Saturday, August 30, 2014

Villains can be fun

By Velda Brotherton

Last month I promised to talk about creating villains, and can’t they be a lot of fun? We can hate them so much that we’re excited to kill them off. It’s important to remember that without a strong and vivid villain your protagonists aren’t challenged enough to reveal their strengths to good advantage. The more devious and evil the villain the more the actions of your hero and heroine shine. Sort of like watching Batman and Robin conquer the Jester. Or that favorite villain of all time, Hannibal Lecter in the Silence of the Lambs. Probably the best known villain in modern literature, his existence made Clarissa so much stronger. We cheered for her, though she failed time after time. And author Thomas Harris was so adept at creating him that most of us secretly liked Hannibal just a bit and cheered when he escaped, yet all the while we were terrified of what he might do.

Why not create a villain based on the person you dislike most in the entire world? Of
course, don’t use their real name. Then add even more traits that would make this
person truly evil. Get even with him by making him oh, so evil that the reader will cheer
when he suffers all the consequences coming to him. Make sure no one can recognize
him, though. And don’t forget, he should have a few redeeming traits.

Remember anyone or anything that stands in the way of the hero reaching his goals is
a villain, he doesn’t have to be overly evil, just set in his ways. In some books, of
course, the villain is the weather, or the setting or specific circumstances.

You plan a story, then build the characters to function within that story. I didn’t say plot,
I said story. An idea that you can fill in with the necessary people to get through to the
end. Good characters will weave a plot as they struggle with life’s problems and
challenges. Without conflict it will fall flat, and that’s where the villains come in.

Your goal is to create characters your readers will either love or hate, they can laugh
with them, cry with them, curse them, cheer for them when they win out over the worst adversities.

We humans are all a maze of inconsistencies, but we do have a dominant impression. Don’t
load up your characters with the same dominant impression. One may be dignified, but
he could lose it when specific things happen to him.

Some dominant impressions are: dignified, cruel, sentimental, sexy, flighty, rowdy, dull,
bright, etc. Each of these can be hiding the true self. And each can be a dominant impression of your villain. Sometimes it only takes someone with strong drive and a good reason for being the way they are and you’ve got a superb villain. Why? Because what they want is the opposite of what your hero/heroine want, thus they clash.

For instance, a man who kills someone because he believes they murdered his wife or child is not necessarily all bad, and he may never commit another crime of any kind. Whereas the bad man who goes through life destroying anything in his path is another type of villain.

You can use certain traits to hide the basic personality of your villain. Dignity can hide his stupidity. Naiveté might disguise cruelty.

Try to figure out the dominant impression of some of your writer friends. Ask them what
yours is. This helps us learn more about creating characters, both the hero and the villain, or simply an annoying minor character or a lovable aunt or cousin.

Creating our characters is sort of like drawing some stick figures in a sketch pad, then
adding faces, hair, then moving on to personalities, weaknesses and strengths. What
motivates her, and again what does she fear and what does she want? A villain has goals much the same as the protagonist, they just aren’t necessarily moral goals, but he may want them for a good reason. The more depth you give this villain, the more interesting he will be.

Only two types of personalities are all bad. Those are psychopaths and sociopaths. Though each is capable of hiding his evil beneath a veneer of charm---think Ted Bundy---in the end he will only be what he is born to be. Pure evil. Everyone who commits crimes, is morally corrupt, or just ornery will also have a good side. He may love his mother, his wife, his dog, but turn around and shoot someone who invades his turf. This type character can be a real thorn in the side of your protagonist.

It’s also important to learn the language peculiar to the villain of your piece. Study well- constructed villains in books and movies carefully. There you’ll get a feel for the way they speak. Maybe you know someone in person that you consider villainous. Watch their body language, check out the way they talk to others, the way they dress. Get your clues from real life and you’ll create better villains for your fiction.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Guest author Lesley A. Diehl: Writing Closer to Home

Lesley A. Diehl
Lesley retired from her life as a professor of psychology and reclaimed her country roots by moving to a small cottage in the Butternut River Valley in upstate New York. In the winter she migrates to old Florida—cowboys, scrub palmetto, and open fields of grazing cattle, a place where spurs still jingle in the post office, and gators make golf a contact sport. Back north, the shy ghost inhabiting the cottage serves as her literary muse. When not writing, she gardens, cooks and renovates the 1874 cottage with the help of her husband, two cats, and Fred the ghost who gives artistic direction to their work. She is author of numerous short stories and several mystery series including the microbrewing series (A Deadly Draught; Poisoned Pairings), two rural Florida mystery series (Dumpster Dying; Grilled, Chilled and Killed), and the Eve Appel mystery series—A Secondhand Murder; Dead in the Water.  Other mysteries include Angel Sleuth,and Murder is Academic.



I’ve been writing and publishing for about ten years.  Lately I’ve found that my writing has changed in ways that I don’t think readers would be aware of, but I am.  I’ve said that I’m “mining my family” for my ideas and my characters, but it’s more than that.  My work is coming from a place closer to my center.

The first advice I ever received when I began writing fiction was to write what I know.  Since I was a retired psychologist, it seemed clear that meant I should use my career as the basis for my work.  The first manuscript I wrote featured a professor of psychology as an amateur sleuth.  She was, as you would imagine, me in a younger, feistier, more in-your-face persona.  Not a bad character, but the manuscript was originally well over one hundred thousand words.  You guessed it.  I didn’t know how to write fiction.  The work got  no interest from agents and editors.  They were wise not to want to bore their readers.

So what else did I know?  Early in my career I ran a part-time private practice, so I had some clinical experience and an interest in multiple personality or dissociative identity disorder.  I constructed a story about a multiple, the dominant personality written in first person, the alternates in third person.  That’s not an uncommon approach now, but at that time, although some agents thought it was an enticing idea, I was a newbie with no fiction writing credentials.  And I made the story humorous which horrified some agents.  And that one went nowhere also.

I decided I had run out of what I knew, so I carefully researched a protagonist for the first book a small publishing house bought.  The research was fun because my protagonist was a microbrewer.  Now I knew nothing about craft brewing, but I learned fast by touring small breweries in New York and Florida and picked brewers’ minds and sampled their products.

I seemed to find my humorous voice in a series set in rural Florida, a story about a retired preschool teacher turned bartender who was a winter visitor to Florida.  Emily Rhodes found the fields of cattle, the lakes, swamps and the honest nature of the people to her liking, and she adopted rural Florida as her home much as I had.  I loved it so much that I set another series there with a protagonist who owned a consignment shop and who loved secondhand merchandise.  So do I.  Where did that come from?  My paternal grandmother liked to reuse things even her daughter’s clothes which were sizes too big for her, but she adjusted them with scotch tape, safety pins, staples and some basting thread.  She taught me at a young age about repurposing, reusing, reclaiming and rehabbing everything from clothes to furniture.  Suddenly, writing my Eve Appel consignment shop owner protagonist seemed like I was coming home.  At the same time I wrote several Thanksgiving short stories about a red-haired aunt of Amazonian proportions and a couple of quirky grandmothers as the major characters.  They really were my family, albeit a bit exaggerated.  Recently I learned that the fourth story featuring my “Aunt Nozzie” will be published in yet another Thanksgiving anthology.

The writing process felt different because it seemed to come from deep inside me where all my childhood memories of family resided.  These bits and pieces of my life seemed to be aching to become a story.

Not all childhood remembrances are happy ones.  In my case the joyful times find their way into funny stories.  Others are percolating around in my psyche waiting for a darker vehicle for expression.  Perhaps I’m finding yet another writing voice, one of dark humor and noir atmosphere.  Regardless, as a writer I think I’m writing nearer to what is important to me—family.  It’s always found its way into my work, but now it feels more genuinely mine.

I wonder how your writing has evolved.  Is my journey similar to yours?

Monday, August 25, 2014

On the Flip Side

I took an unauthorised sabbatical from NovelSpaces last month, so unauthorised that I didn't even know it was happening. Thankfully I have not been fired. The dog didn't eat my homework and I can't say that I have been busy writing, but I have been busy furthering a cause that is very dear to me, namely, doing my part, through the publishing company CaribbeanReads, to get more multicultural books for, about, and by Caribbean nationals.

One of these books is Zapped! Danger in the Cell by co-NovelSpaces author, Jewel Amethyst, although you will find it listed under Jewel Daniel. She and her daughter wrote this delightful novel which brings the biology of the cell alive for children. We've had a great response to the book including from a professor at Johns Hopkins University who quoted: "I love it. What a wonderful concept and great read.  Congratulations.  I think it is really a great book for middle-schoolers.  It is a very complicated and complex topic.  You made it much more accessible."

There are two more on the horizon.

The Blessing of Charlie Sand was written by Amanda Smyth, a Trinidadian-Irish author whose first book, Lime Tree Can't Bear Orange was picked by Oprah Winfrey as one of the 25 must read books of summer in 2009. Charlie Sand is a lovely tale of the ebbs and flows of friendship between two boys is set in Trinidad. It will move readers, both young and old. This book will be released in November 2014.

Musical Youth is written by Antiguan author, Joanne Hillhouse who has been a guest author on NovelSpaces on more than one occasion. Her most recent adult novel, Oh Gad was recently featured on NPR's Sunday morning programme. Musical Youth placed second in the 2014 Burt Award for Caribbean Literature and will be released in November 2014. The photo on the left shows Joanne and I shaking on our agreement to have CaribbeanReads publish her manuscript.


There is more to come, but I will save a little for later.

Friday, August 22, 2014

So--you're a romance writer... *snicker*

The two or three people who've read my work know me as a romance writer. Two of the three novel-length works I've published to date are contemporary romance/romantic suspense, and I tend to get a little defensive about my 'romance writer' label for two reasons:
I decided to count my genres when I read Che Gilson's post "Writing Bucket List", and realized I write in no fewer than seven of them.

I write mystery. I've started a mystery novel that I'm very excited about. It's set on a fictitious Caribbean island and explores the other side of the tourist destination ethos of the region: no smiling 'natives' serving drinks with umbrellas but real people with real struggles, out of control violent crime, white collar corruption, and yes, a little realistic romance.

I write memoir. I've written one on raising my son and it's awaiting a final edit before I submit it anywhere.

I write literary fiction. One of my short stories has been published in a literary journal, another was shortlisted for a lit prize, and several others are cooling their heels on my hard drive. One of my WIPs is a novel which draws on my family history and may be categorized as literary, women's fiction or mainstream. Not sure yet.

I write science fiction. Just one so far. Yup, surprised me too, but I woke up with the story in my head and could not get it out. So I wrote it. Not sure yet what exactly I should do with it, and don't know if I'll be writing any more.

I write poetry. I don't consider myself a poet, but I've always written 'poemish' things. Last year I took a poetry writing class and although I got an A I still don't consider myself a poet. Not too sure what I'll do with that collection of sonnets, haikus, tankas, ballads, acrostics, villanelles, dramatic monologues, modified forms and free verse, but it sure was fun writing them.

I write flash fiction. Submitted my favorite here, and I see more FF in my future.

Seven genres, and I've probably overlooked a couple others. I was told by a well-meaning friend years ago that I should stick to one genre and develop a fan base there before moving into other genres. But I'm wayward. I write what I want, when I want. And with the growth of indie publishing, I can also publish what I want, when I want. Am I making money doing my own thing? Very little thus far. Am I happy doing things my way? You bet I am.

Do you stick to one genre? Or do you juggle multiple genres like I do?

~Liane

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Value of Awards

The winners of the Hugo Awards – the science fiction community's equivalent of the Oscars – were announced by the World Science Fiction Society (WSFS) at the 72nd World Science Fiction Convention (aka "Loncon 3") in London this week. In fact, given the time zones, as I type this Loncon 3 is in it's last hour.

If you don't follow the science fiction industry you can be excused for not knowing about the Hugo Award. The award is named for Hugo Gernsback, a man often credited as being the, or at least a, father of science fiction (which he originally called "scientifiction"). His contribution to the establishment of science fiction as a recognized genre was not creative – or at least not creative in the way H.G. Wells's or Jules Verne's contributions were creative. He was a businessman who, early in the 20th century, recognized the popularity – and profit potential – of stories we today call science fiction and began the first pulp magazine devoted to them. Actually he founded three. I've read that Gernsback's recipe for a good science fiction story was three parts story to one part science (even if the science was sometimes little more than a stand-in for magic). As an editor he had an eye for stories that inspired readers' imagination and made scientists more heroic than they had ever been before.

Gernsback did well for himself as an editor and publisher mostly by cutting every corner he could (his cheapness was the stuff of legends), paying writers and artist almost nothing (when he paid them at all), and generally living by an "all's fair" business ethic. As nearly as I can tell, no one who ever worked for or with the man had fond memories of the experience. But his popularizing of what had been a marginal type of story, motivating a generation of youngsters to want to be scientists, and giving the first great names among science fiction writers their (unpaid) start is what he's remembered for today.

This year – as with just about every award ever bestowed anywhere for any reason – the announcement of the winners was not greeted with universal approval and acclaim by the general public. There were murmurings of cronyism, or of politically motivated choices, or of votes indicating popularity of the writer rather than the merits of the works, or that only safe stories that didn't challenge the establishment were selected, or, or, or, ... and could we at least get through something without Game of Thrones winning?
I have no opinion on this year's Hugo Awards – I haven't read a single one of the nominated novels, novellas, novelettes, short stories, graphic novels, or related works. I will say that two people I like won in their categories and two other people I like didn't win in theirs and leave it at that.

The winners of the Hugo Awards are decided by vote. This year they were decided by about 2,500 votes cast exclusively by members of the World Science Fiction Society. What does it take to become part of this august body? $50. That's the annual fee for the lowest level of membership in the WSFS. But if that's all it takes, how come only 2,500 people voted? The WSFS has to have more members than that. I'm sure it does. I'm also sure that if every single member voted, they'd still be a statistically insignificant fraction of the number of people who read the books or stories or graphic novels and saw the movies and TV shows. The number of votes can't be that important; after all, the Oscars are awarded based on the votes of only six thousand people. (Note I foreshadowed this point by linking the Hugo to the Oscar in the opening sentence.) Of course this is a false comparison. With the exception of the honorary members, the people who make up the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences – the folk who vote for the Academy Award of Merit, aka Oscar – are all professionals in the industry who understand the craftsmanship and effort that went into the productions on which they vote. (Of course, statistically their mostly white men over sixty, but that's an issue for another column.)
In other words, the Oscar is voted on by six thousand professional peers of the nominees and the Hugo is voted on by twenty-five hundred fans of the nominees willing to pay $50 for the ballot.

Am I saying the Hugo Award is meaningless? Of course not. The Hugo may not be all that the WSFS would want it to be – and it's certainly not on a par with the Oscar – but no award is meaningless.

Not only can winning an award be a validation of your own work, it becomes part of your public identity – your brand as a writer. Awards and award winners have an affect on people – even those who don't have a clear idea what the award is about. Even being nominated for an award elevates the writer in the eyes of the buying public – which is why you see "nominated for...." on so many ads. Being a finalist carries weight – a potential reader unsure of choosing between unknown writers will feel a little safer plunking down $9.99 for a title that made the finals. And of course, once you've won an award you are forever an award-winning author.

So go for those regional, themed, and literary competitions. Check each one out first – it's basic common sense to make sure it's legitimate and respected; there are a lot of scams out there. If an entrance fee is required, use your own judgment as to whether or how much you're willing to pay. It's gratifying to have someone else nominate one of your published works, but writing specifically for a contest helps you build the discipline for finishing what you start, meeting guidelines and expectations, and delivering a story on deadline. It's all about developing professional standards.
And boosting your award-winning brand.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

When Is the Write Time?

If you’re a writer and unless you’re one of the fortunate few, you likely write in addition to holding down another, more "regular" job. That usually presents a challenge or two with respect to time management, doesn’t it? I mean, employers are notoriously demanding when it comes to insisting that you do...you know...actual work and stuff for them, and as often as not your writing gets pushed to the side due to overtime, critical deliverable deadlines, and on and on and....

Kind of a bummer, right?

Maybe you’ve got kids, and all of the responsibilities that come with them. Yeah, they want to eat every so often, and they’re always growing out of the clothes you buy them, and there are those times when they need to demonstrate to you how the homework they’re doing is far and away beyond anything with which you might be able to offer assistance.

Pretty humbling, that.

So, in and around all of the other demands on your daily schedule, you still need to find time to write. How do you do it? Where do you strike the balance?

For me, my preferred time to write is early in the day. Reality, however, has seen fit to laugh at my personal wishes. It seemed that no matter how early I would try rolling out of bed and hitting the keyboard in the hopes of logging a few hundred words before the day got to cranking on all cylinders, one of my darling offspring would wander down the stairs and into my inner sanctum for some Daddy-Daughter Cartoon Time. Sometimes, this happened early enough that it became Daddy-Daughter Crappy Late Night Infomercial Time.

In recent years, my most productive writing time tends to come late in the evening. After everyone else in the house has gone to bed, I’ll close the door to my home office, take up position in my favorite recliner with my laptop, and pound keys until my eyes cross. On a good night I can work for three or four solid hours before heading to bed. That tends to be my weeknight schedule when I’m working on a novel, and I supplement that with a few hours on a Saturday at the local library. If I’m collaborating with my writing partner, it’s not unusual for us to retreat to his apartment on a Sunday, where he’ll work in his office and I’ll set up shop on his living room couch, and we’ll work separately with the occasional interruption for comparing notes, brainstorming an idea, eating chicken wings, or all of the above.

I’ve also gotten really adept at seizing whatever rogue writing opportunities present themselves. Lunch breaks during the week, sitting in a doctor’s waiting room or in the airport terminal or even on the airplane flight itself, or during the two hours when I’m perched on the bleachers at my daughters’ martial arts school. That last one usually ends up being a very productive session, because the school doesn’t offer access to the internet, so there are no social media distractions. Huzzah!

While I can and do engage in these guerilla writer tactics, conducting hit-and-run ambushes on my laptop while on my way to and from other activities or obligations, my bread-n-butter writing time comes during those late evening hours. It’s what works for me.

What about you? How do you balance your writing time with the other demands on your life?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Want To Buy Some Snake Oil?

You've seen him in Westerns, the traveling medicine man with a magic elixir guaranteed to cure whatever ails you. Well, he's back. And he knows a sucker is born every minute.

I'm talking about people all over the Internet who claim they have the secret formula to selling books. What makes this offer so enticing is: 1) we all hope there really is a secret to success; and 2) we want someone else to do the hard work for us.

They will do the work but the price is high with no guarantee of success. I'm not going to say they prey on writers but the truth is, there is more money to be made by selling advice, services and promises than selling novels.

I'm looking at the stack of marketing books on my shelf. No, I didn't buy them, I actually won many of them or were “gifted” them by friends. They were outdated even when they were published because things change so fast in this industry. I didn't even bother to read them, to be honest. Now with the Internet, social media and e-publishing, these books are dinosaurs.

I'm more concerned with sites online that start out as blogs and turn into advertisements. It seems that once these bloggers get my trust, they go into sell mode. I understand they want a monetary reward for their advice but we're all struggling here to make a living off our writing.

The worst of it is, most of their advice is trite and repetitive. Because, bottom line, there is no magic formula, no one-method-fits-all. We are square pegs and they offer round holes. When we follow their instructions and fail, we blame ourselves. What did we do wrong?

Novices are the easy target. Their lack of knowledge and expertise in the publishing arena make them doubt themselves and trust all the “experts” out there. They shell out money for online seminars, book doctors, publicists and marketing books, always searching for the holy grail.

No stranger wanting to sell you snake oil is going to tailor strategy to fit you as an individual. Plus, if this same info is being passed out to everyone, what makes it so special?

I recently had an author ask me to do his marketing for him because he was “too busy writing.” Sure, I could probably do it, but what it would cost him would be more than he would profit by book sales. And failure would allow him to blame the person he handed all the checks to—me. This is a fail/fail situation for both of us. Besides, I have my own writing to do!

I say save your money and go on the Internet, cast about for info from peers and those of us in the trenches. Yes, it takes time and patience, but more than that, a strong curiosity. It takes imagination, which presumably we all have in spades. It means honing marketing skills the same way we hone writing skills. Learn by trial and error what works for you and concentrate your energy in that direction.

The daunting task holding you back might be where to start. Okay, here's my bottle of snake oil. I have something I call the Posse. Ask to be included and when I find something that has expanded my knowledge in promotion, I will pass it on to you. Free of charge. It's up to you to read these posts, absorb them and apply the medicine.


Posse members out there, feel free to weigh in on Sunny Frazier's Magic Marketing Elixer. Guaranteed to go down easily with the potential for success. Works on the brain, not the pocketbook!