Posts Tagged ‘character’

14-layer cakeHi everybody! It’s been a long time since I’ve written and even though I’m focused on novel writing, I do miss posting on the blog. So I’m periodically going to write about the experience.

I was thinking about the arc of the book and of Risha’s experience going from a nobody to reaching for her destiny. What would it look like? I wrote down the words


on a notebook page and was about to fill them in, when I realized that this didn’t just apply to the first book, but to all three. And not just events, but thematically. What happens to the story and to her as a character?

Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces examined the journeys of heroes of myth around the world, breaking it down into three main stages (and seventeen smaller stages): Separation, where the hero leaves the world they’ve known; Initiation, where they achieve their goal; and Return, where the hero brings what they’ve learned back for the benefit of all.

The way that I imagine a generic science fiction trilogy, our heroine starts the first book as a nobody, then by the end establishes herself as someone to be reckoned with. In the second book, she starts as someone to be reckoned with, then ends the book as not only a heroine, but THE heroine that the ultimate evil must destroy. In the third book, she confronts both her enemy and herself in order to win. Victory may not be what we thought it was, and she may be vanquished in the process as well.

How have others done it?

The original Star Wars saga is a classic example. In Star Wars we meet Luke Skywalker, farm boy, who leaves the world he’s known to help save a princess and the cause of freedom in the galaxy. In The Empire Strikes Back, the stakes are raised. The Emperor realizes who Luke is and puts a bullseye on him: he must be turned or destroyed. Luke finds that becoming a hero is more difficult than he ever thought it would be, and is very nearly defeated. In Return of the Jedi, Jedi Luke defeats the evil inside himself, redeems his father, and destroys his enemy.

Another series that I thought followed a good, thoughtful arc was Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. In Batman Begins, we see Bruce Wayne become Batman. In The Dark Knight, Bruce faces the consequences of his action, and has to ask himself how far he’s willing to go with the path he’s started down. In the Joker he sees a madman who enjoys twisting good into evil, and in Two-Face, he sees a champion of justice willing to throw away the law. And in The Dark Knight Rises, Bruce faces an anti-Batman. Bane is as strong and as smart as he is, and uses the trappings of law to justify anarchy.

The classic fantasy trilogy is, of course, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. In The Fellowship of the Ring we see Frodo Baggins leave the world he knows to take up a quest to destroy an ancient evil. At the end of the story, the Fellowship is shattered but Frodo carries on. In The Two Towers, we see Frodo’s friends fighting evil on multiple fronts, while Frodo himself carries on with his quest. Frodo is met by Gollum, the former owner of the Ring, and the evil wretch that Frodo might become if he too falls under the Ring’s power. Finally, in The Return of the King, Frodo is overcome by the Ring’s power, but Gollum’s corruption by it proves to be his undoing, and the Ring is finally destroyed as it and Gollum fall into the hellish fire from which it came.

So what does Risha’s heroic journey look like? I see it going like this:

Book 1 – Become a Heroine – accepting her destiny
Book 2 – Becoming a Princess – there is a price to be paid
Book 3 – Becoming a Queen – finishing what she started

Which breaks down like this:

Becoming a Heroine
Beginning – Finding her way
Middle – Accepting her destiny
End – Striking a blow

Becoming a Princess
Beginning – Enemies retaliate
Middle – Victory is in doubt
End – Finding hope

Becoming a Queen
Beginning – Carrying on
Middle – Redemption
End – Destiny

I cannot begin to tell you how many layers will go into this cake. Only that it will be a lot.

“14 layer cake” from
Used without permission


Getting to Know You

Posted: November 22, 2014 by writingsprint in Nanowrimo
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Dreams take a long time to die, especially in the young.

A little over 2,000 words today, and almost 38,000 words done. It sounds like a lot but I still have 12,000 to go, which is a full third of what I’ve done already.

I think most of the words I’ve written today and probably those I’ll write tomorrow won’t make it into the finished book. I need to know Risha better. I know she’s a princess and a crook, but at the end of the day I need to know more about where she’s going. To do that I need to know what’s driving her. What she wants to make happen, not just as a series of actions she needs to do. It’s like the difference between dancing with someone you feel passionately about versus dancing and stepping on cardboard feet on the floor. I got to know her better as a ten-year-old, just after her exile, and a little better as an adult. We need more.

Complaint of the night: what the hell is up with Mac OS Yosemite? The file I was using five minutes ago doesn’t show up in the “Recents” list in Microsoft Word. Grrr.

Weird research of the day: missing items from the US National Archives.

MJ Bush collected 99 great little pieces of advice on strong characters — including a PDF download of all of them! Some of my favorites:

“Let’s face it, characters are the bedrock of your fiction. Plot is just a series of actions that happen in a sequence, and without someone to either perpetrate or suffer the consequences of those actions, you have no one for your reader to root for, or wish bad things on.” Icy Sedgwick

For someone as focused on action and plot as I am, I need to be reminded of this.

“Great fiction is fueled by bad decisions and human weakness.” Kristen Lamb

Augh! Bad decisions and weakness. I write characters who are generally strong and get thrown into situations that even they can’t handle.

Oh, who am I kidding. I have trouble writing bad decisions and weakness in characters because I have a hard time tolerating them in life, period. I’m used to looking at them as things to be fought through and overcome. I need to let being “only human” into my writing.

For every important moment, your character needs to react. First viscerally, then emotionally, then physically and finally, intellectually. Often a writer will show a character reacting with deep thought about a situation, when their first natural reactions are missing.” CS Larkin

Good point! We react with our gut first, even if we don’t realize it.

“A character is what he does, yes — but even more, a character is what he means to do.” Orson Scott Card

And the drama of the story is dealing with what happens when he or she doesn’t get their way.

“The thing I do at the beginning is a “voice journal,” a free form doc that is the character speaking to me. I just work on it until I start to hear different from my own, or the other characters.” James Scott Bell

Ooh! I need to do this for Risha, king Ro, and some other characters.

A cool article from Allyson Everard that talks about bad guys and plot arcs. It’s amazing how we all do what we do.

Bloodstone Sci Fi


In any work of fiction, these are the two areas more vulnerable and more precious than any other. Sex and the challenge of the Bad Guy. I covered sex already (HERE), so now let’s move on to the Bad Guy.

The Bad Guy and the why-how challenge: Writing a villain is easy enough, but you really do have to make him or her strong and to some extent unstoppable. If your villain isn’t a serious force to be reckoned with, then there is no threat. You can have the meatiest book ever, you can have a saga of strong emotions, action and adventure, marvelous obstacles to get over, through, around, and all the trauma and excitement in the world. You can have the twistiest plots with the best winning-through-in-the-end formula. It could be expertly written – everything – but it won’t help you one iota if the average…

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Turning Weakness into Strength

Posted: May 10, 2014 by writingsprint in Writing
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This post illustrates a great example of the kinds of hoops authors jump through when plotting their stories. Half the time you’re falling down the mountain, but how many of us think to try to fly instead?

[Plug:] I had a similar situation when I wrote Slave Soldier. The main character was completely outclassed by his enemy. I knew it and he knew it. So instead of having him get lucky (first draft) or having him get help (second draft) I finally came up with a plan that was so crazy it worked (final draft).

Bloodstone Sci Fi


The problem started when I gave my lead villain royal credentials – it seemed like a good idea at the time – the Chiddran had been introduced, bringing in their own Empire and their own colonizing expansion into space, and they were/are currently engaged in war with the aggressive Khekarians, who have possession of most of the galaxy and want the rest of it.

Great, I thought. A bit of depth, a sense of history, basically background stuff. Then I wanted to use it. I wanted to plug my story more deeply into that, somehow. As the governing hierarchy for the Khekarian Empire is a vast system of royals, from major to minor, I figured making my lead villain an exiled royal would give him a suitable cause and reason to do dastardly things.

To push him right to the edge of acceptance, if not outside of it, I made…

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Characters and Plots

Posted: April 16, 2014 by writingsprint in Writing
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pen and paperCharacters drive plot. Characters need to want something, the kind of wanting that gets them out of bed to work on it.

Characters who go after something are more interesting than characters who are reacting to something. (Who are much, much more interesting than characters who sit there and watch life go by.)

A short story’s plot should be focused, something that the main character could resolve in a day if he set his mind to it. At most, a weekend.

Most writers will have heard the first two of these before. The third one is a rule of thumb that I’ve just invented. I’m talking about these because I experienced these things like a punch in the face while working on Don’t Mess with the Dreamcatchers.

It was an entertaining enough story to write, but about halfway through I realized that I’d condemned Carl to reacting to both the spiders and the fireflies in every single scene. Carl wanted to protect his family. That’s a good thing, but how much better would it have been if Carl was an exterminator and he made it his personal mission in life to defeat the bugs? Too much of it was reacting, and that’s because it was wrapped around Carl just wanting his regular life back. It’s like being the straight man in a comedy act. The act needs the role, but it’s not half as much fun as being the comic.

Compare this to Dubrillion Burning. It does start off with a villain taking action, as opposed to our heroine, but now Risha is firmly in the driver’s seat. She reacted by starting a resistance movement, and she’s not going to stop until either she’s dead or sitting on the throne. That’s a character driving the plot.

Off the top of my head, I were inclined to write it again, still inspired by the phrase “be nice to spiders,” I might have gone the Arachnophobia route. Carl detests spiders. He kills the ones infesting his house, and they respond by hanging his car keys in a web. Carl kills them too and fights them at night on infra-red. He walks into a trap and gets a bowling ball dropped on his head. Pinned in webs, the spiders tell him Charlotte’s Web-style to back off or they’ll make a meal out of him. Carl reluctantly agrees.

That leads to one more lessons I’ve learned: give your stories the time they deserve before you get started. Be willing to play around with them after you’ve started, too. Half of writing is play. More, if you’re doing it right.

Not every story sings off the page. Dreamcatchers was good for laughs and it gave me a chance to at least try out the ick factor. In a backwards way, it also taught how to write more compelling stories.


Let’s face it, it’s her story

Post #14 of the “Dubrillion Burning” series

Before I dive in with the Don’t Mess with the Dreamcatchers, I need to write about a “problem” that’s come up in Dubrillion Burning.

It’s about Risha, the minor character who demanded to be a major character. It’s worse than that. Now I think the story is really hers. Dubrillion is her world. Her involvement takes what could be as remote as headlines in a newspaper and brings it into the reader’s lap. It’s not a civil war on the far side of the world. It’s your best friend’s civil war and it’s happening in your living room. She’s also primed to undergo the biggest transformation in the story—at least the biggest I’m aware of now. She goes from being one of the galaxy’s elite criminals to taking the throne to rule her home planet, as a legitimate, responsible queen. She has to let go of her freewheeling life and hold the lives of millions of people in her hands.

Things came to a head while I was working on yesterday’s scene. Jeana’s going to lay it on the line for Risha. She brings her face to face with what she is and what the road ahead of her looks like. This does two things: it foreshadows Risha’s story arc, and it positions Jeana as Risha’s mentor. While Jeana is around the same age as Risha, or younger, her life happens near the seat of Imperial power. While she’s a warrior, she understands how power games are played. (Unlike the author.)

When I wrote that moment, my first thought was, “I don’t want to read about these other guys. I want to read about her!”

To recap:

  • Risha is a minor character
  • Who became a major character
  • Who is at the center of the story
  • Who has the best-developed personal growth arc ahead of her
  • Which is anchored to one of the original “big three” characters, and will give them one of the strongest relationships in the story — one that’s classic in heroic mythology, I might add.

Writers dream about things tying together this well. This is a problem for me on several levels.

I don’t know Risha. Not as well as I’d like. I need to get to know her better if I’m going to make this work. Raffa, Jeana and Cartog were the main characters originally. I’m under their skins, not hers.

This isn’t where I planned for the story to go. Among other things, I’d been planning to take a look at Raffa and Jeana’s chemistry. That story line may go completely out the window. Jeana might like the guy but her main focus would be on her “pupil.” Without a more emotional tie to the war, and with Risha having a “new best friend,” Raffa may get distracted, which is interesting, too. Hmm.


Warning: this post contains spoilers from the video game Star Wars: The Old Republic. It’s also a very long post.

In a recent interview, author Rebecca Cantrell had a tantalizing story about where the idea for her latest novel, The World Beneath, came from: “[O]ne day as I was going down the stairs to the subway platform I was hit by that wall of air that comes up from underground. I thought, ‘Subway tunnels breathe.’ I knew that was the first line of a book, so I typed it into my phone and rode around until I discovered who would say that. Eventually Joe Tesla emerged.”

I don’t know about other writers, but the first challenge I face whenever I start anything is to know what the story is. Usually I get inspired by an image, a moment, a song, words, something that grabs me and makes the left side of my brain go “wow.” Unfortunately, this is the creative equivalent of taking a drag off a cigarette. It gives you a quick buzz, but there’s no nourishment, no beginning, middle and end. What I need is the creative equivalent of a well-crafted meal: appetizer, entrée, dessert, even if that just means potato chips, chicken sandwich, apple. Sometimes I just start pounding keys and the story reveals itself. Other days, not so much.

With Dubrillion Burning –- this is the title until the story tells me what it really wants to be called –- I have only two points that are clear for where the story will go:

The beginning. An exiled queen and her friends in low places join forces to overthrow a tyrant and save her planet.

The end. Well, I can’t tell you that, now, can I? Either good will triumph over evil, mostly, or we’ll have the survivors staring at the burning landscape, knowing that they’ll go on, but not knowing how. It’ll be one of these two.

The first thing I did was map out what I knew about the characters. Characters drive the story. More to the point, they’re the reason we care about the story. There were three main characters, plus one who stood up and forced herself to be counted.

Raffa. A smuggler who would normally stay on the edge of a civil war, making an easy stack of credits and spending it with his feet up on a beach somewhere. The reason why he can’t is because he’s close friends with…

Risha. An exiled princess from Dubrillion, her dream faded as she grew up in the galaxy’s ruthless underworld. Her dream was reawakened when she met Raffa, a smuggler with a good heart. Her adventures with him have brought her dream close to reality.

Jeana. The deadliest warrior in the Sith Empire. She’s an anomaly among her peers in that she draws power from the Light Side of the Force, not the Dark. Raffa and Risha helped her escape a planet where her former master had tried to have her killed, and one of her crew is an old friend of Risha’s.

Cartog. Former elite agent in Imperial Intelligence, Cartog was used by both the Empire and the Republic. He went rogue and now intervenes where he chooses, when he chooses, for causes that he feels are right. This is one of them. He won’t allow the atrocities on Dubrillion to go unanswered.

The second thing I did was get a handle on the beginning of the plot.

It starts with Dubrillion. Risha was involved at a distance before, but things have gone to hell, and now she and Raffa have to go help. That automatically opened a few questions:

Are the Republic and Empire fighting over it already?

Man, that’ll complicate the story. Hang on. Is Dubrillion a major player on the galactic stage? (Googles a map of the Star Wars galaxy.)

Map of the STAR WARS galaxy

Nope, nowhere near the Core Worlds

It doesn’t look like it. They’re at the edge of the Outer Rim, at the tail end of a hyperspace route. According to the Star Wars wiki, there was a Jedi enclave there 300 years ago. It doesn’t look like anything serious happens there for a while.

The Empire or the Republic could use it as a flanking point on the other side. Still… their supply line would stretched so damned thin that it could be severed in the blink of an eye. To make life easier I’m going to say neither of them is getting involved at this time.


I’ll own up to another part of the answer: Getting the Republic and the Empire involved would be like having the US and Russia move into Syria. It’s a geopolitical, strategic nightmare. To keep things simple, and because I like stories with a tighter focus, I’m not getting those two behemoths involved.

Would the Republic intervene for humanitarian reasons? It’s a Republic world and people are dying.

As bad as it is, the Republic really has bigger things to worry about. Governments never like getting into the middle of a civil war, because then you have both sides shooting at you.

The war between the Republic and the Empire is at a stalemate now. Break up the fight on Dubrillion and you could lose the battle for a planet closer to the Core. The big picture decision is to stay out of it and pray it’s over soon.


Okay, so what happens next?

The Rebel and Usurper forces are evenly matched. What Raffa and Risha need is someone to help tip the scales in their favor so that the killing can stop quickly. Enter Jeana and Cartog. Cartog specializes in intelligence, sabotage and coup d’etat. Jeana is a scalpel, wielding her lightsaber to cut away cancers.

Now, let’s be real. They’re not superhuman—well, Jeana is, but even she has limits. Bringing them in won’t solve everything, but the right person in the right place at the right time can make all the difference.

Now you’re caught up.

All righty. Now what?

I’m figuring that out. Raffa and Risha need to make contact with Jeana and Cartog, and make their way to Dubrillion. They also need to get back in touch with Count Rinald to see how they can help. Part of their strategy will be to get their friends in low places raiding the Usurper’s space forces and delivering supplies to the Rebels.

That’ll do for a start.

Oh, no you don’t, Jack. Tell me more about these characters.

You got me. Without giving too much away, here are a few storylines that I have in mind at this point

Raffa and Risha have history. It’s old history but it does complicate things for both of them.

Cartog and Raffa don’t mesh well together. Cartog’s a skilled professional and Raffa flies by the seat of his pants. I should throw them into a crisis together and see how it works out.

I’m debating whether or not Jeana and Raffa have chemistry. They probably are, too.

Cartog needs a more personal stake in the war. I don’t know what that looks like yet. I won’t contrive one that doesn’t exist, but I’ll keep my eyes open for an opportunity.

In the roughest possible terms, I see the plot looking something like this.


  • Dubrillion’s in trouble!
  • Let’s help out
  • Whoa, this is going to be harder than we thought
  • We need to do this, that and the other
  • This worked
  • That didn’t
  • The other got really fucked up


  • Things aren’t going so well
  • Whoa! We’re in big trouble!
  • Don’t worry, I’ll save you!
  • Next time, don’t help me
  • Wait, is that what I think it is?
  • Holy crap!
  • End

    Sorry, I really won’t go there right now! 😀

    Want a Beer… Comrade?

    Posted: March 13, 2014 by writingsprint in Fun Stuff, Writing
    Tags: , , , , ,

    car chaseThis morning I was thinking about how I need to work on my plot development. I’m working on details, and I’m shaking off the rust with getting inside characters’ heads and emotions. Where I still struggle, really struggle, is plot development. I can go from point A to point B with the best of them, but weaving together a sequence of events that’s short, sweet, and makes good fictional sense is hard for me. A to B to C is reality. A problem B crisis C resolution D aftermath E is a story. And it all has to be driven by the deepest desires of a character, preferably with some growth or change along the way.

    I remembered when one of my classmates back in college had trouble coming up with an ending for his story. In reality, he didn’t really have a story at that point. He had five quirky characters stuck in a car driving through the Carolinas on their way to Spring Break. He eventually abandoned that story and went with another one. Hmm. I wonder what he could have done with that idea…

    Teacher: Okay. They’re going to Spring Break. So what’s their problem?

    Student: They can’t get to Spring Break.

    Teacher: Right. Turn up the volume. Why? It can’t be a problem that’s easy to solve.

    Student: Their car breaks down.

    Teacher: Not bad. What about rentals?

    Student: It happens at night. They don’t want to wait until morning.

    Teacher: They’re assholes! I love it! Then what?

    Student: They steal a car!

    Teacher: (claps his hands) Perfect! All right. So now you’ve got them off and running. Give them a real problem. Something that makes them, and the audience, think that they’ll never make it to Florida.

    Student: The car they stole belongs to a CIA agent. It has secrets in the trunk.

    Teacher: (laughing) Glorious! Oh my God! If you write this, I’m giving you an A. Now solve the problem.

    Student: They drop off the secrets in Florida themselves. The story ends with them laying on the beach in Fort Lauderdale. A girl walks up to the driver and says, “Want a beer… comrade?”

    I may have to write this one.

    The Vampire Hunter

    Posted: February 26, 2014 by writingsprint in Fantasy
    Tags: , , , , , ,

    vampire hunting kit

    Image by Abbey Bee

    His name was Garibaldi. For the last six years he had been at the forefront, the very cutting edge, of the war against the vampires. There would be no murder warrants for him, because vampires destroyed themselves in fire after he shattered the cortex of evil that held them in our world. He was protected from becoming one of them by a consecration rite given him by a priest who had fallen in the war. His soul went directly to heaven, do not pass go, do not collect penance. It kept him from having his soul drunk by the vampire that killed him.

    He, like the other slayers, went from target to target, sometimes planning the attack, more often happening upon one and being ready when he did. The vampires killed the same way. Many of them enjoyed wrapping mortals around their fingers, then the moment of terror and anguish when their lovers turned on them. Garibaldi knew a vampire when he saw one, and he also knew which ones were too dangerous to take out when he first saw them.

    His killings had been to the vampires what theirs had been to ours. Brutal, random. It was like dancing around knives. You stumbled and were cut. You fell and you died. Then, one night, everything changed. A vampire seized his girlfriend, drugged her, and was going to use her in a ceremony to make a new vampire. Or some such shit.
    There hadn’t been a way to take them out one at a time. There was no way and no time. Garibaldi had to sacrifice her to them-he could have killed her after the fact, while she was weak, in an act of love-or he had to do what he did.

    It had been a massacre. Nothing like it had been seen since the Middle Ages, when mobs of villagers had summoned their courage and killed vampires, and certainly never by one man. When he remembered it, it was like reliving the moment in The Terminator when Arnold attacked the police station. He had walked in there with two shotguns loaded with wooden buckshot, an Uzi loaded with wooden bullets, and wooden points strapped to his forearms in case he had to go hand to hand. The screaming and the blood and the fire were his evil lullabies every night when he went to sleep. And he still hadn’t been able to save Julia. He’d slaughtered every last one of the vampires, but she was already dead. Not made, thank God, but her blood had been sucked out.

    The vampires, of course, found out who he was. From that night on he was marked. Every night he waited for an attack that sometimes came. He slept inside a circle of protection, the only thing that kept him alive when he finally had to rest. The worst part was that the vampires could gather around themselves for help. The vampire hunters could not. It was too dangerous for them even to live as it was. The only hope that the vampire hunters had was that their deaths wouldn’t lead to the deaths of their allies.

    As lonely and brutal as the work was, killing vampires satisfied Garibaldi more than any job he ever had. He slept like a baby at night. Except for their horrible spreading, vampires reproduced much more slowly than the hunters. Like the vampires, there was always one more hunter that they hadn’t caught, one more person who believed. Garibaldi had been told once that he brought five more people–five!–into the fight that night that he killed the largest gathering in Los Angeles.