• Who We Are

  • Schedule

    Mondays ~
    Tuesdays ~ Snarky
    Wednesdays ~ Dreamer
    Thursdays ~ Naughty
    Fridays ~ Dreary
    Saturdays ~
    Sundays ~

    Whenever ~ Smokey, Mighty, Eerie and Wicked

  • Snarky’s Tweets

  • Kinetic’s Tweets

  • Dreamer’s Tweets

  • Wicked’s Tweets

  • Eerie’s Tweets

  • Mighty’s Tweets

Ideaifying Pt 6: Side-word on process

I wanted to have an aside on what it is I’m doing here, and a little thought about how long writing can take.

Normally this entire brainstorming process takes place all in one day. I generally sit down for about an hour (for a short story), and just dump down words on the page until I have nothing more to say. Novels are far, far longer. For this blog, however, I’ve been breaking them up each week, and giving myself some time to ruminate on the things I did the week prior.

This doesn’t mean that I take all of my stories from a single word to a full outline in one day. Far from it. Ideas need to percolate to allow the cream of the crop to rise to the surface. I’m actually enjoying having this semi-force gap in between brainstorming sessions, it’s giving me a different perspective each time I sit down.

I’ve heard it said before that an overnight success takes ten years to obtain.

What does that even mean? Here is my thought; it means that the author has poured over their work for ten years, ideas mulling in their head, jotting down things on the train or the middle of the night. Spending sleepless nights re-reading over old notes to put them all into one place, then writing the product.

And that’s just draft 1. They edit and edit, agonizing over every chapter, paragraph, phrase, and word. They fix commas, delete entire chapters, re-write the ending four times and the beginning ten times. Then, they delete the first four chapters and re-do them from scratch.

They cut entire characters. They take one character with too much going on and split them into two.

This is all a lot of work, and many published authors, from what I’ve seen, talk about their process much like this.

Only then do they sell their book to a publisher and “suddenly” come up with a half-million dollar publishing deal.

The rest of the community may have just heard this new author’s name for the first time when they got their deal, but for them it’s been a long journey. And this is just one of the many stories. Some authors have written 7-13 books by the time they sell their first one. Others sell that first book that took 10 years to write. For every possibly scenario, there’s a different author with a different story of how to make it.

So buckle in, fair reader. Tis a bumpy ride where we go.

Ideaifying Pt 5: Concatenating

This week I promised to take the last few weeks of posts and re-iterate what we have come up with. So here we go!

We started with the word Evanesce.

I then ruminated on what that word meant to me, and came up with a few phrases and other definitions that resonated with me:

Fade Away

Angels

Screaming Masses

Which led to this singular phrase:

Mass of Angels, screaming as they fade into nothing.

This really felt right to me, and has been the phrase I come back to when I think about this world.

We then started with a character, given the angels motif we named him Peter. Then we started brainstorming.

Here are all the things I liked about the brainstorming:

Peter can see angels. The angels help people. They save lives. Unseen heroes.

When he was 15, these angels disappeared. Without their protective detail, crime has increased, death rates by accidents have skyrocketed, disease spreads much more virulently. Social order has taken a hit.

Peter is now twenty years old. He sees himself as the Black Angel. He is trying to fill the void left behind with the angels no longer around to protect humanity.

Peter also still sees angels, but they are just out of his peripheral vision. And they scream. They scream all the time.

One day Peter meets Celeste. Celeste is a little younger than Peter. While he’s around her, the screaming stops. Celeste can also see angels, but they are calm. They don’t scream. When she’s around him, the angels scream.

Both our heroes have “powers”. In addition to being able to see the angels just outside their vision, they have slight precognition to keep them out of trouble, faster reflexes than an average human, and don’t tire as easily.

Turns out Peter and Celeste are Nephilim, as mentioned in Genesis 6:4. They are two halves of a whole. Peter is the demi-spawn of a demon and human, while Celeste is Angel-Human.

Demons, after being cast from heaven have always lacked corporeal bodies, being relegated to spirits. Other than possession, they have never managed to truly own a body here on Earth.

There is one such demon here now known as Bael, who is related to why the angels suddenly went missing.

Peter and Celeste need to go on a mission to kill/banish him, and hopefully bring the angels back to earth to help restore balance.

So there we are! All the details that our brainstorming has come up with, all in one place. Now I have a lot more brainstorming to do, but I’ll do that off-screen from now on, unless my readers really want to see my brain-dumps.

What we need to do here though, now that we have our main characters, and the main “goal” of the story, is to start fleshing out, well, everything. Some people are outliners, some are free-writers (aka pantsers), I’m somewhere in the middle. I come up with ideas by free-writing. I then take a break and put it into a basic outline, which I call a proto-outline. It’s basically a brainstorming exercise in the form of a story start-to-finish. But before we get that far, there are a lot of details that need to be figured out:

These are: the magic, the world, Bael himself, Peter and Celeste and how they fit into this plot, and specifically how their opposite nature makes them the two best suited, or solely suited to resolving this problem.

That’s it for now. Do you have any specific questions you want addressed while we finish up brainstorming? Anything you want to see added to the story, anything you don’t like?

Till next week!

Ideaifying Pt 4: Brainstormening 3

After two weeks of brainstorming, I think I need to do one more in order to flush out what the overall conflict here in the world is. Here goes:

***Beginning of brainstorming dump***

So what am I going to do for the conflict? I think the natural inclination would be that I need these two to team up and go on a bit of a quest to find out what happened to the angels. That’s really the crux of the problem here, not really solving shorter things, but the larger picture. The more I think about it in this light, the more I think this is the story that I want to tell, and the questions that I want answered.

So there I go. I need to know what happened to the angels.

I guess this boils down to two main questions.

What exactly happened to the angels.

Why are these two the ones that will be able to figure it out?

Let’s work on the second question:

1. They are both half-angels. This is exceedingly rare, it’s possible that there actually other half-angels out there, (I really should come up with a name for them, which should be Nephilim.)

2. They are opposites. One hears the screaming of the angels, the other never hears them unless the two of them are near each other, and I’m talking physically.

3. What I can gather from this is that they are two halves of a whole. Obviously I could go with some kind of sexual encounter, but I’m not sure that is where I want this story to go for now, but I do need to explore more options related to how these two could “come together” and join forces somehow to fix the problem.

4. This means that they need some kind of alternating powers that can be combined to do something.

Which of course leads to the big problem, and I’m not entirely sure how I want to handle it.

How did we get here to begin with? The writer portion of me wants to not go down the thought process right now because I feel I need to keep it secret. I’m also a bit of a discovery writer in that I don’t always know where I’m going. I’m trying to do better, but since this entire project is being up online for everyone to see, I think the best course of action is for me to just bite the bullet and spill the beans.

Here is my thought. Peter is actually not half-angel. He’s half-demon.

Celeste is the true half-angel. Angels and Demons are basically two halves of the same coin. They are pretty much the same beings, but one is light, the other dark.

How about, when God cast out 1/3 of the hosts to become demons, he prevented them from ever having a corporeal form. Demons themselves could never become corporeal, but their children could. This is why Peter is like this. How about a demon finally managed to get a body, thus locking out the angels from being on this earth until his body is destroyed.

This would give Peter and Celeste a goal. Kill the big-bad demon guy that is now inhabiting the world. I want the fact that peter and Celeste are here on this earth to be something of a mystery, and anomaly.

Perhaps, nephilim don’t really gain any divine powers until they mature. They hit puberty. This is when their modest powers manifest. Angels notice this and destroy any demon-spawned nephilim when they kids hit puberty, in fact maybe they destroy both of them. Peter and Celeste were under the radar when this happened. It’s still exceedingly rare that this would happen, but when it does happen, divine decree requires that they have to be destroyed. It sucks, but it’s the law.

But, with no angels on the earth anymore, Peter and Celeste haven’t been found out and thus were kind of grandfathered in. This makes them literally one of a kind on the earth and the only two people alive that can possibly stop this.

So Bael, we’ll call him, the big-bad guy that finally managed to find himself a body host, and we can figure out exactly how he came into the world, has been running the mob for the last few years now that he’s here. He has a ton of powers, granted to him as a full=fledged demon. He’s also working on preparing hosts for more.

Ooh, he actually managed to grab a body and cast some kind of spell to banish the angels. We’ll have to figure this one out later, but I’m thinking they are banished to some kind of third dimension. Not heaven, not hell, not earth. Some other dimension, purgatory we can call it? The waiting room for the dead. They don’t belong there and shouldn’t be there. Maybe this is also causing a bit of a back-log in the dead being processed or something, but he’s thrown the balance off real bad this time and he’s working on paving the road for more demons to make it onto the world. Maybe he already has some of this guys already through to this side.

So all I need to figure out now is:

1. How exactly did Bael manage to accomplish this feat.

2. How will Peter/Celeste be able to use that knowledge to get out of it.

Stay tuned next time while we work on that solution!

***End of brainstorming dump***

So this was a little longer of a brainstorming exercise. I still think I came up with some really cool ideas.

Next week I will concatenate everything that we’ve assembled into one post so all the pertinent information is in one place, then we start start work on actually writing something. I will bring that up more next week though.

Till then, let me know what you think about where we are going with the plot and how you like the world and the characters!

Is Friday the 13th lucky for you?

by Amber Kallyn

I love Friday the 13th.

Every single one is circled on my calendar, and as soon as the month hits, I’m waiting in tingling anticipation.

1) I LOVE the memes, especially all the black cats. My two at home seem to enjoy them as well, evidenced by their cat smirks as they walk by my laptop.

2) Even though I’m superstitious about some things, black cats and 13th Fridays are not two of them.

3) It’s always an awesome, lucky day for me!

What about you? Do you love Friday the 13th, or does the day make you want to stay in bed?

 

And Happy Valentines Day tomorrow!

Ideaifying Pt 4: Brainstormening 2

Since this blog series is starting to take on a life of it’s own, and I don’t rightly know how many parts we are going to have, I’m going to stick with Brainstormening as the subtitle for now since that’s what we’re doing.

Like last week, I’m going to spend some time with a brainstorming exercise. Let’s launch right into it then analyze what I come up with.

***Beginning of brainstorming dump***

So let’s talk about the girl:

Celeste. I like this name. It’s pure, it’s beautiful. I don’t rightly know if it’s actually a biblical name or not, but I like it none the less. So let’s stick with this shall we?

Who is she? Well in order to be able to see the angels, she would have to be part angel, just like Peter. I almost want to toy with the idea of her being the product of a demon and a human, or a demon and angel, but let’s stick with angels for now. No need to complicate an already complicated storyline.

Differences between her and Peter. Let’s start with what is different because that is where we will see the conflict.

Instead of hearing Angels screaming all the time, maybe she sees their faces but they are always calm, maybe not smiling around her, but calm, collected. No emotions and they stare off blankly. They’re always in her peripheral vision, much like Peter, but never in front of her face. They never make noise, that is, until Peter shows up.

She’s a little younger than him, sixteen perhaps? She’s always viewed them as her guardian angels. So here’s the tricky question: did she notice them disappear? Ooh. That could make or break the story. I could go a few different ways here:

* She’s young enough to not remember them disappearing, so that would make her like eight or nine.

* She never saw them before they suddenly showed up in her vision one day, I could make her older at this point, possibly within range of her being a love interest with Peter.

* She did see them doing good before, then suddenly they were gone. This also keeps her within love-interest territory for Peter, but also shows us that since they went from helping people to following her around, whatever happened to the angels was different.

* She could have just accepted that this was life and moved on, or maybe she kept it a secret. She felt God or something just favored her with a secret that she couldn’t give out. This might work better if she’s a little girl instead of a woman though.

* Because of the angels surrounding her, maybe she has a lot of luck. Maybe Peter does too. Only it’s not luck per-se, it could be the simple fact that they are both half-angel and have slightly better things happen to them than regular humans.

Possible “good benefits” of being half-angel:

*Slight precognition. i.e. you can sense that someone is going to punch you so you turn around before it happens.

* Slightly faster reflexes

* Not as tired after a lot of exercise.

* A general “feeling” of what to do and when. This can be an extension of  the precognition. They in general know where they should be and a general timeframe, but sometimes, when it’s going to help them avoid something catastrophic, they can get much more specific info in a more timely manner, but it’s not always exact.

“TURN AROUND AND PUNCH” the feeling might say.

“Don’t go down this alley.”

“Be in the park before the sun sets.”

“Be out of the park before the sun sets.”

Stuff like that.

So what does she do right now? Maybe she’s a researcher, or a student, just trying to keep her head down and out of trouble. I have to imagine that the world hasn’t come to a complete grinding halt, it’s just that the world is a lot more harsh nowadays. You have to work that much harder to stay ahead. Crime rates have basically doubled across the board, so have death rates, maybe tripled or quadrupled even.

Gangs run a lot of the places now.

***End of brainstorming dump***

Well well. That was fun. Now let us dissect what it was I just wrote and pick out the things that I like:

  • I love the name Celeste.
  • I like her silent angels bit.
  • I also like the idea that Celeste and Peter’s fates are inescapably intertwined. I think having them stay around the same age range is good. If Peter is 20, maybe make her a little younger, 17 or so, in order to hold on to a little bit of that childhood innocence. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but something in my mind tells me that it could be key to whatever big mystery we are dealing with here.
  • I also like the luck/precognition portion. That might be a fun thing to explore, but it’s out of the scope for today’s post.

Note that as I brainstorm, I’m starting to lean more to a cooperative story, rather than Peter simply saving the girl. Of course this could drastically change the storyline, but we’re still in the brainstorming mode here, we have plenty of time to adjust/add/cut. You will probably notice wide swings in my feelings from one week to the next. I write these weekly, and that separation gives my subconscious a chance to mull on things so when I sit down next week I might have a different perspective. I prefer this method of world-building that sitting down and knocking it all out in a weekend. Give things time to percolate.

This is evident when I started the world. We started with screaming angels, then immediately jumped to a character and I’m working out the world from there. You could just as easily start with a specific conflict, or a scene in your head, a character trait, a painting, or an object. This is the beauty of brainstorming. Nothing is off the table, and tossing around ideas without a care to how good they are is my favorite part of this journey!

So how do you like Celeste? Do you like her differences from Peter, what about their similarities? What is her backstory, and how old do you see her being? Stay tuned next week as we continue down this crazy path and see where we end up.

Exploiting Weaknesses

Last week, I talked about the character worksheet I created based on reading Writing with Emotion, Tension, and Conflict by Cheryl St. John. I focused on the motivation part of the worksheet, but I didn’t forget the other, equally important, aspects to creating an amazing character. Most people naturally create strengths and weaknesses for their characters, but I loved the idea of asking yourself how can someone exploit your characters’ weaknesses.

Example #1:

Jill can make any two people fall in love, but once it’s done, it can’t be undone. She tries to always make sure the two people should be together before she performs her spell, because she doesn’t want to force two people together who shouldn’t be.

How can this be exploited?

Barney uncovers Jill’s gift, as well as, her weakness. He tricks her into believing he is meant to be with the woman he loves. Later on, Jill realizes she has made a mistake and must do anything she can to undo it.

That’s a great idea for a story, but how can we take it further?

Jill discovers the woman she has forced to love Barney was actually in love with her own brother.

Ouch. But can we further the conflict?

We learn this isn’t the first time Jill has made this mistake. She actually destroyed her brother’s first love the exact same way.

So now, we have someone who has exploited Jill’s gift for his own uses (Barney), and we have her “weakness” her inability to undo the spell create a huge conflict. BUT we also have the internal conflict, that Jill has betrayed her brother again. Her guilt (another weakness) drives her to go on a dangerous quest to undo her mistake.

Example #2:

I recently finished a book where one of the main characters is a really honorable soul. As a result, he makes a decision for his kingdom that ultimately may be the wrong one logically, but not morally. Later, he is betrayed by someone who feels the main character has made the wrong decision for the kingdom, however, the main character is completely shocked by the betrayal, because he expects others to have the same moral code. In some ways, his “weaknesses” don’t seem like weaknesses, but given the situation, they are. People are able to use them to manipulate him, and that makes them weaknesses.

So when you are writing your own story, keep in mind not just who your character is, but how others can use your characters weaknesses to their own advantage.

Ideaifying Pt 4: The Brainstormening 1

Hello everyone! Tom here for the fourth installment in this very-experimental blog series. Last week we opened our minds, took the basic concepts, and started creating a world where this story can be told.

This week, we are going do some brainstorming, fleshing out more of the world, Peter, and the situation he’s in. To me, this is the real fun part of taking an idea into a story.

My method of brainstorming involves typing. Lots and lots of typing. I do this for a couple reasons:

  • I type fast, which allows me to play to one of my strengths.
  • Typing fast means I can get a lot of ideas down quick, allowing my mind to move from point to point and document the journey along the way. It’s sometimes quite fascinating the iterations my mind goes through when I do this.
  • It’s fun coming up with new ideas or twists on old ideas. Majority of what I brainstorm gets thrown in the garbage, What remains is what I’m after.

Brainstorming Rules:

  • Start writing—keep writing.
  • Write down everything (your mind thinks, no matter how silly or off-topic).
  • No editing. Other than the occasional misspelled word if I need to give my brain a couple seconds to dwell on a topic.
  • Stop when you’re done. This could be 5-10 minutes, I’ve had it go on for an hour as well. I just let it happen naturally. When my brain is done, I stop.

With all that said, let’s get started!

***Beginning of brainstorming dump***

I mentioned last week that the angels leaving the world was too big a concept to really tackle in this short story form, so we will use that for background to the world. The conflict that stemmed from it though, is interesting. Here we are, a few years after the angels left us, and the world has fallen into chaos.

Peter was 15 when the angels left, it’s five years later. Why fifteen? Because I want to have him do something, and in this gritty world where we have no protection from the divine, and people have all lost their moral compass, I feel like any story we tell will best be handled by someone in the prime of their youth. So Peter is 20. Yeah, I like 20. He’s also internalized the fact that he was the only one who could see them, and the only one that saw them disappear, so it’s taken it upon himself to fill the void left behind.

Peter is the Black Angel. Hiding in the shadows, the antithesis to all that was in the world.

He still hears the angels from time to time. Or sees their faces ebb and flow, constantly fading into sight, then fading out. The angels are screaming. Why? Well that might be best answered in a larger story, but for now, Peter still sees them, just outside of his vision, every one of them in locked in state of soundless terror. It’s a wonder Peter is still sane. At first he used to be freaked out by it, but he’s learned to largely ignore them.

That is until they stop screaming. That’s when he really notices. That’s when he springs into action.

I like that we are a few years later. I like the gritty Peter, and I love the imagery of him taking over the role of the Black Angel. I think it makes sense to have him older too, since he would need to be able to have the physical prowess to handle a wider variety of situations.

I also like the idea of him still seeing them and the imagery of them locked in soundless screams. That is very evocative, but not hearing. I think he’s got enough on his plate. It’s enough to have the image of terrified, screaming angels just outside of your field of vision. We don’t want him to be totally crazy. And maybe he doesn’t see them all the time, they fade in and out.

So we have a bit of a batman theme going on here. Kid, dressed all in black, hiding in the shadows, tormented by his past. Bit derivative but I’m okay with that for now. So what is our hook?

Well I love the bit at the end, when there is suddenly an angel that isn’t screaming. Something has changed. And one thing that popped into my head just now is: what would happen if he found someone else that could see the angels? That’s also an interesting idea.

Let’s say he meets a girl (it’s always a girl), maybe she’s getting mugged on a street where no one cares, Peter goes up to stab the guy when he suddenly realizes that the angels are no longer screaming. I think at this point I should have them actually screaming…why? Well…how about they scream because (at least as far as Peter knows) they can’t help people, and they are being tormented by all the injustices in the world that they cannot do anything about. Ooh yeah, I like that!

So Peter goes up to attack this guy from behind, to save the girl, and the voices stop screaming. It throws Peter off his game. The guy turns around, clocks him one and starts attacking him. Peter’s mind is racing, he’s torn between wondering why the voices suddenly stopped and saving his life.

***End of brainstorming dump***

Whew, that was a lot to get down on paper. It’s a bit jumbled, and I only edited misspelled words and some punctuation in that brainstorming dump section so it looked a little better to share.

So what do I like? Let’s list the things:

  • Angels leaving as part of the backstory
  • World in Chaos
  • Peter realizing he’s the only one that ever heard this (I especially like this because we can flip his world upside down when he realizes something he thought to be true his entire life was wrong)
  • Peter being the Black Angel – so much backstory and reasons
  • Constantly hearing the angels screaming all around him. This is a powerful image
  • I love them stopping screaming when the girl shows up. That’s even more powerful.
  • I love the idea of the girl too. His antithesis. Yin Yang etc…there could be something there…
  • Gritty story is good. I’ve not actually written much with grit, so this will be a fun exercise.

Things we still need to figure out:

We don’t have a hook. Something has to change, his world has to change completely for this short story to really have a good beginning. Remember my goal is to write a story out of this, so as much fun as world-building is, I want to constantly remind myself that the goal is a story, not hundreds of pages documenting a fantasy world.

We need to know more about the world, the magic system and how the angels and humans play into it.

What is special about this girl? This might make for a good initial hook at the start of the story, something to draw in the reader, but we have to figure out first what is so special about this girl. Why would the angels stop screaming when Peter is around her?

Well, I will leave that until next week. If anyone has suggestions on what she should be, why she’s special and why the angels don’t scream around her, leave them in the comments.

Creating Interesting Characters: Part I

Characters

This weekend, I attended a writing workshop led by Mary Buckham, a USA bestselling author, who feels that having interesting characters is the key to writing books that readers can’t put down. Since I was already mulling over the main character’s role in eliciting emotional reactions from readers and viewers (see my latest blog post on my website), I paid close attention to what she said.

Initially, she had us take a personality test (similar to this one). The point of the exercise was that we needed to understand ourselves before we create characters. If we don’t do this, we run the risk of creating characters just like us. How many times have you read books by authors whose characters are essentially the same in every book? The likely problem is that the characters are just extensions of the authors.

My personality type came back as Helper/Giver (no surprise to me). And upon reflecting, I’ve found that there are pieces of myself in all my characters. Since they came out of my head, there is no getting around that. But, overall, I hope I’ve done a good job of separating my characters from myself. From the beginning I understood that they needed to be internally consistent and true to themselves. My emotionally scarred rock star heroine couldn’t react like I would under pressure. And my alpha male hero sure as hell couldn’t think like me during an intimate moment with that rock star.

I’ve used personality types in character creation since I first started writing. Understanding the different personality dimensions is an excellent way to flesh out protagonists and antagonists and make them interesting. Some good ones to check out include the Myers-Briggs and the Keirsey personality types. I’ve also gotten good ideas from going through the different characteristics associated with astrology signs.

You can mix and match personality characteristics to make fascinating characters. Maybe your Scorpio (INTJ) villain is a rational thinking perfectionist type whose idyllic vision of the future is a great one (if only she didn’t go about killing people to obtain it).

Once you’ve decided on your character’s personality, put them in situations designed to challenge them. For example, throw your Pisces (ISFP) Artist Type heroine into a war zone and hand them an M16.

Conflict is at the heart of good stories and what better way of stirring things up than throwing together two characters with diametrically opposing personality types. For example, toss your Pisces (ISFP) artist type into a life or death situation with a Leo (ENTJ) commander type and watch the sparks fly.

These are just some initial ways to create interesting characters. In my next post, I’ll go through a fun exercise I learned through Mary’s workshop on bucking character stereotypes.

Characters Driven by Motivation

Where’s the emotion? The tension? The conflict? No one wants to read something that’s missing any of these elements. Sigh. Well, of course they don’t!

I’m usually drawn to books where the plot drives the story, not necessarily the characters. But for my next challenge, I want to create a character-centered book. And in making this decision, I’ve realized that I need to have a really clear understanding of what drives my characters.

A friend recently gave me a copy of Writing with Emotion, Tension, and Conflict by Cheryl St. John. When I first started reading it, I kind of felt frustrated. I know what all these things are, what I want is to learn how to develop them in my characters and stories! Luckily, that’s when I got into the good stuff. Based on her suggestions, I created some character worksheets centering around the most important things, I think, a person needs to know to create a character-driven novel.

These are some of the things I included in my character worksheet:

  • Strengths
  • Weaknesses
  • How Someone Can Exploit Their Flaws
  • Goals (Internal and External)
  • Motivation
  • Emotional Conflict Keeping Him From His Goal
  • External Conflict Keeping Him From His Goal
  • What Made Him Who He Is Today
  • Beliefs
  • Values

What I really liked about this is that it forced me to clearly identify my characters’ internal and external goals, and what is keeping them from reaching these goals. I find it very easy to write a story where a dragon is keeping a character from saving the person he or she loves. I find it harder to write a story where the character’s fear of fire keeps him or her from even attempting to rescue the person they love. But the truth is, a good story needs both types of conflict in order to really entice readers and keep them reading.

For example:

Story Idea: Amy’s father doesn’t believe she can learn to use her powers for good, so she sets out to prove him wrong.

This is a good basis for a story. We know right away what motivates the character and what her goals are. But what if, deep down, the character is terrified to use her powers. What if, the last time she used her powers she killed her mother. Now, that’s the basis of good plot! She may run into a number of obstacles, conflicts, that keep her from her goal, but none of these external conflicts will ever hold a candle to the internal conflict she carries with her each day. And your reader, they’re going to be holding their breath, waiting to see what happens when Amy finally has a chance to use her powers. Will she be too afraid? And if she does use them, will she repeat her past mistakes?

I’m so glad that each day I’m learning more and improving my skill as a writer, because mastering internal and external motivation seems to be the key in making a truly remarkable, unforgettable character-driven novel.

Characters on Cannery Row

CANNERY rowI am currently reading Cannery Row by John Steinbeck. I’m a fan of Steinbeck, but I have to admit I struggled with the beginning of this book. It was full of description: describing places, houses, people and even a couple pages on the Model T truck. By page 34, I still wasn’t sure what the plot was. But as I am now halfway through the novel, I realize how this Nobel Peace Prize Winning Author continues to draw me in—characters.

There are over two handfuls of unique, interesting characters in this book. While writing, I often want to reach for clique or average person, especially in secondary characters. But I want to challenge myself to dig deeper for those unique personalities that we want to read about.

Here’s an example of a secondary character, Gay, in Cannery Row that only participates for thirty five pages. And while, I don’t remember the color of his hair or body type, but I won’t forget this story anytime soon.

Doc asked, “How are things going up at the Palace?”

Hazel ran his fingers through his dark hair and he peered into the clutter of his mind. “Pretty good,” he said. “That fellow Gay is moving in with us I guess. His wife hits him pretty bad. He don’t mind that when he’s awake but she waits ‘til he gets to sleep and then hits him. He hates that. He has to wake up and beat her up and then when he goes back to sleep she hits him again. He don’t get any rest so he’s moving in with us.”

“That’s a new one,” said Doc. “She used to swear out a warrant and put him in jail.”

“Yeah!” said Hazel. “But that was before they built the new jail in Salinas. Used to be thirty days and Gay was pretty hot to get out, but this new jail—radio in the tank and good bunks and the sheriff’s a nice fellow. Gay gets in there and he don’t want to come out. He likes it so much his wife won’t get him arrested any more. So she figured out this hitting him while he’s asleep. It’s nerve racking, he says. And you know as good as me—Gay never did take any pleasure beating her up. He only done it to keep his self-respect. But he gets tired of it. I guess he’ll be with us now.”

 I laughed out loud when I first read that. Steinbeck paints gritty characters that stick with us. Two dimensional characters are easy, like neighbors that we wave to while our garage shuts. There is more out there, let’s tip over their trash and see who they really are. Let’s keep digging.

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