Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Kill the Character; any character?

 I mentioned last week during the Reader Interview with Heather McD. that I was on the same page with her as far as character killing went. In retrospect, I may have been hasty in my statement, because she didn't elaborate on her thoughts. So here's mine! Smile

 ...Earlier in the season I got to talking with a writer on FB about killing characters... and how writers are wont to do so. Usually in the name of suspense and reality.
 Kind of brought a whole Kill the Character theme to mind, and I rethought how this actually affects the reader.
 As a beginning writer, I used to be a big fan of killing characters... especially after I'd made them likeable. (I know! How cruel!)

 Back then, I once killed someone in a piece, and let my little sisters start reading it before I was quite done with the finish. They howled so heart-brokenly, I hastily resurrected him in the finale. (I have to listen to my readers!) 
And, for the record, they were very relieved
    And upon later review... (much later) I found I agreed with them.

 So I learned something from the outrage engendered by the proposed-and-nullified killing, even though it took me until just recently to realize it. (Years after the incident! Yes, sometimes I am a slow thinker. Smile )

  All this killing that I was expecting to be "necessary for tension amping" really... wasn't.

 I could kill off a totally random character and the This-Villian-is-Evil point carried with the same impact, and less anguish.

 It was an epiphany. I don't have to kill my personable characters.... If I am tired of them I can send them on a cushy retirement to the Bahamas and they can simply exit stage left with no audience outrage.

  To re-test this theory out on myself I asked; "As a reader, when did you enjoy a sidekick character dying? In what book were you glad one of the good guys got it?"

 The answer was: Never.
 And: None.

  I am always left wishing the author could have come up with a more clever and less final method of whittling down the good team so the Hero could stand alone against Ulitmate Evil.

 -Wounded in action?
 -Fell into a paralysis-inducing liquid?
 -Breathed the coma-vapor?
 -Locked in the outhouse?

 When random, likable characters are killed for "tension upping" purposes,  I always find myself mentally yelling at the plot line, "Come on! Get creative! Stop the brutality!"

  {Disclaimer: I like a thriller as well as anyone. I love a good adventure/action plot. Assassin's and warmongers are right up there. But to build a persona that is relateable and well liked, just so the author can kill them off and enrage the reader... is a cop out, and actually backfires. I will distance myself from a story if one of my favorite characters is ruthlessly chopped for suspense's sake. I am no longer invested in this tale... I'm just finishing it, 'cause that's what I do.}

  Books, movies... I'm forced to go back through and mentally reweave the story to save my favorite side-characters lives.

 So; is this the kind of feeling I want to leave readers with?
  I have to answer for myself... No.
                                                        Not at all.
  I'd way rather have a book that sarcastic people could shout "Unrealistic!" at, and keep fans happy with the final chapter. After all, all stories take leave of "total reality" one way or another, or else who would want to read them?
  We go to Story to be uplifted and made to feel better...

 So I have reformed my murderous ways, and now I know why.

   What do you think? Have you ever been glad a good guy "got it"?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Reader Interview: Heather McD!

 And here's the first in a series of Reader Interviews, getting the perspective of those wonderful, imaginative folks who delve headfirst into book-worlds and come out the other side with definite opinions on what they just experienced.
 For our first bold reader, we've got Heather McD. from Missouri with us today.
 Thanks so much for joining us Heather! I love the fact that even though you're currently a "young adult", you've got a lot of thoughts on what you do or do not appreciate in your reading fare. Good for you for being a "thinker"!
  Okay, we'll jump right in.

E. Kaiser: What are your favorite kind of books?

Heather McD: I tend to prefer action-packed books overall. Mainly fantasy and sci-fi, but from time to time I will read other genres.

E: How about your worst pet peeves? Let us have 'em!

H: Hm. Well, one of them are a good guy character feeling betrayed by another good guy. Now, I'm not talking about “You handed me over the enemy” sort of betrayal. I guess it's more like the trust was broken between the characters. Generally speaking, it's over done. Instead of feeling sorry for the betrayed character, you wished they'd get over it. Move on! All because they didn't tell you they came from a different world twenty years ago doesn't mean they're on the wrong side!

E: Oh, good one. I can't get what the authors are thinking on that one, either. Just "What?!"

 Okay, how about that Thing-You-Can't-Stand-Above-Anything-Else.
H: When everybody dies. Or when a few minor characters die. You get my drift.

E: Ouch. You're right. That's a major depression trip...

  Glancing quickly backward over your reading history, what stands out as the moment that melted you heart, all warm and puddle-y?
H: Well, I don't know about my heart melting, but I remember a scene I read in a novel my sister, Shannon, is still in the process of writing. A young man was giving a sad, for lack of better terminology, history lesson that was deeply related to him. It's more touching than that, but I can't tell you exactly because I'd give something away. Smile

E: All right, we'll let you keep secrets.
Same thing; what's the first-to-mind scene that fired your emotions?

H: Oh, there have been lot's of scenes, but the one that comes to me first is a scene in Never the Bride, by Cheryl McKay and Rene Gutteridge. It's about a girl who's in her mid-thirties, and all she wants to do is to get married. But the scene I'm referring to is near the very end, when she's extremely disappointed by a prospect. Being hurt and angry, she runs to the beach yells at God. Face-to-face. You'd have to read it yourself to completely understand.

E: So... what is your favorite trait in a character, and why do you love them?

H: Two traits I like: quirky and a good sense of humor. Quirks, even little ones, makes the character more interesting. A good sense of humor because I love to laugh. Smile

E: What most makes you most hate the villain?

H: To make the villains seem real to me, he has to be intelligent, not boasting in front of the good guys, doesn't lose his temper whenever he hears bad news, and doesn't kill unless he thinks he needs to. Villains like Hopper from A Bug's Life or Mother Gothel from Tangled. Now those villains were scary! And they did it without needlessly killing two or three characters!

E: Oooo, Mother Gothel was definitely scary.

 What was your favorite "switch" that caught you completely off guard, but you loved the result! 
H: The very first thing that comes to mind was some mystery book I read a while back. River's Edge, by Terri Blackstock. She picked a person I wasn't expecting to be guilty. And, as most people know, if you read enough of mystery books, they can be awfully predictable.

E: Too true! It's nice when there's a little mystery added back into mystery stories.

What small things do you especially like to see included?

H: I wish authors were less descriptive about violence. It bothers me when they dwell on it. I also would like it if authors wouldn't kill their minor or not-so minor characters so much. 

E: Aha! I think I know what you mean! In fact, I agree very much on the violence-turning-just-gory subject.
 As for the character killing issue, I've got a post coming up on just that topic! I'm on that same page with you there, too. (And I hope you'll stop by and post your comments on next week's post on that subject!)

 Thanks so much for visiting, Heather! I loved your responses, and I'm sure there are a lot of other folks out there that think along the same lines.

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Want to let your thoughts be known? 
Send me an email at ekaiserwrites-at-hotmail and we can get you lined up! 
The more the merrier, you know. ;-) Join the conversation!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Writer Interview: Mary Ruth Pursselley

Here's were we start on our new Writer Interview section. We're very excited about this, and are really looking forward to learning more about others thoughts as we go along with this.

E. Kaiser: Thanks so much for answering the call, Mary Ruth! We're so glad to have you here, and we hope to get you back for a reader interview sometime later. Everyone should also be aware that you are currently hosting a give-away over at your blog, the Writer's Lair, for a Flip Dictionary! That sounds like a fun little device! How's it work?
Mary Ruth: You're so welcome, Elizabeth, and thank you so much for this opportunity!
  I'm very excited about the Dictionary Day giveaway. I can say without hesitation that the Flip Dictionary is the best monetary investment I've ever made in regards to my writing. It's a lot like a thesaurus, only way cooler. You can use it to find synonyms for words, but you can also use it when you know what you want to say but can't think of the word for it. 

E: That happens to me a lot more, lately, then it used to. A terrible feeling! (I always think it means I haven't been reading enough books.)

 M.R.: For instance, if you need a word that means 'a fear of tight spaces', but you can't think of it. It's in the Flip Dictionary, in a list of 'Types of Fear'. The lists and categories are amazing too; there's a list of military terms, and list of medical terms, and dozens more. Definitely a great asset for any writer to have on hand!

E: That sounds like a gem. I think I'll have to get myself over there and enter! Hope I win! ;-)
 So, let's get started. [Sits up straighter, crosses ankles, folds hand, and puts on politely smiling, coolly interested, interviewer face.]
What's your favorite genre/genres, and what do you think really draws you to that/them the most?

M.R: Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Steampunk are my three favorites, but I think fantasy would be the top of those three. As a Christian, I see everything I write as an 'illustration', if you will, of the God I serve and love, and I think the speculative genres leave a lot more room for building those illustrations creatively. For example, if there is a certain chain of events I want to write in a story, it's much easier to fit them into a fictional world with fictional cultures and fictional history than it is to try and locate a real-world setting that the story idea will fit into.

E:  I so agree! I've often found imagination to be a much more forgiving structure than the real world! One of the things I love best about spec-fic of all types. :-)

 What's your most favorite writing related advice?

M.R: Currently (it changes all the time) my favorite piece of writing advice comes from 1 Corinthians 2:1-2 &4 - "...I didn't use lofty words and impressive wisdom to tell you God's secret plan. For I decided that while I was with you I would forget everything except Jesus Christ, who was crucified...And my message and preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit."
  Don't get me wrong, I don't for one instant believe that my writing is 'divinely inspired' or anything like that. But I do know that God is the one who lets me have the story ideas I have, and who enables me to portray Him through them. God has taught me countless lessons about Himself through the stories He's given me, and I know there are lessons He's waiting to teach other people through them.   My job isn't to decide who takes what away from my stories, or to get the lessons across with stellar word craft or an extensive vocabulary. My job is just to tell the story and let God use it however He wants to.

E: That is the first time I have heard that verse used in that light, but I like it! Good answer. It does sort of give a nice reminder even to us lowly and frivolous typists.

  What is your favorite type of character to write? Why do you think that especially appeals to you?

M.R: I love characters who are tough and strong and capable on the outside, but conflicted or hurt or scared on the inside. I like working with conflicting desires and priorities, struggles between the character's strength and weakness, and the need for those attributes to eventually come to terms with each other, or to let another character see both sides. I think those characters appeal to me most because it's so easy to identify with them, and doing so offers a lot of opportunities to work with themes and ideas like priorities, honesty, acceptance, desires, etc.

E: Where do you like to get your characters? Do you like to draw off of people you know, other books, or just pull them put of the blue?
M.R: I've come to the realization that fictional people are vastly easier to understand than real people...

E: Ha! :-) So true.

M.R. ... so most of my character inspiration and ideas come from fictional people. I find movie characters especially helpful. I'm a very visually-oriented person, so being able to actually see the clenched fist that reveals how much a character is struggling to control his anger, or the tear-filled eyes that reveal how much he cares, or the moment that reveals how close he is to giving up, is a huge help to me in developing my own characters on paper.

E: Some writers talk about their characters getting out of control and things happening that they didn't intend to happen; have you ever had this happen?

M.R: Ryker Verone, a character from my novel Son of the Shield, is a perfect example of this. Ryker came into being (as Robert, originally) in an early draft because someone had to be the one to say "The patrols have reported nothing, sir." But then he just kept showing up and getting more and more involved in the main plot of the story, and next thing I know he's one of the central characters! It's happened other times too, but that's the one that sticks in my mind most.

E: That's a cute story! I love it when a minor character shows up with such charisma. It does make me wonder though, How do I get that same quality in the main character? :-(
 How do you write? Is it 'start with page one, scene one' and go through it in order; or just "whatever scene pops into your head" (and that might mean that you have the entire middle of your book written before you even start on the beginning)?

M.R: I try to start at the beginning and go straight through, but I usually end up with a few hiccups along the way. If a particular scene is giving me too much trouble, I might skip over it and come back later. If I have a really good idea for a scene that's farther along in the story than I've written, I'll make some notes so I don't forget about it, and then I use it as 'bait' to keep myself motivated because I just can't wait to get there and write it in full detail.

E: How do you plan your stories' "bones", or do you?

M.R: I normally have a pretty good handle on the very basics of the plot before I start writing, but I confess I'm not much of a planner. I prefer letting it flesh itself out as I go. When I started writing Son of the Shield, I knew how the story started, and how it ended, but really didn't know much about how I was supposed to get from A to B. I just let the subplots and details unfold as I went along. That method makes for a lot of rewriting and editing, but I don't mind that much.

E: Have you tried any plotting, outlining, methods; and what works best to your way of thinking?

M.R: I've tried a few different methods, but as I mentioned I'm more of a 'go with the flow' writer than a planner. I don't normally know enough detail about a story's plot before I start writing to make an outline; that usually comes in during the editing process, and at that point I just scan through the story and make notes on what happens. Now, if I'm co-authoring something, a plot point outline is extremely helpful during the writing process, but I always have co-authors to help me figure it out (two heads really are better than one) and we've never used a specific method. As far as plot-development methods go, I'm a big believer in giving the story all the time it needs to grow in your mind before starting any part of the writing process. A story slow in coming is better than a half-baked story.

E: What is your worst writing trouble?

M.R: Probably my distractability (if that's even a real word).

E: It's okay to make up words here! Hey, if Shakespeare can do it; we can do it.

M.R.: ... I have a very go-go-go, on-to-the-next-adventure personality, so once a story's newness wears off I tend to want to bounce off to the next exciting idea. And then there's the whole outdoors trying to distract me, and so many books I want to read, and so many sewing projects to work on... it can make it hard to stick with a specific writing project long enough to see it through.

E: I sympathize with that.

 What is your worst writing fault? How do you identify and rectify it's effects?

M.R: Well... I'm probably going to have to go with my distractability again. I can sit down knowing I have, say, two hours to write. So I work on story A until I remember that good idea I needed to write down on story B, and while I'm working on that I have this brilliant revelation about a subplot in story C... and two hours later I've written 50 words each on about ten different stories, but made no significant progress on any of them.
  So what I usually have to do is just force myself to focus, and not allow myself to even think about any stories other than the one I'm working on. Setting a specific goal, be it a time frame or a work quota, is also helpful, since I love meeting a challenge.

E: Good thoughts. Yes, focus is a tough one.
 Hey! It's been great having you here! We've so enjoyed learning more about another writer's mental workings! Thanks for participating.
 And I hope everybody will hop on over and try for a chance at that Flip Dictionary you're giving away! :-)

M.R: Thank you so much for having me! This has been so much fun, and you've asked some really great, thought-provoking questions.
I hope to see you all over at the Writer's Lair as well. And good luck in advance to everyone who enters the giveaway!

 --- Fade To Black--

So, what'd ya think?
Let me know, in the comments! :-)

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Let's Get This Conversation Going!

A Call For Interviews!

 I am tired of only hearing my side of the story on here.
 (Well, mostly only. I did interview Sarah Holman, which was a blast...)
 And the comments you folks leave are terrific! But I want to hear more form you.

 I'm putting out a call for writer interviews!
 Or reader interviews!
 (That would be a ton of fun! Let's do that! If you are a reader, but not a writer, drop me a line! And we can set up an interview and get the "real deal" of what goes on in a reader's head!)

 No matter what genre you read, you've got a perspective. Let's hear it!
 We can ALL learn from each other, no matter what genre we prefer to specialize in. I always say that a good book is a good book, regardless of "category".

 We can talk about your favorite story lines, your worst pet peeves, the Thing-You-Can't-Stand-Above-Anything-Else, the moment that melted you heart, fired your emotions, made you so mad you couldn't see straight.
 What is your favorite trait in a character, and why do you love them; what most makes you hate the villain?
 What was your favorite "switch" that caught you completely off guard, but you loved the result!
 What small things do you especially like to see included?

 So contact me! I want to know what YOU'RE thinking.

 Also, if you're a writer, we can talk about these things too. ;-) Or we can talk about your writing, or your writing troubles... (Just contact me, and we'll talk! ;-) )

 Seriously, I'm looking at YOU.


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Q&A: Hair color?

 During a recent interview I offered; "I wrote the first draft as a gift for my sister, and she is a plot detective. She also objects to nearly every cliche known to novelists, so I was particularly hard pressed to create this character and her story arc.  I plotted out a fresh course, and it passed muster with Abigail, so I think I have succeeded.
  So Fia doesn't have golden, jet, or fiery red hair. Just an ordinary rusty-brown. She isn't gorgeous, willowy, wonderful or has all the young men falling in love with her...
Which prompted a reader to say...

Red hair: popular with even the Old Masters.
  Q: Come, come, what's cliched about red hair? ;-)

  A: What's cliched about red hair? Aww... come on! What's not cliche about it? ;-)
 I mean, really!
 Okay, maybe it's not as cliched as golden, but it's sort of become a "stock item" on the Mary Sue list! Sorry! ;-)
  (Oh! And I just thought of why. All those racy romance novels you see in the book section of thrift stores. Count 'em. LOTS of red heads. Why? I assume because it's sensational, like everything else in those books. ;-) )

  And yes, I can understand that if you actually, indeed, really and truly, have red hair it would change your perspective. (You must have been very happy when you read Anne of Green Gables. ;-) )

  But imagine my perspective, if you will. I happen to have... not jet black tresses, not golden locks, not a flaming mane, NOR chocolate curls. I have an in-between color. How many heroines have in between color of hair? I ask you!
  (And yes, when I read Anne of Green Gables I became so heart-ached about the fact that my hair was Not Red, that I didn't get over it for years. Literally, years.)

  And, here I was trying to draw a cliche-free heroine. (Also raise a banner to all those future little girls who have in-between hair, and feel that other people are all prettier, more glamorous, etc. then themselves. *Psst! To all those future girls: It's not your hair color! Hair color is nothing. It's Personality, and a good Attitude. THAT is what makes people attractive/glamorous/insert-adjective-here. Who you are, not what. It's much more complicated. And only you have control over Who.* )

  I did find, though, that all cliche-free hair colors seem also to be, across the board, awfully hard to describe; without stopping the flow for a paragraph so we can explain just how "every day" this heroine's hair color is. (Maddening!)
   I now have a huge understanding to all those authors who slap down, "She flicked her fiery hair over her shoulder," "The breeze riffled through the golden strands," and "In the crowd, her hair shone black as midnight."

That was Easy.

And effective.
    Instant portrait.

You could say; "But, if it's easy, where's the challenge?"
And I could say; "We're writing a novel here! Over 50k words of action, emotion, plot twists, plot line, back story, foreshadowing... all of which we have to keep suspended in glittering array before the readers tired eyes until the last page closes. What do you mean 'Where's the challenge?'!"

   But in all truth, red heads are awfully fun to write. I've been working on another, unrelated story, (which is a blast!) in which we're temporarily dealing with a red headed cont-agonist. (The heroine's hair is a dutifully dull, but easily described; straw color. {Hey, give me a break! I got to cut corners every once in a while!} )
   The redhead is a spicy little eye full; ...which red heads everywhere will probably be glad isn't them.
And she's tons of fun to write.

 What's the most fun for you to read about?