Writing Mr. Right: Pt. One…Recon

What it is about fictional men that causes our hearts to go all a pitter-patter and leaves us twitter-pated, with loopy grins on our faces and a perpetual squeal lodged in our throats for days after we’ve finished a book? Why do they capture our hearts and minds so easily and so thoroughly that we can’t stop thinking about them and fantasizing about how we would handle such a guy? Sigh…I don’t know, but I love them (not in the over-the-top fan-girl way, but they definitely steal a piece of my heart)! When I’m reading a book with a well-written male love interest, I’m completely one hundred percent captivated for the length of time it takes to complete that book. And if I’m being honest, there’s little chance of me getting through a book that doesn’t at least have a romantic sub-plot for crying out loud. There are a few I’ve gotten through and actually enjoyed – and I mean a miniscule amount – but romance is a crucial element in my reading happiness. With that being said, the leading men are therefore vital to holding my attention; I want a swoon-worthy man – that’s why I’m buying the book (be it fantasy, sci-fi, modern, or whatever, I’m not just talking about ‘romance’ novels here)! But how does one write a swoon-worthy man? Hmm…let’s ponder a bit on this most delicious of subjects why don’t we… *loopy grin emerging*

Ladies and gentleman don your protective goggles and camouflage face paint; it’s time for a little recon!

To write a good man, you have to be familiar with good men. That means do your research, head to the classics or your own favorite novels for inspiration and being the analysis. Why do you like the men in these books, what aspects of their personalities appeal to you? How does the author get that personality across? Does this character remind you of the character you’re working with in your head? Study study study. The more familiar you are with the type of man you want to write, the easier it will be to write him. That does NOT mean copy that author’s work/character; that is a no-no of the highest degree. These books and characters are not there for you to copy, they’re there to inspire you. Think of these novels as your textbooks, break them down, analyze them and try putting some of the pieces together yourself (most of us do this unconsciously anyway when we read, or most writers that I know anyway).

You also need to know the genre you will be writing in, and who you’re target audience is. Men are presented different ways in different genres and readers know it and have blatant expectations when they pick up a novel in their favorite section of the bookstore. This goes without saying, but if you’re writing for mature women then you need a mature man, if your writing for teens then keep that in mind because a teenage boy and a mature man are completely different (at least in the realm of books, we’re going to forget reality here for the moment). You need to know how to present your guy to the readers, make sure he fits into the parameters of the ‘type’ of writing you’re doing. Most genres already have archetypal men: gentlemen, rogues, leaders, warriors, bad boys, wounded souls etc. and they all come with prerequisite but slightly malleable, well-known rules. Gentleman tend to be cordial and understanding, rogues are deliciously impossible, bad boys have that sense of dangerous uncertainty, leaders contain a sense of hope and overpowering duty, while the wounded…well they’re wounded aren’t they. There’s no saying that you can’t bend these rules slightly to suit your own character, but you need to at least be aware of them. Readers reading a historical romance are not going to want an emo-esque whiny leading man, and fantasy lovers don’t usually break their hearts over a sharp dressed businessman. Know who you are dealing with because readers are just as picky as vicious as writers are.

But perhaps most important in the recon portion of writing a great Mr. Right, is knowing your character inside and out; this goes with any character in any story. Writers need to know the people they are writing, all the shallow edges and dark chasms, the good the bad and the ugly…everything, because if the writer doesn’t know and understand the character, how can the readers? Take the time to discover the ins and outs of this human being, the whys and how come’s, the things he doesn’t want anyone to know and habits and mannerisms that makes him who he is. What is his back story, what has led him to this moment in his life with this woman and how will his past dictate his present, and how will he handle being placed in this situation and why? Who is he? Go beyond his looks and get to know the man you want people to fall in love with, because if he doesn’t seem real to you in your head then he won’t be real for anyone else either.

So here we are, back to the beginning of our stories, a little tired and grumpy but perhaps a bit inspired. All in all troops, I believe the recon portion of writing Mr. Right has been successful, I hope you all enjoyed the ride and part two of our journey into writing the men of our dreams (the actual writing part) will be posted by the end of the week!

It’s All In The Details: Balancing Big And Little Scenes

TA-DA! Doesn’t my blog look lovelier than ever?! It’s so fresh, so exciting, so very in and now…and so very very the same! It seems white (utter blankness) is calming, to me anyway; I tried uploading different backgrounds and headers but to no avail, it just made everything look crowded and distracting and that just doesn’t work for me. I cannot write or read when my eyes don’t know what to settle on; so for now I’m keeping things calm, like a little oasis of tranquility, with little paper umbrella’s in your drinks and all. So let’s kick back, relax and get this thing started!

Writing a novel of any genre is a long process; between planning, research, writing, getting stuck, writing, finding anything ANYTHING with chocolate in it in the house, and writing some more, let’s just say it’s a time-consuming lifestyle (unless you are one of those writers who can get an entire novel out in like three weeks, which personally I think is highly indicative of you being an alien sent this planet to make the rest of us look bad). Suffice it to say, (aliens aside) writing is fraught with frustration, especially when all you can think about is THAT BIG SCENE coming up or at the end of the novel. It drives you insane, it consumes you, it’s all you can think about…finally being able to write that pivotal moment that will MAKE your story and make people remember you. It’s like a siren call, luring you into daydreaming about it instead of writing where you’re at, which leads to aggravation because you are nowhere near that scene and what you’re writing now doesn’t feel as important. It must not be important then, right?

Wrong.

Everything you write is important: every moment, every description, every scene, every minor plot twist and moment of character development. It’s the little things, the details, which draw readers in, making them care enough to feel anything when they finally reach THAT moment. If readers do not care about the characters at the beginning, the middle, or three-quarters in, chances are they are not going to care at the end when that climactic scene finally arrives, no matter how awesome or descriptive the writing has suddenly become. As a writer, it is your job to tell someone else’s story and part of that means finding someone to take the time to read and understand it, which can only truly happen if readers bond with the characters and genuinely care about them suffering through the obstacles placed in their path. This bonding comes largely from the details, the ‘little moments’. From the very first word onward, however long it takes to reach THAT scene, is where you must work your hardest, because it’s here that you have to make someone begin to love, worry, and care about someone beyond themselves. So, that pivotal scene in your novel…it happens a lot sooner than you think and in a moment that you probably did not intend it to. The climax is still important, but so are the details leading up to it.

So plan ahead and write accordingly.

If you want a reader to experience despair in the climactic moment in the middle/near end of a story, you must give them some sort of happiness before that. If you want them to feel safe, they need to have been frightened at some point. Give the readers the opportunity and time to experience one emotion fully so that when you take it away later they feel the loss of it and can truly grieve what was taken. Your novel’s climax might be terrifying or heart-breaking, but it will only be so if, in those unexciting-to-write moments, you’ve detailed your character experiencing the opposite. No one can feel hate if they’ve never felt love, or experience fear if they have never known the warmth of safety. Balance your details, your big moments and little ones and know that both are important to the overall impact of the story you as a writer are trying to tell.

In the end, you want something from the reader: a reaction. And likewise the reader wants something from you: a reason to react. Give readers the opportunity to react by providing them a reason to. Give them the little moments – the details and descriptions – so that when the big moments arrive they understand what’s at stake.

Discussing Dialogue –or– No, People Don’t Actually Talk Like That!

Let me set the scene for you here: it’s blissfully quiet, you’re curled up in your favorite reading chair/couch/whatever with a new book that’s full of promise and you’re just so excited to begin this new journey because, let’s be honest…the cover looks amazing! You’ve thought ahead and brought provisions: a glass of cold, sweet iced tea and some beef jerky (weird combination I know, but these are my ideal provisions I’m dreaming about here! Bring some of your own because I’m not sharing!) And you’re slowly falling in love with the story, the characters, the setting, and the new world; it’s so beautiful and realistic that you forget where you are and what you’re doing…then BAM! Suddenly you’re thrust unhappily back in your own world and you find yourself hunched over in your chair, gnawing on a piece of beef jerky and thinking: “They said what? Who talks like that?!”

Nothing kills the mood and jolts you right out of the pages of a book like poorly written dialogue. It takes pages to draw in a reader and make them care and engage with your characters, but it only takes a sentence to ruin all that hard work. It’s sad…but very true. Poor dialogue destroys whatever beauty or genius was written before it as well as the trust the reader has invested in the author and leaves behind such a bad taste in the reader’s mouth that even beef jerky and a well-timed “What the…?!” cannot fix the damage done. And unfortunately, whatever words/descriptions /plot twists that follow the dialogue are then tainted by the reader’s annoyance and disbelief. This may not make the reader immediately throw the book aside, never look twice at it again forevermore and banish it to some forgotten corner where it cannot annoy anyone ever again, but it does aggravate them and honestly, it negates the overall beauty and impact of the writer’s hard work. So…

Think before you type.

Really…think about what you are having your character say. Ask yourself: “Does that sound natural, have I heard someone say something similar?” or perhaps more importantly: “Would I be embarrassed to say something like that?”  Your answer to these questions should tell you whether or not you are on the right track. If you wouldn’t say something because it sounds forced or unrealistic then why would you have your character say it? If you’re having doubts about your dialogue or aren’t sure if it’s working then read the conversations out loud so you can hear them, it helps! Listen to the flow of worlds, the stops and pauses, the word choice; your character is trying to tell you what needs to be said, but are you listening to them? Dialogue is not hard to write, it is one of the easiest if you just take the time to think about it, but still I encounter characters who say the oddest things in the weirdest ways and I can’t help but clench my teeth and roll my eyes in exasperation…with the AUTHOR. The character may be the one speaking, but if the words come across as forced or silly, I blame the writer for not taking the time to listen to their character and try to understand what should be said. Occasionally awkward dialogue is going to happen, that’s fine, there are times when something just needs to be said for the reader to follow along, but don’t make it a common thing.

If you’re writing historical fiction or speculative fiction in a semi historic setting, writing dialogue is going to be twice as hard, but it is doable!  The required speech patterns differ from our own, as will the word choice but the principles are still the same. Make sure the speech is flowing, natural, and coherent. Would someone actually say that?  If not, then improve it! Watch movies set in the time period you are working in or read books in the same genre as yours; teach yourself how to use the language until it comes natural to you! Put the effort in because it will pay off! Good dialogue may be overlooked by someone who is not looking for it, but bad dialogue stands out to everyone!

Dialogue also leads to problem of the use of the word “said”, which annoys both writer and reader to no end. When you have more than one person speaking, it is important to make sure that the reader knows who the speaker is at any given point and that leads to a lot of “he said” “she said” aggravation. As much as it drives readers nuts to read the word “said” over and over again, it bothers the writer even more (if they are paying attention). This leads to a lot of alternate words used like holler, hoot, snarled, barked, growled, laughed etc. and that’s wonderful…as long as they are used in moderation! There does not need to be one of these alternate words used in place of “said” every single time, I mean really, do you holler or growl all that much? Hopefully not. Sometimes the right word choice is the simplest one: said. In the end it all comes down to what the character is saying and what needs to come across to the reader. Play with the words, use them, enjoy them but always be aware of what is actually going on in the story and between the characters. Use your own judgment and find a happy balance that works for you and doesn’t leave you wanting to claw your own eyes out in frustration! Writing is supposed to be fun…ha-ha.

Write smart and write often, don’t be afraid that you’re going to mess up, just enjoy the process! Mistakes are going to happen, they’re part of the fun of writing and sometimes mistakes lead to awesome new ways of saying something that you never would have thought of before! If you love to write, then write! Perfect your craft and never stop trying to improve it but never forget that the process should be fulfilling, enjoyable, cathartic, and whatever YOU want it to be (despite all the he said/she growled/they hooted drama)!

Finding Your Voice: Word Choice and Tone

First let me say how sorry I am for being away so long — this is becoming a habit of sorts: binge blogging — but I’ve been under the weather for the last week and really not fit to write much of anything. But I’ve resolved to get back to the subject at hand and so I will…sooner or later. Just let me get another tissue and a cup of tea — I’m an unabashed whiner when I’m sick and I don’t care who knows it! – Alright, here we go…

Every writer has a “voice” — a style if you will — of creating sentences and stringing words together. This style can change slightly depending on what you’re writing but generally once you’ve found your voice, it becomes your distinguishing marker and it makes writing a heck of a lot easier (in a way). Finding your voice/style is not that difficult of a process, you just have to know what you’re writing, who is telling the story, and why. Remember ask “why” about everything, it’s the only way to understand what is at the core of what you are or are attempting to write. The same is true of tone; every story has a tone — a way in which it is written and read that conveys an emotion. What view of the characters and their world are you trying to get across to readers?  Are your descriptions flowery, straight-forward, menacing? Your tone should dictate your word choice as your word choice sets your tone. After a while the two will blend almost inconceivably in your mind and with the parameters set, your voice will emerge on the page. It’s not as confusing as it seems, it just takes practice!

When I was in High School I foolishly fought with my teacher on the subject of word choice, saying that no author sits there and painstakingly chooses EVERY word of their work. How overly proud and wrong I was though I didn’t know it at the time. It took about two years for me to figure out how horribly mistaken and silly I was for arguing about something I really did not know anything about yet.  Writers DO labor over every word they choose to use in the telling of their story, because every word has a connotation – a preconceived meaning, image, or notion – attached to it and that meaning can and does change the entire tone of the story. Does someone step out of a dark hall, or do they coalesce out of a dark hall? Do they chuckle, giggle, snicker, cackle? In the end someone is just stepping out of a poorly lit area and someone else is just laughing but the words used to describe these moments leave an impression, a tone that alerts the reader to be worried, happy, or frightened. A writer’s word choice and tone instinctively tell a reader how to feel about a specific character/setting/thing etc. A single word can change the meaning of an entire sentence…no pressure.

Once you’ve gotten used to and/or comfortable with all this, then come the difficult part: melding your voice with a character’s. Authors and characters don’t always agree on things; one sees something one way, the other another and therein lays confusion for everyone involved. This is where it gets personal with a writer and his or her characters, there isn’t much advice I can give on the matter other than this: remember, as a writer you are writing SOMEONE ELSE’S story, but again, YOU are writing it. If a character had strong feeling about something, there is always a reason, but as the writer you may be viewing the story as a whole, and are seeing something that your character does not. It’s a tricky, fine line to walk, but one that makes the bond between author and character that much stronger.

Don’t be afraid to play around with your writing; try different styles and unusual words (in moderation of course) and see what works and doesn’t work for you and whatever story you’re trying to tell. One character and story might demand flowery descriptions and an open, friendly tone, while another needs a tighter, more practical  approach. It’s all part of being a writer, take the differences in stride and know that once you’ve found your style, your voice, you can adapt  it to the proper tone — with the correct word choice – needed and create the story that’s waiting to be told!

Fantastical Fantasy and the Utterly Clueless…

As a fantasy writer I have come across my fair share of people who think my chosen genre is nothing but silly reused nonsense comprised of the same old places, people and adventures. And in a way it is. The same archetypal characters and situations are employed, but for good reason and to great effect if done properly, but more on that in another blog I think. Overall, unless people write fantasy novels (in one sub-genre or another) or are natural fans, they tend to look down their noses at the people whose minds dwell in the past atop some misty hill where the fey are dancing before their very eyes.

For example:

I have often heard that as a historical fantasy writer, my job must be very easy considering my characters/environments don’t have to conform to “real” world rules that tug and weigh down people in the “real” world. If I want the grass to be ruby-red well then my grass is ruby-red, if I want my characters to fly…then POOF they can fly without anymore explanation than my typing that they can do so. Yeah…here’s what I have to say about that: Say you have a character in both a modern-day  ordinary novel as well as one in a historical fantasy one, and say that character lives in a very desert-like dry place and you are having him/her get dressed for the day. Naturally he/she must put something on that will be cool enough that she/he will not suffer a heat stroke the moment she/he opens the front door.  It takes all of two seconds for the modern character and writer to decide to throw on a cool cotton t-shirt because hey, t-shirts are real, they’re relatively cool and no one would question that.

But…

That same character in a h/f novel cannot just grab an old cotton shirt from the bottom of his wardrobe, that is before the author has considered and researched the following:

1) Did they have cotton clothing in the time period you are writing in?

2) If so, how did they make it and where? Is it something that can be grown and produced in the land you are writing about? Or must is be shipped from elsewhere, or is that even an option for your novel?

3) Which leads you to research the necessities of growing cotton: how much water is needed, does your dry-hot land provide that much water, what soil is best? ect. ect.

Because if your character is living in a cotton-inhospitable environment without access to trade, then they cannot possibly throw on a cotton garment. And for those who don’t think readers will notice, you might be surprised at the amount of things a fantasy reader will pick up on. They notice almost everything! If there is an inconsistency, THEY WILL SEE IT AND IT WILL BUG THE CRAP OUT OF THEM. Which may impact your future sales.

But I hear you, I hear you, what about silk, leather, muslin, wool…something else! Why don’t you just chose something else and skip all this drama? Well…it all involves the same process. Where do you get the silkworms, leather might work but it will be hot as heck, muslin is a form of cotton clothing  and puts you right back in the old problem, and wool garments –other than being hot and itchy–  of course comes from a live animal (sheep/goat/camel ect.) and that leads you to the keeping of animals in the dry-hot place.

Basically, if you build a world instead of using the provided one with all its well-known and deeply ingrained rules and limitations, you must literally build one. From the ground up. The world must make sense or it will fail. That requires time and effort to be spent outside the actual story, so that the author truly understands the place he or she is describing. Fantasy novels aren’t all wizards and fairies and such, they’re a study in plant life, science and zoology. It takes two seconds to grab a cotton t-shirt, but hours and days to study how that shirt came into existence.

Think about it the next time you scoff at a fantasy novel, or tell the author what they do is easy. Think about it the next time you go to grab a shirt; take a moment to feel the texture of the material between your fingers and thank the lucky stars that you don’t HAVE to know anything other than it fits. And even that’s optional nowadays.