Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Beginning Writers: Primary and Secondary Characters

(reprinted from The Wild Rose Press Greenhouse of Articles)
The Character Who Stole the Show
by Bev Oz©

I continually learn the craft of writing as I plow my way through my first novel. Unfortunately, one particularly noteworthy lesson was learned two-thirds into my book. My Eureka! moment happened at a critique session when one of my favorite critiquers pointed out something I'd suspected, but never really acknowledged. My story lost its focus on the main characters. I was spending so much time developing one of my new, secondary characters I was pulling away from my story line. Even worse, my secondary character had more CHARACTER than my leads.

How did this happen? Upon much reflection, I discovered the truth. I saw this person - literally. My secondary character, Officer Clyde Stewart, was based on a salesperson I met who was hawking electronic equipment. Instead of paying attention to his presentation, I was busy writing down his physical characteristics and his mannerisms. He was such an interesting character, I couldn't resist him.

As luck would have it, I was in need of a new character in my story. I transferred what I noted about the salesman onto Officer Clyde, then added other traits. After writing a bit, I started to enjoy this character. He was fun. So much fun, I wrote more about him than my leads.

The next few paragraphs are actual pieces out of my novel. Notice how much description is put into Clyde Stewart. Also notice how little you learn about my story, my main characters, or my plot in these paragraphs.

A chubby hand patted Brian's shoulder. He turned to see Clyde 'Long Tie' Stewart standing behind him.

As usual, Clyde sported a very long tie to span the considerable distance from the collar of his shirt to the top of his belt. The long tie he wore this evening was an expensive silk with a striking design of red and black geometric shapes. The knot of the tie could barely be seen under his many chins, as Clyde simply had no neck. Instead, the flesh of his chin and cheeks had swelled and drooped to meet the collar of his buttoned-down shirt.

Using both hands, Clyde leaned over and pulled up his pants in the front, then on the sides. He stood with his feet spread apart as though the stance made room for his thunderous thighs, or at least kept his center of gravity low.

Not only did I describe this character and his mannerisms, I even gave the man a nickname and explained how he got the name. But that wasn't the end to 'Long Tie's' description. I went further.

"Brian, lad. So glad to see you this evenin'." He stuck out a pudgy hand glistening with moisture.

Each time the robust man moved, his tie slid from one side of his protruding stomach to the other. The long piece of silk moved back and forth over his belly like a wiper swishing over a very round windshield.

Clyde's personality could not denied. As I wrote about him, I found I wanted to write more. I decided to make him a cocky, lecherous creep who didn't mind offending anyone he met.

"If you do, give me the pleasure of your company." Clyde placed one of his cards in Darci's hand then slid his sausage fingers over her palm. His pudgy cheeks were pushed so high from his stupid grin, his bright eyes were barely visible. "I hate to be too much of a braggart, but I'm a powerful good cook, and I dearly enjoy guests."

Brian's crossed arms stiffened, and his fingers pressed deep into his biceps. The son of a bitch was making a move on Darci right before his eyes. Had Clyde not been a police officer, an officer working on his parents' case no less, Brian's fist would have been planted right in the middle of Long Tie's fat face.

The point to my lesson is this, try to develop your main characters to the point you can actually see them. You have to know everything about them, their likes and dislikes, their fears and their strengths, their physical characteristics and their mannerisms, then put those characteristics and more all over your story. Doing so will help make CHARACTERS out of your characters, and likely characters your readers won't soon forget.

(reprinted with permission from 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Beginning Writers: Adverbs

Beginning Writers: Adverbs
Adverbs are often referred to as the dreaded LY words. By definition, the adverb is the part of speech that modifies a verb, adjective, or another adverb. You might be surprised how many you use. It’s easy to dump them into your narrative, and so easy to rely on them to do your work for you. Try the Find feature of your word processor. Then type in LY and hit Find.
Try rewriting sentences that contains LY words. Instead, use an action verb or physical movement to create an image for the reader. I’m not suggesting you automatically eliminate all adverbs from your writing. However, each adverb should be viewed suspiciously. Finally, If the adverb can be easily eliminated without dramatically changing the meaning of the passage then it should be immediately removed and carefully scrutinized when revising. It’ll make your writing stronger and tighter. Smile.
With a lowered head and eyes fixed in front, she moved silently, swiftly and carefully, like a cat stalking its prey. The dirt work edits way stubbornly into her fingernails. She coughed softly and carefully continued on her way. Simply by removing the six adverbs (silently, swiftly,carefully, stubbornly, softly, carefully), the passage loses nothing of the meaning but the clutter: With a lowered head and eyes fixed in front, she moved like a cat stalking its prey. The dirt worked its way into her fingernails. She gave a muffled cough and continued on her way.
• Her eyes closed tightly. This could read as: She squeezed her eyes shut.
The teacher looked menacingly at the disruptive student.Could say: The teacher glared at the hooligan.
• He foolishly invested in bad real estate, becomes, He speculated in real estate.
• She went quickly, try: She hurried, or, She sprinted.
• She spoke softly, try simply: She whispered.
• Mary prodded gingerly at the remains of what had once been a chicken leg, wishing she had the nerve to feign a headache, anything to avoid actually eating the charred meat. Try: Mary poked the burnt remains with her fork. It used to be a chicken leg. No way anyone could tell now. Where was the inevitable headache that reared up during one of these get-togethers? Did she dare fake one? Anything so she wouldn’t have to eat the charred meat.
General rule of thumb. Though adverbs are a useful and necessary form of speech and there are times when no other word or combination of words will suffice adverbs should be used only when necessary.
Suggested reading:
On Writing Well, 5th Edition - William Zinsser
Self Editing For Fiction Writers - Renni Browne and DaveKing
By Cindy Davis 

Monday, April 8, 2013

One Thing Leads To Another by Kinan Werdski

One Thing Leads To Another

                I bought a new desk.
The old one was so cramped, cluttered and dusty that I hated to look at it. I finally bit the bullet and ordered a new desk online. It arrived after a week or so with some rather significant deficiencies--structural damage and quite a lot of cosmetic scars. So I demanded a replacement. That one also arrived with deficiencies, but they weren’t so bad. In fact, I spent an afternoon swapping parts back and forth and ended up with a useable product. Hallelujah!
                Bear with me here. This does relate to writing.
                Next step was to integrate it into the space available. First I had to remove irrelevant things from the office and stick them  where they really belonged. That involved making room amid my craft stuff, but that’s another story. Next, I cleared out a file cabinet--did I really need all the critiques of a manuscript for a book published eight years ago? I thought not--and rolled it aside. I cleaned the rug, dusted things that hadn’t been dusted in years, undid cables, set up the desk, plugged all the cables back in.
Honest, I’ll get to the writing.
I got rid of everything superfluous and rearranged what was left to better advantage. I added better lighting, washed the windows and touched up the paint. I cleaned, polished, sorted and tidied.
The new desk was just a starting point. My file cabinet has room for the stuff that used to pile up on the floor. The entire room now breathes and shines. It’s no longer a slap-dash conglomeration of bits and pieces; it has become a fluid, welcoming place. Something I’m proud to share.
Okay, here’s the writing bit. You’ve worked on a manuscript for so long you hate to look at it. It’s cluttered, dusty and dull. You get cranky just thinking about it, yet you can’t leave it alone. So buy a new desk—er, try something drastic. Rewrite from another POV, toss in a nasty new character, throw stones at your heroine. Sure, the first draft will be deficient, and probably the second one, too. Rewrite, combine, celebrate. Repeat as necessary.
Now, follow through. A new chapter all by itself won’t do a thing for you. Integrate it into the space available. Some pages you love might have to go, but they can be part of another story. You’ll end up throwing some things out, moving others, letting in light. Clean, polish, sort and tidy.
It’s hard work, but creativity is joyful hard work. In the end your work will flow and shine. It will welcome readers. And you’ll be proud to share it.

Kinan Werdski, editor
The Wild Rose Press

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Worry Factor

The Worry Factor
Hooks—Does Your Story Have Them?
By Leanne Morgena

No matter in what sub-genre you write, your story must contain hooks. I’m using this word to mean plot twists that speed the pace and hook the reader’s interest. Why, you ask. Isn’t a compelling story with protagonists who are at odds compelling enough? My answer is maybe.

Your goal as an author is to construct your scenes so that the ending of each one propels the reader to keep reading. Don’t end a scene or chapter with your hero or heroine in a state of peace (unless the story has ended or your intention is for the reader to stop reading).

Too many times, I’ve read submissions where at the end of the chapter the heroine crawls into bed and turns out the light. Yawn. Nothing in that scene ending compels me to keeping reading. What if the heroine crawls into bed, reaches for the novel at her bedside, anticipating her nightly two chapters of me-time, and the lights go out? Then I have to turn the page to find out why. Did a fuse blow? Did she forget to pay her bill? Is electricity out in the entire neighborhood? Has someone cut the power to the house? Suspense has been added to the story. The author has hooked me into reading the next page.

An event like the above may not fit the tone of your story but don’t ignore my advice. If readers aren’t worried about your characters, they won’t care. If they don’t care, they won’t continue reading and you’ve lost a potential buyer for your next story.

Look at your current manuscript for the scene and chapter endings. Have you ended each with the character in a state of uncertainty? If so, great. If not, you have a bit of tweaking that needs doing.

Remember, when in doubt, always include a worry factor.