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Thoughts on Writing – Writing a Rough Draft, One Character at a Time

I recently finished the main draft for book three of The Wishing Blade series (the main draft, in this case, being a little bit more polished than a rough draft, but not quite ready for beta-readers). The process I took for writing this one was a bit different than some of my other books, so I thought I would take a moment to discuss the process.

Normally,  when I write, I write semi-chronologically… for the whole plot. I may skip around at times to write scenes that I feel particularly enthused about, or to bypass scenes that are giving me difficulty until the rest of the rough draft has been written, but I write in plot order.

This time, however, I focused on writing one point of view at a time. The third book (currently untitled) has four points of view, compared to the two in Magic’s Stealing (Toranih, with a few short scenes from Shevanlagiy), the three in The Shadow War (Daernan, Toranih, a few scenes with Shevanlagiy… and technically there’s four POVs because there’s a single scene with Siklana). Distant Horizon and Glitch each have only one point of view (Jenna and Tim, respectively). There’s also Little One, which has three primary points of view and several brief scenes with a bunch of other characters, but I was jumping all over the place when writing that one.

General consensus?

The process for writing each book is going to be different.

That’s okay. Some books are harder, some are easier.

But let’s take a closer look at my most recent experiment… writing one point of view at a time. While I haven’t sent book three out to beta-readers yet, and there may be other advantages and pitfalls that I’ve missed, I have already noticed a few key aspects of the process.

Advantages:

  1. Character goals and motivations are easier to keep track of.
    • Since you’re writing one point of view all at once, you aren’t distracted by the other characters’ motivations. You’re focusing entirely on one character and what that one character wants. Thus…
  2. Character arcs are smoother.
    • Their emotions are easier to follow. You can see when their emotions are shifting, and they aren’t reacting to what the previous point of view character was feeling. It’s easier to isolate them, thus…
  3. This allows you to clearly see what major players are doing.
    • Each character feels more fleshed out because he has his own wants and needs, and is acting with an individual character arc.

However, this particular character-oriented process comes with a few pitfalls.

Disadvantages:

  1. Occasional lapses in timeline.
    • When you’re writing these different characters, you may find that something that needs to happen in the morning happens in the afternoon, or days before or after an event should occur. Having a general outline that shows what each character should be doing, and when, can help alleviate this issue, as can leaving some time frames in which the events’ timing is not solidified to one point on the plot. I was pleasantly surprised at how all four POVs managed to come together for book three… and that was probably because I had a rough outline, which I wrote after one character’s POV was already completely written.
  2. Story flow may not be as smooth.
    • When writing the plot in a linear fashion, it may be easier to see the ups and downs for the reader, not just the character. You may run into problems where the scenes are jarring, with one character coming out of an extremely tense situation into a scene where other characters are in absolute calm. To counter this phenomenon, you may want to look for moments of irony. If one character believes one thing and the opposite is true, this may work in your favor. You can also play with parallels, in which we see how events are lining up between characters more than they know. You can place alternating POVs in such a way as to create moments of tension, in which one of the characters has discovered a great danger to another character (or is the great danger), and we know that the character’s POV that we just shifted into is under a threat they don’t suspect.
  3. Story plot might be forgotten.
    • When focusing on the character, rather than the plot, you may find that the characters have decided to go an entirely different direction than you had planned. This can be good… it provides twists the reader might not expect, but it can also be bad… (On hearing my plans for the plot of book three, my husband asked, “But where’s the Shadow War?” Needless to say, I’ve made a few notes which will need to be addressed in the next round of revisions). You may find that the external plot has shifted away from what your reader expects to read. This can sometimes be prevented by having an outline, or it can be adjusted scene-by-scene once you have the rough draft written.
  4. Your story might get bogged down with subplots.
    • You may find that writing all of the scenes from a single point of view means that you place more importance on a character than you necessarily should. These subplots decide to take over the story and run away like the horses of a wagon in a gold heist… (sorry… my mind is stuck on “frontier” and “mining” at the moment). Once you place them in the story with the other characters’ POVs, you might quickly realize which scenes are bogging down the plot and which ones need to be moved. Beta-readers may also be helpful here, if you’re having a hard time picking out the problem spots.

Overall, though, I found doing each character arc individually to be an effective method for writing multiple points of views when each of the points of views were largely separate from the other. The characters are contributing to the main plot, but what they do doesn’t directly affect the others… yet. Still, readers can see that a larger scheme is unfolding, and what each of the characters are learning should create tension for the other characters, especially as the web of the plot slowly weaves them back together.

The Wishing Blade - Section Break - Magic Swirl

I hope you enjoyed this post. 🙂

Have you ever tried writing a story from each individual point of view before placing everything together into one, mostly-cohesive draft?

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Thoughts on Writing – Naming Your Character

In my previous post, I talked about choosing the right attire for the characters in your world. Today, I want to talk a bit about naming.

We’ve all heard suggestions for basic naming conventions. These are a few off the top of my head:

  1. Make sure each name sounds/looks different (Varying syllabic emphasis can help here–pay attention to where you emphasize the name. “Anna” has a different emphasis than “Blayloc,” for instance).
  2. Don’t have the same first letter of their names for multiple characters in the same story (For example: Jenna, Jim, Jack, Janice… oh dear. Isaac and I may need to revisit Distant Horizon and change a few names…)
  3. If writing fantasy/science fiction, don’t have long, convoluted names. Or if you do, shorten them. (I’m looking at you Shevanlagiy… Bit of trivia, when I wrote the first draft of The Wishing Blade a decade ago, I copy-pasted her name each time I needed to type it. Probably should’ve taken that as a hint.)
  4. Don’t have two characters with the same name (Unless this is part of the plot, at which point you still want the readers to be able to easily tell them apart.)
  5. If your name has too nice of a ring to it, Google-search the name to make sure it’s not already taken. (I once created an original character whose name I later realized was very similar to a DeviantArt stock artist that I often used stock from).

When I originally created my main character for the Exiles role-play campaign that Isaac ran (a story set in the Distant Horizon universe, which we plan to write later), I named her Emily Johnson.

Worked for the campaign, but looking back, I’ve been debating changing her name. There are two reasons.

One, she is supposed to be of Asian heritage, and so I have considered giving her an Asian surname (I haven’t decided which particular culture–Korean, Japanese, Chinese, etc…). However, given that she lives in a dystopian world where English names are encouraged, and there’s a good chance that somewhere along the line, her father/grandfather/great grandfather might not have been Asian, I’m not too worried about this one. Name makes sense for the world of the story. Now, in areas which aren’t under the Community’s control, the names you see are going to be a bit different.

However, there is another Emily in the story: Lady Emily Black. While most characters wouldn’t know her as Emily, if Isaac and I ever delve into that character’s youth, we’ll end up with two Emilys in the same universe. If they were stand-alone stories in different universes, I’m not sure it would be a problem. Same universe?

Could be confusing.

My initial response was to change the main character’s name. (After all, there’s a story purpose for “Emily” regarding the other character: her mother’s name was Emma, and she was named for her mother).

But let’s take a quick look at the culture of the world, in which Lady Emily Black is a well-known, highly respected diplomat (at least within the Community). Thus, it makes sense that a family might name their child after her, hoping that kid would pick up some of her better-known attributes (and indeed, both characters play the part of a peacekeeper between the people they work with).

Not only that, Lady Emily Black is typically known as Lady Black, with Emily being relatively unused (unless we ever go into writing her backstory).

Based on those factors, I’m considering keeping Emily’s name as it is. I might still to choose to change it, giving her a different surname or changing her first name to keep the characters a bit more separate, but right now, I think I’ve got another set of names to worry about.

Jenna, Jim, Jack, Janice…

But… I like their names! I’ve grown fond of them! They all fit the character!

*Sigh.* Something Isaac and I will have to discuss and decide if we need to change before we do our final round of edits.

It’s not like we’ve got Camaraderie/Coalition/Community in the same book–

Or Crush and Chill (both “C” names, both based on their superpowers)—

Um… I’ll get back to you on that.

I hope you enjoyed this post. 🙂

Have you ever had to change the names of your characters for clarity? Would you change Emily’s name, or swap out the multiple “J” names a bit?

Looking for more naming tips? Try these articles:

http://thewritelife.com/6-creative-ways-to-name-your-fictional-characters/

http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/the-7-rules-of-picking-names-for-fictional-characters

http://www.writersdigest.com/writing-articles/by-writing-goal/improve-my-writing/how-to-give-your-character-the-perfect-name

http://thewritepractice.com/8-tips-for-naming-characters/

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Thoughts on Writing – Combining Characters Part 2

In my previous post, I talked about a couple characters of whom I decided not to combine in Distant Horizon, and why. Today I’m going to talk about a couple characters who I very well might combine into a single, hopefully stronger character, in The Shadow War.

I’ve been plotting for The Shadow War (book two after Magic’s Stealing) for a little while now, and when I was telling Isaac about some of my ideas last week, he suggested that I consider combining two of my characters who will be introduced in the second book. Let’s take a look at the characters in question: Nihestan and Shalant.

Both characters are secondary. They’re important to the plot, but they’re not main characters. Each serves to aid the character of Daernan (Toranih and Daernan each have their own point of view in this story), but in different ways.

Nihestan Nivasha is Cirenan-born, a weapon’s mage, and has dealt directly with Shevanlagiy and Lord Menchtoteale (the bad guys from the first book). Nihestan also works closely with Madiya, the goddess of the dead (who features more prominently in the Cantingen patheon than Cirenan) and he leans toward the immortal spectrum thanks to a run-in with unicorns. (Unicorns aren’t exactly the friendliest creatures in the Cirenan universe).

In the current draft, Nihestan plays the role of a cynic, always watching the world and being wary of the future… mostly because he got a glimpse of the potential damage that the Wishing Blade could do (his weapon’s magic allows him to see potential and past acts of violence within an object). He’s actively trying to thwart Isahna, the trickster god, and has been undercover for many years to protect his family.

He also knows a bit about how glass-stone works (though he’s still trying to figure out the finer points of the confounded stuff), which is one of the reasons that Daernan gets involved with him.

Then there’s Shalant. He’s Cantingen-born, a word mage, and something of a seer. Daernan first runs into him when he goes to the temple in Ashan, where he finds Shalant using his word magic to help the high priestess after the stealing. Shalant acts as an enthusiastic (if slightly wary) mentor. His knowledge of the gods and (word) magic often comes in handy, and his ability to use word magic is crucial in fighting the shadows. As a seer, he knows a bit more than he should (especially regarding Shevanlagiy), and he’s spent some time working with Nihestan on the mage’s glass-stone project.

Now, the problem I was having is that many of the scenes I plotted in my head could work well for both Nihestan and Shalant. Other than their cynical versus enthusiastic personalities, and their ribbon versus word magic capabilities, they play similar roles.

There’s a particular scene I’ve been planning that involves a confrontation with Shevanlagiy, one which works similarly well with both characters.

If Nihestan confronts her, he uses his knowledge of glass-stone and weapon’s magic against her. But now that I’ve been thinking about it, I need to decide whether or not he’ll still have that magic. He has been working with the gods, and he knew the stealing was coming, so there’s a chance he could have prevented his magic from being lost.

If Shalant does the confrontation, he doesn’t have any personal stakes (other than potential foreshadowing for a future series idea that I have in mind), but his scrying would have given him insights that Shevanlagiy would prefer he doesn’t know… including a weakness that she herself doesn’t fully understand. The problem is that I’m afraid his character would open up the story to a new plot line that I’m not ready to delve into. I like the idea of bringing this guy’s character in, but I’m not sure it’s necessary for this particular story.

The two characters were getting lost in the crowd.With so many characters, I wasn’t sure what each one was doing at any particular moment.

So, when Isaac suggested that I try combining Nihestan and Shalant, I began picturing the resulting character and liked the result.

First off, Nihestan’s last name, Nivasha, sounds more Cantingen in origin than Cirenan, and vice versa for Shalant. I’d been toying with the idea that Nihestan had converted to the Cantingen pantheon at some point in his past, and the idea of combining these characters solidified that. He could have originally been Nihestan Shalant, and later taken the last name of Nivasha after his dealing with Madiya (or one of her agents). Thus, we would still get some insights into the Cantingen culture without pulling the main story too far off track (again, I’ve got that sequel series brewing in my head–though it will probably be a while before you see that–and it will likely deal heavily in Cantingen mythology).

Second, their combined knowledge would allow Nihestan to play a mentor figure… even if the person he’s mentoring is skeptical of his motives. It also stands to reason why he knows so much about Shevanlagiy, since he’s worked with her before, and his vast knowledge of things he technically shouldn’t know about would come from his time spent working with the gods.

Third, Nihestan as both a ribbon and word mage… whew!

He’s going to be a tough cookie in a fight. Seriously. Even if he’s without his ribbon magic, he would have word magic at his disposal… and perhaps be able to achieve a few plot points that I don’t want to spoil here.  The first book has a few lines of foreshadowing that could easily reference his character. Not only that, but he might actually be able to keep some of his ribbon magic through the use of word magic, since he already expected the stealing to come.

This allows the confrontation scene with Shevanlagiy to work smoothly. This version of Nihestan has personal stakes in the matter, and the ability to be a threat.

Fourth, I don’t have to keep track of who is doing what. The tough part comes if these two characters are doing completely separate actions, but I don’t think there will be too many problems there.

The other problem, however, is that where Shalant is playful, Nihestan is cynical.

Merging the personalities might prove tricky. Most likely, I’ll keep some of my original ideas of a younger Nihestan (who has a more carefree attitude), while giving him the wary outlook that comes with what he’s seen and knows.

As for Shalant, he may appear again in a different form with a different name… as he was apt to do in my plotting. (Seriously, in my super rough draft from many years ago, Shalant was an arrogant god who mentored Daernan mostly because he needed someone to represent the immortals… and had fun watching Daernan fumble. Very different character. I’m considering making a darker version of that character into a small-time antagonist for Toranih. Maybe. Not sure yet. We’ll see if it serves the plot).

I haven’t decided if this is the route I want to take, but I’m giving it serious consideration. Overall, I think the story will be stronger for the merge.

I hope you enjoyed this post. 🙂 Have you ever combined any of your characters?

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Thoughts on Writing – Multiple Character Motivations in One Scene

Though I’ve primarily been focusing on getting the paperback edition ready for Magic’s Stealing (I ordered the proof copy today!) and making edits to The Multiverse Chronicles, I’ve still been thinking about the plot for The Shadow War. My goal is to iron out as many inconsistencies as possible before I get into the heavy writing/editing phase.

Today I’m going to look to look at a scene from The Shadow War and focus on how knowing the multiple character motivations in that scene can help improve the logic of what’s going on.

Warning: There are spoilers in this post regarding events in Magic’s Stealing, along with certain character motivations and the first major event of The Shadow War.

In other words, if you don’t want spoilers, you might want to pick up a copy of Magic’s Stealing before reading this post, then come back to read this post. If you don’t mind spoilers, then by all means, please continue reading. 🙂

Toward the beginning of The Shadow War (the second book) there is a scene in which it is very important that the main character, Toranih, is captured by the shadows. In the current draft of this scene, a city guard requests her presence for legitimate reasons, but once she’s separated from her friends, a pair of shadows ambush her and the guard, then drag her through a portal to where Shevanlagiy (the antagonist from the previous book) is waiting to kill her. Shevanlagiy makes the attempt, but Toranih takes her by surprise and knocks her aside, leaving Lord Menchtoteale (the leader of the Shadows) to try. He attempts to strike her once, but since Toranih knows that shadows can’t be killed by mortal weapons, she grabs the nearest shadow’s knife and strikes her own hand. She falls into the shadow realm, and Menchtoteale again attempts to kill her, this time making what should be a devastating blow with the Wishing Blade, but Isahna (the trickster god behind the shadows, the god Menchoteale answers to) heals Toranih, orders Shevanlagiy to leave Toranih alone, and orders Menchtoteale to train her.

At this point in time, though, I’m a bit concerned that all of that is going to seem rather… confusing.

Why does Isahna prevent Menchtoteale from killing Toranih, and more importantly, why can’t these big bad guys successfully kill an almost defenseless teenager?

(Though I do have to say that Toranih has been working on her magic, and she is good at physical combat. But still… shouldn’t a well-trained sword fighter with a magic sword, or a super-powerful sorceress, manage one partially-trained kid?)

Since I want these scenes to make logical sense, I did my usual day-dreaming to work out the problems with this scene. As a result, I considered the character motivation for each character involved.

Toranih: She wants to get out of this alive. Being caught by shadows? Not exactly conducive to her plans of warning the port city of the upcoming attack. Now, she’s been in the shadow realm before (in a slightly alternate timeline that got erased because of her actions–read Magic’s Stealing if you want to know how that went), so she has a bit of an idea of how shadow magic works. She also knows that–at least according to her memory–she’s resistant to Menchtoteale’s attempts at magic’s lure (basically, a mind control power).

Shevanlagiy: Thanks to events in Magic’s Stealing, Toranih has part of Shevanlagiy’s magic… specifically her resistance to magic’s lure. Before that event, Shevanlagiy could ignore Isahna’s commands (so long as ignoring his commands don’t alert him to her own secret plans). Now that Shevanlagiy has lost part of her magic, she’s not sure how much it will take for Isahna to give her orders that she must follow, which isn’t good when she plans on stealing the Wishing Blade from him later. At this point, she needs to kill Toranih as soon as possible. However, it’s important that she be the one to kill Toranih, otherwise she won’t get her magic back.

Menchtoteale: He’s in charge of wielding the Wishing Blade, and his job is to collect as much power into the sword as possible. He needs an army of shadows (to overrun the Immortal Realm so that he can kill the gods and force their powers into Wishing Blade). Toranih was one of the few mages who didn’t lose her powers when he wished the magic of Cirena into the Wishing Blade, largely because she had the support of a lower-tier goddess behind her. For Menchtoteale, killing Toranih with the sword means finishing that part of the job. Alternatively, striking her with a shadow blade means he should be able to command her. But he knows that someone who looked like Toranih was particularly resistant to his ability to command the shadows. As such, killing her is the more practical option, even though having a shadow mage on his side could be good for the army.

Isahna: His intent is to have Menchtoteale get as much power in the Wishing Blade as possible so that he can eventually take that sword, confront the high gods, then take their place. (It’s a bit of a vendetta after he lost the bid for power to a different god). He’s gotten surprisingly useful information from Shevanlagiy, but he’s certain that she’s playing him for a fool. Unfortunately, he’s not all-knowing, so he’s not sure what her end-game is. He does have an idea that her resistance to his powers may have dropped recently, and has something to do with Toranih. Thus, keeping Toranih around might give him a few insights into what Shevanlagiy has planned… especially since the kid has strong powers (if she can be coaxed into using them) and an interest in military operations (unlike Menchtoteale, who Isahna chose as his general mainly because the guy could forge the Wishing Blade).

There are other motivations behind these guys, as well, but I’m trying not to give away all the twists of this scene. 😉

Anyway, looking at those motivations, let’s take a look at the scene again and at what could happen instead.

First, Toranih must be captured early on in the story (or at least, she needs to be in a position where she becomes a shadow). This is critical to the plot, as she needs to be working against the shadow army from the inside. The problem with this is that, in theory, Shevanlagiy really should just sneak up on Toranih and stab her in the back.

Problem solved (And we have one very happy Shevanlagiy).

But we know from Magic’s Stealing that Shevanlagiy is hesitant to do that so long as Toranih’s other two friends are around. They have an artifact which can effectively wipe out shadows (and is a large detriment to her own powers). Not only that, but one of those people is Toranih’s sister–who has proven to have particularly good aim with a throwing knife and nearly killed Shevanlagiy once before (Shevanlagiy doesn’t die, per se, but she can get thrown into another realm and thus lose all her progress in this realm). The other person is Daernan–someone Shevanlagiy has been working very hard at making sure he stays alive. Putting him in danger isn’t a good idea for her–not yet.

Even if Shevanlagiy simply stabbed Toranih with a shadow knife and commanded her to hold still while she delivered the finishing blow, the possibility that Toranih might get destroyed by the artifact her friends have–thus permanently losing her “stolen” magic–is not a good risk.

So that’s an area I’m still running into issues with. Shevanlagiy needs Toranih dead, so the question is how does she make that attempt?

For now, let’s say that Shevanlagiy still orders a pair of shadows to kidnap Toranih and bring the girl to her. Now she’s putting the shadows–but not herself–at risk. Shevanlagiy’s first goal is still to kill Toranih… just on her own terms. She’s ready to strike when Toranih arrives, and makes an immediate attempt on Toranih’s life.

Since we don’t want Toranih dead yet, this is where we can see Toranih’s growth with magic from the previous story. She successfully thwarts Shevanlagiy with telekinesis… even though her chances are looking bleak if she can’t find a way to quickly escape.

Now enter Menchtoteale. He’s in the same location (which makes me consider… why would Shevanlagiy bring her captive to the same place as someone who might kill Toranih before her? Perhaps he comes back to their base unexpectedly early? Or perhaps Isahna gets wind that Shevanlagiy is up to something, so he sends his puppet along to check things out). Either way, Menchtoteale arrives unexpectedly, realizes Toranih is the same person he saw earlier, and he knows he won’t be able to control her easily. Forget making her a shadow, then. While Shevanlagiy is still dazed from her earlier attack, he attempts to kill Toranih and be done with it… except that Toranih, in her desperation, snags the knife from one of the nearby shadows and prevents her death by turning herself into a shadow. The catch here is that if he uses the Wishing Blade, that would kill her (but she might not be thinking about that)… unless he stops mid-strike because he’s bewildered that anyone would willingly make themselves a shadow.

He’s not the only one. Toranih isn’t sure what to make of her decision, either.

In the meantime, Shevanlagiy has had enough time to get back into the game. Now it’s more important than ever that she kill Toranih. She prepares to make the kill, but is stopped when Isahna shows up and orders them to stop. She can technically disobey his orders at the moment, but deliberately breaking his rules now would make it clear that she has her own agenda, which would jeopardize her later plans. She holds back, though she’s still trying to figure out how to take out her enemy.

Now, this next section needs some work, but this is what I have in mind so far:

Isahna orders them not to harm Toranih. Both Menchtoteale and Shevanlagiy protest, and Isahna makes the case that Toranih might be useful to have around. He orders Menchtoteale to train her, and orders Shevanlagiy not to kill her. When Shevanlagiy expresses her displeasure with the idea, he begins to question her why. Shevanlagiy tries making excuses, to which Isahna starts giving her minor orders with magic’s lure, ones which he knows she will deny if his suspicions about her are correct. Each time she refuses, her ability to resist magic’s lure dwindles, until he finally gives the order not to kill Toranih. This time, he successfully uses his power against her. Not only can he now keep Shevanlagiy away from his new military interest, but he has also discovered exactly where her resistance to his powers ends.

This is important for multiple reasons.

1st – This sets up a rule of magic that we will see throughout the rest of the series, one which Menchtoteale tells Toranih (paraphrased): “Better to accept the little things that Isahna orders of you, and thus be able to resist the commands that matter to you, rather than resist the insignificant things and be forced to do something terrible.”

2nd – We now see exactly why Shevanlagiy is afraid of Isahna… and why she is more desperate than before to push her plans along and find some way to strike Toranih and get her powers back… especially now that she physically can’t unless she takes care of Isahna first. Not only that, but this puts her in a position to ignore Toranih for the time being and focus her attention on Daernan, which gets into the sub-plot regarding glass-stone and protecting the kingdom from the shadows. Shevanlagiy is playing both sides, which makes her, to some extent, unpredictable.

3rd  – Toranih has now seen firsthand how magic’s lure works from Isahna, which affects her decisions through the rest of the series. This is especially important when Isahna offers her a legitimately useful deal later (Though it comes with it’s costs,of course. I rather enjoy stories with villains who can offer a hard-to-resist deal. Probably one of the reasons that I enjoyed Rumpelstiltskin’s character in Once Upon A Time). Along the same token, we’ll also see Isahna offering Menchtoteale a deal regarding Menchtoteale’s own freedom if he can get Toranih interested in trading places with him… and that gets into a whole nother set of character motivations. Needless to say, Isahna is going to try covering all the angles.

In the long run, taking a close look at what motivates each primary character to act, especially early on in your manuscript, can really help to work out the kinks not only in a specific scene, but also in the full length of the plot. Not only that, but you’ll also have more believable antagonists and stronger protagonists, because we can understand what they’re up against.

Now I just have to figure out how much to actually show in the story. On the bright side I’ve already shown multiple points of view in the first book, so it won’t be as odd if we see the occasional point of view from the antagonists.

I hope this post has been helpful. 🙂 Have you ever explored a character’s motivations to solve problematic scenes?

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Thoughts on Writing – Developing Character Relations

While waiting for beta readers to finish reading Magic’s Stealing, I’ve been doing a lot of edits on The Multiverse Chronicles. However, editing is not writing, and I got the itch to write. I didn’t want to move to book two of The Wishing Blade series until book one was complete, and I just finished reading On Writing Romance, so I decided to attempt to write a new adult, science-fiction romance. It’s set in the early days of the Distant Horizon universe, where super villains have secretly taken over the US government and wiped out people with super powers, all by claiming they have a hallucinogenic plague. In hindsight, writing a romance was probably a terrible idea, given that I am not an avid romance reader, and romances tend to end badly in the DH universe. But it was a personal challenge, and I accepted.

Anyway, I’ve been writing scenes here and there, and I’ve been developing the characters. Since romance focuses heavily on character interaction, I soon found that I had an issue. My characters felt weak and unrelated to the plot. They interacted, but only loosely.

That wasn’t going to work.

So I started examining the individual characters, and how they interacted with the other characters in the story.

These are the original characters:

Tamara: The heroine. College freshman with an undeclared major. Considering business or graphic arts. No powers. As a kid, she was raised by her mother, and due to shaky relations with her father, her mother instilled the whole ‘stranger danger’ fear in her daughter. Because of this, Tamara longs for stability, so she signs up for the new “EYEnet Match” program at her college, which promises to find her a near-perfect match.

 

Cole: The hero. College junior studying communication and leadership. Telepath, but he can’t tell anyone due to government regulations. He’s forced to join the EYEnet Match program as a means to get close to Tamara’s best friend, Amy, so that he can secretly scan her mind and see if she’s working with Challenge, a so-called terrorist cell. He doesn’t want to participate because he likes Tamara and he’s afraid he’ll end up hurting her if the government’s suspicions prove true.

 

Amy: Tamara’s best friend. College freshman. No powers. Lost a sibling to the ‘plague.’ She believes in true love, and thinks the EYEnet Match program is basically another online dating site. She’s interested in linguistics. She’s a bit of a rebel, but she has no interest in Challenge. She starts to fall for Joan.

 

Joan: College freshman. Skeptical of EYEnet Match, but decides to give it a try. Develops feelings for Amy when they meet in linguistics club, causing problems with her own ‘match.’ Joan carries a shield, which blocks powers, and she secretly works for Challenge (the ‘terrorist’ cell that the government is eyeing. Most of them aren’t really terrorists, but that’s how they’re portrayed).

 

Mr. Rivera: The counselor who organizes the EYEnet Match program on campus. He is Cole’s government supervisor, and he believes he lost his daughter during a terrorist attack. He orders Cole to keep an eye on Amy, and arranges for Tamara and Cole to hook up so that Cole can get in close without raising suspicions.

The problem with this particular arrangement of characters, however, is that the main plot lacked a focus on Tamara and Cole. Plus, when I described Amy and Joan to my husband as I went through the basic points of the plot (and it doesn’t help that I accidentally kept calling the main character Amy), he initially thought that Amy and Joan were the same person. Not only were the characters weak, but the plot lacked a strong conflict. Why wouldn’t Mr. Rivera have Cole keeping an eye on Joan, instead?

My husband suggested that I ‘kill my darlings’ and merge Amy and Joan’s characters. Then he suggested that I develop Tamara’s character a bit differently, since she currently had very little effect on how the story played out.

These are the modified characters:

Tamara: The heroine. College freshman with an interest in journalism. Secretly keeps a stash of old articles detailing the history of super powers, so she immediately becomes suspicious of Cole, who seems to read her mind. Nosy, she’s gets herself involved with the plot as she seeks answers to Cole’s secrets. She still has her family background of instability, which increases her need to know what he’s hiding because she longs to make their relationship work.

 

Cole: Hero. Not much changed from above. He believes his powers are a result of the plague, at least until Tamara gets involved.

 

Amy: Tamara’s best friend. College freshman studying linguistics. Has powers– the extended ability to block other people’s powers. She’s not a member of Challenge, but she’s trying to get their attention because she wants in, and it’s leading her to make a few rash decisions. In the past she was close friends with a cousin who was part of the program, but he kept her powers a secret from them and refused to let her join because he wanted her to get an education first. She has no interest in EYEnet Match, and because she’s not interested in men, Mr. Rivera can’t have Cole approach her directly.

 

Mr. Rivera: Still a counselor and still Cole’s supervisor, but now, instead of believing that he lost his daughter during an attack, he knows the truth– she was killed by the government villains because she was one of the dissidents. But Mr. Rivera maintains the charade of believing the lies so he can act as a double-agent. He pairs Cole with Tamara because he wants Cole close to Amy, mostly so he can find out if she might be interested in joining Challenge.

By combining Amy and Joan’s characters, and fleshing out the details of the other characters, we have relationships that are ripe for conflict, while still ensuring that these characters actually want to be together. Combining characters won’t always work, but it often leads to stronger character development. I plan to move a couple lines from Joan to a minor character, but other than that, I think combining them will make the story much stronger.

Now I’ve got to decide on her new name: Amy, Joan, JoAnn, Amy Jo/AJ… the list goes on. For now, I’m listing her as Amy in the manuscript, and I’ll do a ‘find and replace’ once I make a decision.

I hope you found this post helpful. 🙂

Have you ever thought about combining characters to make a story stronger?

 

 

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Do your characters pass judgement?

Today I have another writing-related post. Do your characters pass judgement?

It’s something I’ve seen blogged about in regards to point-of-view, and it also has quite a bit to do with showing. Your characters, as you write them (especially whichever character is leading the scene), pass judgment on everything they see or hear. This may be good, or it may be bad. It’s how they view the world, and it shows their attitude and voice. For example, take the small bit of scene from the manuscript I’m currently working on (Glitch).

Val pushes a plate of ham and eggs in front of me. She polished hers off a good while ago, as if she has already forgotten yesterday’s concerns. “When’s the last time you ate?”
I’m not sure. Maybe that’s why my head feels fuzzy. I push the plate aside and go for a bowl of applesauce. Though the chunky apples are practical, they taste far more extravagant than anything the Community… or the Coalition… would serve. I check the recipe in the database: cinnamon, chili powder, nutmeg.
I’d be happy with sugar.

If I’ve done my work right, the scene should give you a few clues into the main character’s personality: a bit more down-to-earth (going for practicality), curiosity (he checks the database for something as simple as a recipe), and to some degree, simplicity (being happy with just sugar, and not the other spices). When you look at the scene on the whole, he’s passing judgment on the applesauce… even though it might not be something we’d normally thinking of passing judgement on. It’s not meant that he’s being negative, only that we see it from his point of view.

Now, for a bit more obvious of a scene passing judgement:

The door opens to a bright, tall room. I breathe sharply. The Legion Spore is ugly. There’s something awkward about the mess of tentacles dangling beneath the Legion Spore’s fleshy, bulbous body, though I’m drawn to the thin membrane of its air sac. Pink fins softly ripple, glowing under the blue light.

Short, since the rest would be confusing out of context, but the main character is being introduced to the vessel he’s going to be piloting, which is a monster in its own right. While it’s supposed to be ugly, like he says, it’s also supposed to be impressive. Now, both these scenes are still in draft-phase, so I may end up changing them or omitting sections altogether, but the idea is there. The main character passes judgement. ‘Awkward’ and ‘mess’ are both negative descriptors, while the softly rippling fins are meant to be positive.

These may just be my own meanderings I’ve been considering, but feel free to share your thoughts. Have you noticed your characters passing judgment? Are the scenes in which they do more prone to being “showing” rather than “telling?” What are your thoughts?

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