin’ kinda wrong.  And his head is split open like one of those punkins you toss out at Halloweenie.”

“Yep, he ain’t with us no more.  Can’t tell who he was, but them tears along his belly look almost like Freddy Kruger claws.  Weird, huh?  So you wanna go get some pizza?”

Now unless you’re looking for a comedic moment, the reader might be expecting a little more from these two characters stumbling across an obviously mangled body.  Dead bodies usually cause sane people to freak out a little.  Perhaps one of them just crumbles on the floor, wailing in agony while the other one is more interested in investigating what happened to the poor chap.  However you choose to deal with this situation, moments like these are a great opportunity to show characterization.  The only caveat I would add is to avoid clichés or stereotypical responses to stress.  If it fits your character honestly, then cool.  But if it sounds like the same ol’ phrasing everyone uses, you probably want to avoid it.

To sum up, stress doesn’t have to be a bad thing, especially when we’re writing a story.  Stress is one of the best moments we can use to bring our characters alive, make them truly real.  Just keep the writing honest, not cliché.  Thank you Cassandra for allowing me to grace your page.  This has been a fun exercise for me.

As for the rest of you, have you stressed your characters out lately?  If not, what are you waiting for?  A stressed-out character is a real character – even if they’d rather be in Cancun sipping a margarita on the beach.

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Shiny

August 25, 2010 at 5:24 am (Plot, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Shiny, glittering, distractions.

It is how magicians get away with their tricks and it is frequently how movies manage to make even the weakest of stories seem somewhat plausible.

It would seem that in writing, distractions can’t save a poorly written story because you don’t have all the shine and glitter – you certainly don’t have an amazing soundtrack and special effects.

Still, many writers seem to use a bit of shine.

Colourful humour and language to throw the reader off the scent of poorly executed scene.

Flowery language and description to gloss over the massive plot hole.

Throw another dead body into a scene that was feeling like it was going nowhere.

Introduce a new character to hide the fact that one of your other characters has suddenly had a personality transplant.

And the thing is, as an audience member, you frequently allow yourself to be distracted by the shiny because it is fun. Because even though you know that you are being had, that something is missing, what you are being given is still enjoyable and there isn’t really any fun in pulling it to pieces. You know what is going on and you let it happen. At least when it is still enjoyable.

You start to really question the shiny when that is all you are being given. There is nothing else underneath and it isn’t really going anywhere. All you’ve been given is the glossy overcoat and there is no substance. As a reader, a lack of overall substance just can’t be tolerated.

So what shiny distractions do you enjoy reading? Which ones have you used? When won’t you accept a shiny distraction?

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Animals as Characters

August 22, 2010 at 5:38 am (Character, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I’m going to preface this post by pointing out that I really dislike animal movies. That is, movies where the main character is an animal that is befriended by a human and does a range of cutesy/mischievous things before ultimately solving some massive problem and healing all the wrongs in their friendly human’s life while giving us some moral message. There are a lot of these movies out there and they are well loved movies but they’ve never grabbed me as an audience member. Mostly because cute didn’t cut it for me as a replacement for story or character development even when I was a child and the overly moralistic message of so many of these movies seemed really condescending.

That said, I do like animals in stories. They can serve a valuable role and if well written can even have all the attributes of a full fledged character. There is a difference between a movie with an animal in it and an animal movie. Same with books.

When I consider using an animal in a story I usually think about the following:

1.  Is the animal’s presence actually adding anything to the story? A means of transport, companionship, comfort, finding something, revealing something, etc.

2.  Could a human character serve the same purpose better?

3.  Is the animal actually acting in the way an animal would or are they simply a human character dressed up like an animal?

4. If the animal is magical and can talk, are they still acting in the way an animal would or is there some cross over between the animal characteristics and human characteristics? And is there any point behind this cross over?

5.  Is the animal becoming simply a cute distraction from the plot?

Inserting an animal as a character for me is like inserting any other character. They need to have a purpose and serve some sort of function in the plot. They need to relate to the other characters and if possible those relationships should grow and change as the story progresses.

What are your thoughts on animals as characters? Or animal movies for that matter.

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Reading Reminder

August 20, 2010 at 5:32 am (Character, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I was thinking the other day about my post on the sycophant and that actually got me thinking about my most recent reading (I’m currently working my way back through Eddings, again, I know). What I started wondering was how many times should you remind your reader about the nature of a character (either through action or through other character descriptions). It seems that if you endless preface everything the character does by a reminder about why you like/don’t like them eventually your reader is going to get sick of being treated like a child with no attention span but if you don’t put enough cues and reminders in you risk your reader forgetting key points about that character.

In relation to my own writing I’ve noticed that I have a lot of reminders in first drafts. Most of my ‘abandoned’ projects are full of these prompts (some in bold for my reference so I remember what I was trying to convey about the character at the time). One in particular has something on nearly every single page to remind the reader that character S is meant to be unstable. Other characters hint at it, she does something that not clear minded person would do, an earlier incident is referenced, something is hidden from her because she may not be trustworthy. Every single page. Okay, I may have missed two pages because she wasn’t involved in either scene but you get the point.

Wouldn’t reading that just drive you up the wall? Wouldn’t you want to ask the author – how dumb do you think I am? You just told me she was unstable, you showed it clearly, move on with the story already.

At the same time, if she was called unstable, did one slightly zany thing and then consistently acted normally throughout the story, when her instability became essential to the plot, the reader may have forgotten it entirely and wonder what planet the author was on when they wrote that critical scene.

This brings me to Eddings (awesome epic fantasy writer that he is) and his use of provisional reminders. Mostly with the Ellenium trilogy I’ve noticed that as each character is introduced they are given, or demonstrate to have, a number of very specific character traits. These recur periodically but not to the point where the story is stagnating in flags and pointers. However, if a character is absent for multiple chapters, upon their return, one of the other characters will usually make mention of having missed something about them, or they will almost immediately do something that reminds you of their character traits. Also, at the beginning of the second and third books, the first time a character is reintroduced the protagonist makes a point of considering his companions but he does it in a way that isn’t too intrusive to the story and it is a pretty quick recap.

I think Eddings found that balance between reminding the reader of the critical points without getting endlessly repetitious, and he’s disguised his reminders for the most part or at least managed to weave it into part of the story.

So, writers and readers out there, what are your thoughts? Do you like to be reminded or do you like to move on with the plot? Is finding a balance the key?

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Reasons Why Writing A Novel Is Not Like Baking A Cake

August 18, 2010 at 5:34 am (Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

I promised I would go back and look at why writing and baking must indeed be two totally separate events are not anything alike. So here goes, my list of why writing a novel is not like baking a cake.

1.  It takes a lot longer – unless you are the world’s slowest cook and you aren’t worried about your eggs going off. The time commitment you are making for writing a novel compared to making a cake is enormous. One is something you do on the spur of the moment because you are bored and it’s raining (or because of some event like someone’s birthday) while the other is one that should almost never be jumped into without at least a little thought.

2.  If you follow the recipe for baking you will end up with a half-decent cake (hopefully). However there is no recipe or magic formula for making a brilliant novel. There are basic plot outlines and various tools and break downs of the essential elements and some genres are formulaic however if there was a step by step manual to writing a best seller, everyone would be doing it.

3.  Cake mix tastes pretty good even if you don’t finish cooking it. A half-baked novel is just that – half-baked.

4.  Even if you don’t like the taste of your unused cake mixture, chances are someone else will or the dog/cat/whatever will eat it. Very few people will swallow an unfinished novel.

5.  Nobody stares at you strangely when you answer the question, “what are you doing?” with “baking a cake”. Unlike when you answer that question with “writing a novel”.

6.  When you finish baking the cake you may criticise it but odds are you aren’t going to pull it apart and try to fix what went wrong. There is no revision process. There is accept what you have or throw it out and start over. The novel is a bit more malleable.

I still like my reasons why writing a novel is like baking a cake but I think it is important to be thorough.

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Am I Editing, Revising, or Rewriting?

August 17, 2010 at 5:25 am (Editing, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Sometimes it is difficult to know.

What starts out as a simple search and destroy for typos can suddenly become a revision of a clumsy scene which can soon morph into an entire rewrite of an act of a novel. I think the problem here comes from not being able to focus on only one aspect of the writing at a time.

For me, I like to start with the big stuff and work my way down to the small. While I’ll correct typing errors as I see them and move punctuation that is truly being offensive, editing the nitty-gritty is kind of the last ditch run through, mostly because if I revise or rewrite I know I’m just going to put more errors into the text.

So I begin with the rewrites. I may stay in the rewriting stage for the rest of forever with some manuscripts. Rewrites, for me, are the massive changes. The adding characters, taking them out, changing direction entirely, cutting scenes, adding scenes, moving scenes. All of the things that give you a huge headache when it comes to checking for continuity errors and will usually have you rewriting chapter after chapter to accommodate the change you made way back in the beginning.

Then I revise. These are the more surgical changes. Adding an emphasis here, changing the wording of that exchange of dialogue there, altering a description in that chapter. Sometimes these have carry on effects but normally it is just tightening up the overall story that has already been rewritten (many times) and checked for continuity.

Then, should I have made it this far and not put the project aside, comes the editing.

Still, despite wanting to work from one layer down to the next, down to the next, I end up jumping back and forth between the three.

How does your process for revisions work?

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