Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Perceptions of Others

In an upscale park several people were out walking their dogs. A homeless man walked by with his dog clinging by his side. The dog owners stopped and looked at him thinking, “Poor dog, the guy can't even take care of himself much less a pet.”

The dogs all looked at the homeless guy's dog and thought, “Lucky bastard, I get a twenty minute walk on a good day. That guy has been on a walk for like six months straight. Plus I get yelled at if I get in the trash, his owner joins him.”

Some of the dogs moved away from their humans in embarrassment. Some looked them in the eye to let them know, “You may not be perfect, but I know you're trying.” Some imagined how someday they might have an owner like that.

I really don't mean to, but for some reason I tend to have characters with mental disorders. This might be a reflection of my life as crazy people have always flocked to me. It might be because I look at people a little different than most. Eleven of my last thirteen employers have gone to jail, that does show something about my ability to judge people.

One constant feedback that I got on my novel, MIND THIEF, is wondering why the heroine, who suffers from bipolar schizophrenia and aspergers syndrome, likes my main character. What could a great girl like that see in an honor student in a private college who dreams of setting up multi-trillion dollar industries in space.

The problem was I looked at the heroine through the eyes of my main character. Just like the dogs in the park looked at the homeless guy's dog in the most positive light, I did the same with my heroine.

I did this for a few reasons, only one of which is excusable from a story telling point of view.

First, without her my main character couldn't save the world. So I needed to show all her positive aspects.

Second, Even though she is “bark at the moon” insane, I didn't want her to be a stereotype crazy person.

Third and most unforgivable, I really liked her.

It is like writing a story about the homeless guy's dog from the POV of the dogs in the park. You wouldn't know why the bastard humans are trying to “save” him, or how growing up seeing all every human looking down on him with pity and contempt might fill his little heart with self-doubt.

So now I'm going through and trying to get the narration show her like the dog owners in the park see the homeless guy's dog, while my main character looks at her like the dog's in the park view the same dog. That way the reader can see why she might get defensive as the main character is viewing her as perfect, while everyone else she has ever known looks at her as a social pariah.

If I have the talent to show both views of her (All in third person limited) it will make the book even more powerful.

I'm trying to think of any other book that shows both sides of a socially unacceptable person or group, but I can't. Even in ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKCOO'S NEST you started agreeing with the residents and forgetting that they were in there for a reason.

So, what do you think about showing both views of a character? From friends who only see the positive aspects of them and strangers who only see the negative stereotypes?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


I've been told I have a gift for dialog in my writing. I prefer to think of it as sticking to a few simple rules.

Stick to the point.
Real conversations tend to ramble around, are filled with incomplete sentences and often times incomplete thoughts. This makes up most of the our conversations with people. When we think about what was said later, our mind clears all that up and an hour long conversation turns into three paragraphs.

So I write dialog the same way my mind remembers them, highly condensed so the main points stick out.

Just like having the main points stick out, we tend to remember the funny things people say more than everything else. In real life even the funniest person you know doesn't have you laughing like you where at a comedy club. They might at best give one funny line for every twenty lines they say. But what do you remember about the conversation? That 5% of what they say.

So my characters tend to have a several one liners and funny saying sprinkled throughout their conversations.

Character Revealing
In real life we tend to be chameleons in our dialog, we blend our speech patterns to fit the people we are talking to. I used to call people all around the country. An hour of calling the upper mid-west and you would think I never left Wisconsin. Calling the south you'd think I was born and raised here in Kentucky. The North East people knew I was from New York, even 10 years after I left.

When writing dialog my characters don't unintentionally blend. They don't try to mimic the speech of the other people. That makes for good if unrealistic character reveals.

When these Rules Breakdown

Like most simple rules for complex problems when they break down, they really breakdown.

I tried to apply these rules to an argument that my MC had with his girlfriend.

The situation was they had started to have phone sex earlier, after being interrupted she tells him she'll try and call later. He leaves his phone in his room as he rushes out the door to go study. She calls him for an hour getting more and more frustrated. When she finally reaches him she unleashes all her anger on him. (He already knows she has trouble controlling her emotions.)

I followed my simple rules.

Sticking to the point: She yells at him, he tells her to calm down. She doesn't. So he tells he to call back when she can be calm. Neither character is supposed to be being really mean, it's just a major breakdown in communication.

When reduced to under 400 words it makes both of them sound like jerks. Guys read it and couldn't understand why my main character would take her back. Girls read it and couldn't see why heroine would want a guy who won't even attempt to listen to them.

Reading it after getting that feedback I saw their points.

Witty: In calm situations a character being witty is funny, in an argument it's being demeaning. Both my characters make witty statements constantly throughout the book. So in the argument they do it as well. Instead of relieving tension, it reads like each thinks the others feelings are a joke. Not good.

Character Revealing: The reason we try to blend our speech to people around us is not fool them into thinking we are something we're not. We blend our speech to put other people at ease. They don't have to translate what we are saying. This goes tenfold for an argument. In real life when people get mad they loose this blending ability. It puts up a wall letting the other person know, I care more about my anger right now than what you are saying. In real life if I hear someone's accent breakdown I know the argument is over, they won't hear anything else I say. If its someone I care about I'll ask them if they can take a breath and then say what they have to say. If it is someone I'm negotiating with I'll state my most reasonable terms knowing they will reject them. Then when negotiations resume they'll feel like a jerk.

Having the characters not try and blend with each other in an argument means they are being real jerks to each other and care more about being mad than the other person's feelings.

Rules for writing the Dialog in Arguments

I don't have any right now, I'll play around with my argument for a while until I can get some. Any ideas would be really appreciated.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

My Best Beta

I haven't been blogging this week because something unexpected happened. My wife liked my book.

That might sound strange, but I am blessed/cursed with the greatest beta reader that a writer could ask for. My wife.

In the twenty-three years we have been married my wife has read one book in a single sitting. She reads maybe two to three books from cover to cover a year. It's not that she doesn't read a lot, she does, it's just that a book really needs to grab her for her to continue reading passed the first three chapters. She has probably read the first three chapters of over a million books.

So when she asked to read, MIND THIEF, I didn't even worry about the fact that I had only done a full line edit on the first 10 Chapters, a copy edit on the next 10 and still had missing scenes in the last 5 chapters. I sent her the first 10 Chapters figuring it would take her a week to read them (like she does with most published books). In that week I could line edit the next ten and finish up the remaining scenes. I started line editing for the next two hours and she came into my office and asked for the rest of the book.

I was floored and sent her the next 10 chapters. Two hours later she wanted to finish the book. So on Sunday I spent the day quickly finishing up the last few scenes that were unfinished. I got it done on Monday, and an hour later she finished reading it.

If I had finished it up sooner my book would have been the second book in twenty-three years that she would have read in one sitting.

That is why I say I am both blessed and cursed with her as a beta reader. Most people have betas that read like me, if I can see what the writer is trying to say I keep reading. I've read books that were absolute trash, but clearly written trash. In some ways that helps me critique people's books as I will look for minor things to improve on, but just because I read a book doesn't mean its any good.

With my wife, if she actually reads the book there has to be something there to get her passed the first three chapters. She might give me the benefit of the doubt and push through to chapter 4 or 5 but that is it.

So I've been going through my book making changes with problems spotted by someone who will only fully read one out of a hundred books she picks up, and has only read one in a million books in one sitting.

It makes the other 5 times of getting, “I just couldn't get into it.” Worth it.