Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Evolution vs. Creationism

When it comes to making characters writers have two ends of a spectrum, and most fall somewhere in the middle. They can either create their characters first before even starting the novel or they can let the characters evolve as the plot plays out.


When making a character you have to have at least a vague idea about them, but some writers go all out on making their characters before they even start writing the first page. I read about one writer who draws a sketch of each character, knows what hospital they were born in, who their friends in kindergarten were, their first job, ect. That is a lot of work that will never make it into the book.

Like most things there are Pros and Cons to knowing that much detail about your character, the good thing is you don't have to break your flow when your writing and research some little detail about your character because you've done that before hand.

The little details about a character come up at the most unusual times, in MIND THIEF I wrote this sentence:

He leaned in close and inhaled the sweet scent of her light perfume.

Then had to hit the brakes, what did her light perfume smell like?

I then had to stop and research perfumes and find out what scents my character would pick out. This is the type of thing that if I had fully researched my character before hand I would know.

The bad side of knowing your character that well is you have even less objectivity when it comes to writing your scenes.

In REPOSSESSING SANITY where I did do a lot work on the main character before hand I had this little scene:

As the rest of the catering staff toiled away in the main kitchen, I made my special meal in the smaller family kitchen.

I had to sneak into the main kitchen to get a box of arugula lettuce, the largest covered serving platter in the mansion and a serving cart. No one paid any attention to me. While the meal cooked I made a lovely Lemon Garlic Vinaigrette, even though the guests probably wouldn't even taste it.

As the guests ate their entrées my heart was nearly bursting through my chest, I couldn't wait to see Gloria's face when I presented my dish to her.

They finally finished and I wheeled my cart in and stopped it right in front of Gloria's seat at the head of the table. I pulled off the cover and kept all emotion off my face as the conversation stopped.

All eyes in the room were glued to Gloria's baby on the silver platter. Lightly roasted on a bed of lettuce with an excellent Lemon Garlic Vinaigrette coating. The baby was Mr. Beals payment for Gloria's position and I'm sure the shock on her face had as much to do with knowing that Mr. Beals would be paying her a visit, as having her six month old baby boy presented to her in this manner.

I'll inform the chef of your displeasure,” I said in my stuffiest tone and exited the dinning room. By the time the guests had gotten over their shock I was out the side door and in a new Porsche whose keys I had taken from the valet stand earlier.

I knew that my main character, Doug, had worked his way through college as a dishwasher in a four star restaurant and from that experience would know what sauce to coat an infant in. However the reader didn't know that. When one of my beta readers asked, “How come Doug knows so much about cooking?” I thought it was so obvious it was because of his former job. But I hadn't mentioned his job in the story. So something that was natural to me because I knew my character so well wasn't put in the story which could take the reader out of the action.


This is how I tend to work with my characters. I approach it like a Human Resources Manager and put out a job opening add:

Now hiring Psychopaths

Must be hard working and have an irresistible desire to kill and mutilate. Heavy manual labor involved.

Once I start writing I can fill in the little quirks of their behavior. Within the first page I hammer out their basic tone on life, that gives me their name. When they need a skill I think up a way that they acquired that. As they react with their environment I pick up little details on what they look like. As the story evolves so do my characters.

The upside to doing that is I don't leave the reader out of any thing that influenced their character as I am finding out about it at the same time.

The downside is I have to go back and rewrite things to match the information. The character I had that changed the most during a novel was Amanda my time traveling babe from AN EXTRA TOPPING OF HORROR.

She started out as Samantha and at some point changed her name. I wasn't aware of that until my 10th of so rewrite when she called herself that in the last chapter. Oops.

At first she was 5'2” and roughly 90 lbs. As the story progressed she had to do a lot of physical activity and she slowly grew taller until she was just a few inches shorter than Brian the main character.

Her age changed several times, she started out 35, then got younger and younger until at one point she was the youngest person ever nominated for a Noble Prize. She then grew older and older until she was roughly 30 years old.

She even acquired a hook shaped nose.

Another downside of letting your characters evolve through the book is I have never had a first chapter stay the first chapter.


If you spend a lot time before writing your book working on your characters you won't hit as many speed bumps in writing your first draft, however you are very locked into their reactions. If you do go into huge detail with them just remember you may have to change them as your book progresses.

If you let your characters evolve, be prepared for a lot of rewriting throughout the novel to have them reflect the changes.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What a Character.

Major disclaimer here, I am primarily a plot driven writer and I had thought characters were my weak spot. Although in the beta readings of my latest book MIND THIEF people are loving the characters and dialog and missing the plot because of it. So take these words with a grain of salt.

You've figured out what POV you should use and where to start now you've got to have the who, your main character. In the pulp sci-fi novels of the 50s I grew up on that wasn't a problem. Characters were one dimensional. They had to be because of the way they were written. The writer banged them out on typewriters and often didn't do rewrites as rewriting anything back then meant if you wanted to change a word or two you would have to retype the entire chapter.

So if a writer described his main character as having shoulders like a linebacker in the first chapter and then the hero had to roll under a closing blast door that was a foot from the ground, the writer would have to go back and retype the entire first chapter.

The same is true for the main character's motivations. The main characters had to be heroic and pure of heart as the more subtle motivations could trigger a rewrite. The best example I can think of bypassing more subtle motivations is MYSTERIOUS ISLAND. The five men lived on an island for years and only thought of making it a better place to live. A writer today could never get away with that as critics would ask, why aren't they breaking down and having prison sex on the beach?

So today a writer needs to give their characters more motivations than just being Dudley Doowright. Unless you've made your character have a reason, like OCD, to have a laser like focus on the final goal, their motivations need to be more than just doing the right thing.

One thing that gives your characters life is the initial decision, the choice they make that sets everything off. The second thing that makes readers identify with a character is giving them a motivation that the reader can relate to. It doesn't have to be something they experienced but that they can empathize with.

My main character, Howie, in MIND THEIF was adopted and his adopted dad disappeared when Howie was 15. As a result he doesn't trust people so he tries to do everything by himself, including having to get a 3.8 GPA to maintain his scholarships and enrolling in a psych study to pay for the rest of the bill.

Now that is something I've never experienced as my tuition, rooms and meals cost $1,600 per semester and my Pell Grants were $2,100. Back then you only paid for college if you had a specialized major, or were from a wealthy family.

But I can empathize with Howie and see why he would choose to enroll in a psych study.

Howie not wanting to rely on anyone isn't an uncommon motivation. People can see why all his decisions can stem from that motivation.

Naturally this applies to all the major characters in your book. With the secondary characters you can have more fun as you don't have to show their motivations up front. When you finally do show their motivations the reader can look back and say, that's why they acted like that.

When thinking about what motivates your characters keep it simple and something people can relate to. That can lead to the reader cheering for them in the final conflict.

A classic example of using a simple motivation to make the viewer cheer for the heroine is ALIENS. Ripley lost her daughter and she runs into Newt who needs protection from the aliens. Ripley's motivation is clear she isn't going to lose another child. It brought the movie up from just a Humans Vs Aliens movie to two mother's battling to save their children from each other.

Monday, July 18, 2011

My entry in a contest

The public slushpile was having a contest to write a flash fiction story entitled "Why does Jimmy hate pizza?" This goes along with the theme of "An Extra Topping of Horror" so I wrote one within the setting of that book.
I thought it was pretty good for having spent about 30 minutes on it.
What do you think?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Oh, where to start!

Two weeks ago I talked about figuring out what POV you should start writing a book in. BTW I forgot one really good example of 1st person POV and that is the “Stainless Steel Rat” series by Harry Harrison.

After figuring out what POV to write your book in, you have to figure out where the story starts. This is one of the hardest decisions in writing and also the most important one if you want to capture the readers attention. Luckily there is only one place to start a story, with several variations.


People at rest tend to stay at rest until acted on by an outside force. When your main character hits something that changes his life that starts the story. The beginning of the story needs to take place somewhere near this incident. How close depends on the type of story you are telling.


If you want people to relate to your main character the story has to begin shortly before triggering incident and at the decision that main character made that brought him to the incident. In THE PIZZA DIARIES retitled AN EXTRA TOPPING OF HORROR I originally started at the triggering incident where my main character saves the damsel in distress. It seemed logical, but he really didn't have any choices to make unless he was a true bastard. There was a naked woman dazed in the road. Unless he was a total psychopath he had no choice but to help her. As a result for the entire first chapter he was pushed along by the events that happened. That shaped the readers impression of him as someone who just got pushed along through life. So I had to start earlier.

I had to start at the decision that brought him out there in the first place. An order came in from a man that he had a bad history with. He was given the choice of passing it to his co-worker, Kyle, who had plans that would be ruined by taking the order, or taking the delivery. So he had make a decision that showed he was a half way decent person. Not terribly noble, but considerate of his co-workers. It was the type of choice that people are faced with all the time so the reader can relate.

By starting with an ordinary decision the reader can then see how the same decision making process plays out when he is faced with really extraordinary circumstances.


If your book is focused on the action then the story starts right after the triggering incident in the middle of the action it caused. Then it backs up to the incident, preferably through dialog. This lets the reader know to focus on the action.


The main motivator in porn and romance, someone has a desire for something they may not even know what it is. The trigger is when they see a chance of having that desire satisfied. If your story is about someone's quest to achieve something then you should show the longing that was inside them before the triggering event.

This example will seem strange but bear with me (or if you are naked, bare with me):

2001: A Space Odyssey. The story starts with the caveman “Moon Watcher”, um, watching the Moon. He longs for humans to be able to great things like find a tree high enough to touch the Moon. He also dreams of a time when humans will be safe from predators and well fed. The triggering incident comes when the Monolith lands and transforms them into a species that has the tool, a brain, to satisfy that longing. 10,000 years later his dream comes true.


If you are really good or lucky all those events happen at the same time. The incident forces the main character to make a decision and leap into action that satisfies a longing. Chances are that won't happen. Rather than try and force the incident to fill all these things in the first page (something that is really obvious and usually awful) it is best to find the part about the incident that will shape the impression you want the reader to have.


While writing this I have an awful nagging in the back of my mind that I am missing a key part of the triggering incident, but I can't think of what. Somebody enlighten me in the comments so I can do a face palm as soon as I read it.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Writing Wednesday: Major Announcement

For the month of July Smashwords is holding a huge sale, every ebook must go.

I am doing my part help in this sale by offering all three of my ebooks for free. Just click on the links below:


What would you do if you held in your hands the power to wipe out all forms of human poverty, but doing so would place the fate of the human race in the hands of your enemies?

All his life Sam has been told the people of Ganymede were an enemy bent on destroying all the values he holds dear. Getting to know them he starts sympathizing with their idealistic goals, but he isn’t sure if he can trust them. When an interplanetary war between Earth and Ganymede breaks out, Sam finds his actions will determine the fate of humanity, however he is unsure which side to believe.

“The Setting Earth” is a tale of romance that shows that even after humanity has the technology to transform the Solar System; the most powerful force in the universe is the power of friendship.


Simon Yar has been always ashamed of his extreme Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and has gone to extreme measures to hide it, including losing the only woman he had ever loved rather than reveal his secret. When he discovers that an extra-terrestrial virus is turning the people into slaves, he must come to terms with his inner demons or lose everyone he has ever loved.


Four Short Stories that blend science fiction and horror.

A man decides to to keep his friends close and his enemies closer until he can remove them from space-time.

A childish prank dooms mankind to slavery.

An astronaut believes that his crewmates have had their minds taken over by an alien microbe.

The Commander of a Moon shuttle doesn't believe in curses, until his career is ruined by one.

Or click on the any of the book covers in the sidebar of this site.

Hopefully by having this sale in July it will give everyone a good chance to read some of my works before my big announcement that I hope to make in August.

Please download my books and enjoy reading them.