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Jordan Dane
October 4th, 2010, 11:45 PM
How to Create Characters Editors Are Looking For

By Jordan Dane

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Characters can come at you from any direction. You can spot them in a grocery store, or (heaven forbid) at a family reunion, or they can whisper to you in your dreams in the middle of the night. Only YOU will recognize them, to know if they’ll stick in your head and make the cut for a book. Below are some thoughts on creating characters, things that I’ve learned from my own writing.

Conflict is Key
What does your character want and why can't they have it? Conflict is vital to creating memorable characters. No conflict(s), no story. Your external conflict might be the villain or the insurmountable situation, but the most unforgettable characters will also contend with their own flaws or biases (internal conflicts) or demons, so they have a journey toward self-discovery.

Find your characters' greatest weaknesses or fears—their internal conflicts—then demand they deal with it. Torture them. It’s legal. Rubbing their nose in it generally comes from the influences of the external conflict—the plot. The one-two punch of the external and internal conflicts adds depth to your character. Make him/her suffer, then ramp up the stakes and the tension.

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How Much Romance is Enough?


If you can take the romance out of your book—completely delete the intimate scenes between your hero and heroine—and your book no longer makes sense, that’s when you know you have the right blend. Karen Rose said that in one of her RWA workshops and it’s stuck with me ever since. She meant that if you have a completely separate story arc for just the lovemaking or relationship development and it’s not an integral part of the plot, then you haven’t blended it well enough. You have to punish your characters for wanting to be together. Put them in more danger or make them more vulnerable because they have feelings for one another. Ramp up the stakes. As an author, it's your job to torture them, you nasty vixen you.
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How to Create Memorable Characters?

As a fun exercise, watch a memorable movie or TV show and observe the traits of the main characters, the ones you can’t take your eyes off of when they’re on the big or little screen. What makes them so unforgettable? For most of us, it’s not the high-octane action that sticks in our heads. It’s usually what makes that character human and relatable.
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In Million Dollar Baby, it’s Clint Eastwood’s Frankie Dunn character as the hardened boxing trainer who’s struggling connection with his own estranged daughter compels him to take on a novice young woman boxer and give her a chance at her dream. His number one rule to his novice boxers is to “protect yourself”, a rule that has dominated Frank’s life ever since his strained relationship with his daughter. He doesn’t let anyone get too close, until Hilary Swank’s character, Maggie Fitzgerald, comes into his life and gives them both a shot at redemption.
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1. Add Depth to Each Character – Give them a journey
· With any journey comes baggage. Be generous. Load on the baggage. Give them a weakness that they’ll have to face head-on by the climax of the book.


· Make them vulnerable by giving them an Achilles Heel. Even the darkest mercenary or a fearless woman assassin should have a weakness that may get them killed and certainly makes them more human and relatable.


· And whether you are writing one book or a series, have a story arc for your character’s journey. Will they find peace or some version of it? Will they let themselves be loved or are they content to live alone? Do what makes sense for your character, but realize that their emotional issues will cloud their judgment and effect how they deal with confrontations. And by the end of a book, they should learn something.


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In my book EVIL WITHOUT A FACE (Book #1, Sweet Justice series), my woman bounty hunter, Jessica Beckett, is obsessed with pedophiles because of her past. She was abducted as a small child, taken from a family she’s haunted by (yet never reconnected with), and tortured by a serial pedophile. She’s got scars on her body and face that make her self-conscious, yet she refuses to get them fixed. She wants people to see her as she is, wounded. Her emotional scars on the inside are far worse. They affect everything she does, especially her love life. And even as strong and brave as she is, when it comes time to face criminals who abuse kids, she’s catapulted back to being a victim and must overcome her worst fears revisited. And with each new Sweet Justice book, Jessie faces her past, deals with the dark corners of her tortured mind, and surrounds herself with a growing number of trusted friends who have become her version of a family. Will she finally decide she deserves to be happy and stop sabotaging her life?


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2. Use Character Flaws as Handicaps
· Challenge yourself as an author by picking flaws that will make your character stand out and aren’t easy to write about. Sometimes that means you have to dig deep in your own head to imagine things you don’t want to think about, but tap into your empathy for another human being. You might surprise yourself.


· Stay true to the flaws and biases you give your characters. Don’t present them to the reader then have the actions of the character contradict those handicaps. Be consistent. And if they have strong enough issues, these won’t be fixed by the end of the book. Find a way to deal with them.

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In the TV show, HOUSE, Dr. Greg House is addicted to pain meds, a by-product of his damaged leg. He’s also obnoxious, abrasive, brutally honest, and definitely politically incorrect in how he deals with patients, but he’s damned good at what he does—saving lives. His public face appears to be a detached man who ridicules any real human emotion, yet he’s fascinated by true emotion too. It’s as if he’s an outsider looking in, an observer of the whole human experience. We never quite know if he really cares about his patients or is merely obsessed with being right as he puzzles out the reasons for the illnesses.

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3. Beware the Clichéd Character
· Ask yourself - Have I read this character before? (The alcoholic cop, the loner P.I., the hooker with the heart of gold, etc.) If so, learn how to tweak your story to make it stand out in a slush pile.


· But if you have a clichéd character, you may not need to rewrite your whole story. Try infusing a unique hobby or layer in a unique trait/quality that will set them apart.


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In the TV show NCIS, Gibbs’ oasis is building boats in his basement. It’s his retreat, of sorts. We never know what happens to these boats or how he gets them out of his house, but he’s always there with his demons hanging over his shoulder, crafting boats named after his murdered daughter. Heady, heartbreaking stuff. (I’m a sap for a tough guy with a busted heart.)

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4. Create A Divergent Cast of Characters
· Portray your characters in varying degrees of redemption - from the innocent to the “total waste of skin” characters


· And sometimes it’s great to show contrast between your characters by making them do comparable things—like how does your bad guy make love versus your good guy?


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In the TV show HUMAN TARGET, Christopher Chance has a dark history. He’s a do-it-all anti-hero, former assassin turned bodyguard, who is a security expert and a protector for hire. He works with an unusual and diverse team. His business partner, Winston, is a straight and narrow, good guy while his dark friend, Guerrero, is a man who isn’t burdened by ethics or morality. Each of these men has very different feelings about what it takes to get the job done, but they’ve found common ground to work together. And their differences make for a fun character study. (I love Guerrero!)


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5. Flesh Out your Villains
· Villains are the heroes to their own stories – Spend time getting to know them


· Give your villain goals


· Give them a unique sense of humor or dare to endear them to your reader


· The better and more diabolical the villain, the more the reader will fear for the safety of your protagonists

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In the TV show, DEXTER, the strange anti-hero, Dexter, is a serial killer with a goal. He hunts serial killers and satisfies his blood lust by killing them. He’s got peculiar values and loyalties with a dark sense of humor. And he’s absolutely fascinating to watch.

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Anti-Heroes/Heroines & Villains

I love making a borderline human being into a hero. Writing that type of character can be really challenging. The guy could be dark and brooding, but give him a dog and readers will know instantly that he’s worth loving. Below are other tips to add depth to your villain or make your anti-hero/heroine more sympathetic.


· Cut the reader some slack by clueing them in early. Your bad boy or naughty girl has a very good reason for being that way, even if their reasons aren’t really apparent to the other characters at first. A reader will lose interest fast if your character is a complete jerk for half the book, so pepper in the valid reasons for them being who they are.


· Make them human. Give them a code to live by and/or loyalties the reader can understand and empathize with. Even a very nasty villain or dark anti-hero/heroine has a softer side. Hannibal Lecter was Clarice's protector with his peculiar brand of loyalty. It was his one endearing trait, that and his culinary skills with liver. Chianti and fava beans, anyone?


· Make them sympathetic by giving them a pet or a soft spot for a child. Write the darkest character and match them up with something soft and you’ve got a winning combination that a reader may find endearing.


· Show the admiration or respect others have for them. Everyone looks up to a good leader.


· Give your villain and anti-hero similar motivations for doing what they do. Maybe both of them are trying to protect their family, even though they’re on opposing sides. Who would be more right? This is conflict at its best.


· Give your villain or anti-hero a shot at redemption. What choice would they make?


· Understand your villain’s backstory. It’s just as important as your protagonist’s. The reader must fully understand why they are motivated to do what they’re doing.


· Pepper in a backstory that makes your anti-hero vulnerable – betrayed by love, lost the love of their life, or other tragic life experiences. Make them afraid, sometimes of themselves.


· Give them a weakness – alcohol or drugs, adrenaline addict, insurmountable grief, or fear of the dark. Force them to battle with their deepest fears, making them worth someone’s struggle to win them over.


· Have them see life through personal experiences that we can only imagine but they have lived through. Make trust an issue because they have been betrayed. They must be much more vulnerable than they are cynical to deserve the kind of significant other that it takes to open them up to love.


· Make them real. To be real, they must have honest emotions. And that means you, as an author, must delve into the murky corners of your own mind to get into their heads. It’s not always an easy thing to do.


Getting to Know the Character(s) You Create

I've seen authors use a template of character facts and traits to set the facets of the main characters in their mind's eye. When I was first starting out, I found this practice helpful, although I did not find a good example of a template that worked for me in its entirety. So I'd say create one for yourself if you like this type of structure.

How does this work? I'm a visual learner, so creating these types of notes on my cast of characters can be useful to immerse myself into the world I will be creating. The subconscious brain retains much more than the conscious mind can recall. This process can set the foundation, allow you to absorb the details so your brain will run on autopilot once you begin to write. You can still learn or discover your characters as you go, but I found certain aspects of my characters become ingrained in my mind beforehand by using this questionnaire method.







The template might cover the facts of someone's life, such as:

Where do they live?
What work do they do? How much money do they make doing it?
Who are their friends?
Who are the people most influential in their lives?
What habits do they have?
What are their physical attributes?
How do they dress?
Where did they go to school—their educational level?
What's in their wallet or purse?
What type of car do they drive?
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Although the above questions are important, the most memorable characters come from the questions below.







Other questions that add depth to the characterization:

What matters most to them?
What would they die for?
How do they deal with confrontation?
What makes them vulnerable? What are their flaws and biases?
What are their strengths?
What's the one thing they would never do? (Of course, you'd make them do it in your plot.)
What ethics do they have? Are they willing to bend them?
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Another fun thing I do to reinforce characters in my mind is to create a photo board of images or the lifestyle/setting for my characters. When I'm writing them, I have these images to look at. I may also be inspired by certain music. On the day I plan to write, I may listen to that music. Strange, but when you're channeling characters, anything goes.

When you are contemplating who your character will be, ask yourself what would set them apart from other characters in the genre you're writing. A clichéd 2-dimensional character will never survive the crushing weight of an editor's slush pile. Become an observer in life and of people. Study what makes someone or something compelling then write the unforgettable story you've always wanted to tell.

Recommended Reading:
Goal, Motivation, & Conflict (GMC) - The Building Blocks of Good Fiction by author Debra Dixon (ISBN 0-9654371-0-8)


Discussion:
Please feel free to post questions on anything you’ve read in this session. I’ll respond during the week of Oct 11-17<SUP>th</SUP>. But for those who don’t have specific questions, please share your thoughts:

1. What characters stick out in your mind as memorable from movies or TV and why did you find them so compelling? Are there any new TV shows with great characters?


2. Do you have any tips, website links, or books to share about creating unforgettable characters?

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Copyright Material – Jordan Dane

mdbenoit
October 5th, 2010, 07:37 AM
Jordan,

Thank you for this. It was very insightful and it gave me some great ideas. I feel as if I'm in a rut right now and your advice reminded me how a story isn't a story without characters that feel real.

M. D.

http://mdbenoit.com

Jordan Dane
October 5th, 2010, 09:27 AM
Jordan,

Thank you for this. It was very insightful and it gave me some great ideas. I feel as if I'm in a rut right now and your advice reminded me how a story isn't a story without characters that feel real. M. D. http://mdbenoit.com


For me, it's all about the characters. They feel like friends or certainly someone I'd be privileged to know. My mercenary from THE ECHO OF VIOLENCE, Jackson Kinkaid, is still with me. He's a tough man to forget.

If you feel like you're in a rut, try taking risks with your writing. With every book I try to learn something new about writing. After Publishers Weekly named my debut book (NO ONE HEARD HER SCREAM) as a Best Book of 2008 and called it a thriller, rather than romantic suspense, I was dumstruck. I had written it as romantic suspense with elements of a cold case mystery woven into the story. If anything, I figured it was a mystery/suspense book. So I set about writing a pure thriller with EVIL WITHOUT A FACE to show I could ramp up the pace & tension. in EVIL, I had 5 major story arcs going with 20+ secondary characters and lots of action amidst the heartbreaking story of my bounty hunter. When my editor got done with that book, she set up a conference call with me. She said she never wanted that book to end.

I've never had any classes in how to write. I go by my gut instincts and see the book play out like a movie in my head. I don't plot either. But to keep writing interesting for me, I take on risks with craft issues or characters that will challenge me.

With my YA, I wanted to learn first person POV and told much of the love story in flashbacks & a Native boy's drug induced visions (from his vision quest) that gave clues about what really happened the night a girl got killed.

More wierd things I've done with my writing - In my debut book NO ONE HEARD HER SCREAM, I had 5 suspects and I had written the book so that all five were guilty. I didn't even know who it would be until toward the end when I debated who did the murder. I built up a strong case against all of them. So I flipped a coin and finished the book. And in EVIL, I introduced a secondary character, Seth Harper. He's a borderline criminal (computer hacker) with an interesting back story, but at the time I wrote that book, I gave him more and more mystery to his story (and didn't provide any answers). By the end of the book, when something happens to him, I had no idea who or what he was. (Heaping on mystery to Seth was loads of fun and very liberating, but I had painted myself in a corner when it came to book #2.) Seth was a secondary character and he'd done his job & contributed to the plot in book #1, so I could afford to make him the cliffhanger for the next series book. ("OMG...What happened to Seth?" my agent's big question.) In THE WRONG SIDE OF DEAD, I had to figure out Seth. It surprised me how popular he was.

What I'm saying is, each book should be FUN!!! Try new stuff. Surprise yourself.

Jordan Dane
October 5th, 2010, 12:58 PM
New TV characters that I've gotten hooked on:

Raylan Givens on the FX TV show JUSTIFIED (http://www.fxnetworks.com/shows/originals/justified/). He's sexy and alpha. And the whole cast is interesting. It's a violent edgy show thats really character driven, a creation from author, Elmore Leonard.

HUMAN TARGET (http://www.fox.com/humantarget/)is a fun campy show. Christopher Chance is a great lead, but I am in love with Guerrero, the dark sidekick with no morals.

FRINGE (http://www.fox.com/fringe/) keeps getting better. It's got thriller-esque styling with an X-file vibe with characters that draw you in. Paranormal and sci-fi collide.

SUPERNATURAL (http://www.cwtv.com/shows/supernatural) - I'd quit watching this show because it was just plain scary, but I've been recording it and have gotten hooked on the writing and the great characters. Sam and Dean are amazing to watch, eye candy with really intriguing story arcs. The dark angels and Lucifer story line is a real winner.

What are your favorite TV show characters or cast? Can you watch them without your writer hat on?

JRoseAllister
October 5th, 2010, 01:23 PM
Great segment!

I'm a TRUE BLOOD fan (more so the TV show than the books, I'll admit) and one of the big reasons is because Sookie's love interests are such anti-heroes. You are never quite sure what side Bill, Sam, or Eric is on. Just when you decide they're heroes, they do something outrageously villainous. When you adjust to cast them as villains, they do something to make them likeable again. It may be a heroic act that helps another character, or just an odd, funny or vulnerable quirk. In any case, it's the layered characterization and their constant conflict--often behaving in ways that puzzle and intrigue--that keeps me watching.

Jordan Dane
October 5th, 2010, 03:05 PM
Great segment!

I'm a TRUE BLOOD fan (more so the TV show than the books, I'll admit) and one of the big reasons is because Sookie's love interests are such anti-heroes. You are never quite sure what side Bill, Sam, or Eric is on. Just when you decide they're heroes, they do something outrageously villainous. When you adjust to cast them as villains, they do something to make them likeable again. It may be a heroic act that helps another character, or just an odd, funny or vulnerable quirk. In any case, it's the layered characterization and their constant conflict--often behaving in ways that puzzle and intrigue--that keeps me watching.


Thanks for your great analytical take on TRUE BLOOD. Another wonderful cast of characters. It's amazing how much an actor brings to the party too. And what's key is consistency. It may seem like the switchbacks from bad to good are random, but each character probably has a code they live by, even though we may not understand it. I think another interesting point with Vampires is that they are immortal. What changes would YOU go through if you lived forever? And how would you feel about your own humanity over time? smilies/aah.gif

SherryG
October 5th, 2010, 04:36 PM
Jordon, thanks for this. My brain is buzzing with different possibiliteis for some ongoing characters I'm working with right now. I love your suggestion of parrallelling the bad guy with your hero. I'm not sure I'd ever reach that particular skill, but it sure has fascinated me.
I don't watch a lot of tv, and yet know I watched something recently that had the hairs lifting off the back of my neck the acting was so good, but I'm sorry the details escape me! How frustraiting.
I have a question. If you want to keep the 'bad-guy' in the shaadows for most of the book, i.e. is he-isn't he? how would you do that effectively. So far I have mentioned his existance, his cruelty to his wife and that she escaped from him with their child. He is an 'essence' if you like, and that's how I want him to stay, but, how would you crank up the tension without showing his face too soon?

Tristy
October 5th, 2010, 06:07 PM
Hi Jordan, (First draft completed urban fantasy for YA)
Was wondering how I develop the villain if I'm writing first person POV from the heroine. In my first draft we never really meet the Villian, there are just shadows and eyes, nameless vampires in the shadows, but I thought I'd write in a mastermind but not sure how to put it in if we never see things from his point of view.
A also love True Blood and all the Sookie books!
Cheers
Tristy.

Jordan Dane
October 5th, 2010, 07:26 PM
Jordon, thanks for this. My brain is buzzing with different possibiliteis for some ongoing characters I'm working with right now. I love your suggestion of parrallelling the bad guy with your hero. I'm not sure I'd ever reach that particular skill, but it sure has fascinated me.
I don't watch a lot of tv, and yet know I watched something recently that had the hairs lifting off the back of my neck the acting was so good, but I'm sorry the details escape me! How frustraiting.
I have a question. If you want to keep the 'bad-guy' in the shaadows for most of the book, i.e. is he-isn't he? how would you do that effectively. So far I have mentioned his existance, his cruelty to his wife and that she escaped from him with their child. He is an 'essence' if you like, and that's how I want him to stay, but, how would you crank up the tension without showing his face too soon?

It's hard to answer your question without me asking you some. Why is he such a big secret? In my mind, it's so important to give him enough presence that he scares the reader, especially where the heroine is concerned. I had a bad guy at the beginning of my book that I had kept secret, just so he was generic in my mind. But a good beta reader for me asked that simple question - Why doesn't he have a name? - and that changed everything. I gave him a face and name and had the reader worrying about him getting away from his hunters, but or course, he doesn't. Giving him a face was a good thing. Even though he was a bad dude, I loved that readers were rooting for him because they were in his head. Even bad guys get hunted and are afraid. So he became more human. And if a hit man can die at the beginning of my book, what chance did my woman cop have? That's what I wanted to readers to think from the start.

It's damned hard to keep a gender or person secret without doing the mystery bad man POV thing, leaving his identity a secret. These kinds of scenes can go on forever through the book, but they limit the author in my opinion. And after a while, i tend to skip over these scenes because I know they're not going anywhere. I really hate that as a reader.

If you're trying to keep his identity a secret, then why not have two guys who could fit the bill, but give them both names. Or maybe the second guy could be a henchman working for the really bad dude. I've done this kind of thing before. It delays the intro to your bad guy. It's a movie ploy too. It gives the bad guy a bigger build up by meeting his truly nasty sidekick, which suggests the boss is even worse.

Another thing I did in THE WRONG SIDE OF DEAD was have my bad guy hire a PI to track one of my good guys. The PI makes mysterious phone calls and the reader gets one-sided conversations, but since the PI doesn't know who hired him--an anonymous money drop with instructions--his opinions about the man can be misleading or red herrings. The PI wasn't a bad guy, just unscrupulous. But what he was doing, was snooping and letting the mysterious murderer track my cute Seth Harper, who seriously needing protecting.

Bottom line, my first reaction is to ask why you need to keep him a secret, but if you truly want to do that, then have a middle man or woman (former or present lover) in between who acts like a decoy or red herring for the reader. This person can be a hired hand or someone who knows the guy and understands why his ID must be kept secret. And you can ramp up the tension with this third party. But don't keep the reader waiting too long. You run the risk of your middle man stealing the show or not having enough nastiness by the time your hot shot bad boy finally does come on the scene.

Hope that helps. Keep asking questions until something clicks for you. Brainstorming this kind of thing out is important.

Jordan Dane
October 5th, 2010, 07:40 PM
Hi Jordan, (First draft completed urban fantasy for YA)
Was wondering how I develop the villain if I'm writing first person POV from the heroine. In my first draft we never really meet the Villian, there are just shadows and eyes, nameless vampires in the shadows, but I thought I'd write in a mastermind but not sure how to put it in if we never see things from his point of view.
A also love True Blood and all the Sookie books!
Cheers
Tristy.

:uzi:I'm a real rule breaker. When I wrote my YA for HQ Teen, I had a first person POV, but I used third person for anyone else I needed. I wanted to be in the heads of my local bully and other menacing townspeople. I like one POV per scene, although I've been known to break that one too. But if you try to keep one POV per scene, it forces you to make decisions on whose scene it is and which character will give you the biggest impact. And if you switch from 1st person to 3rd person, the reader can keep up easier.So like you, I had my heroine tell her story in 1st POV but when I wanted to ramp up the stakes for the suspense, I needed the reader to fear for her safety. And being in the heads of others in town made that possible.

I hope that helps. If not, keep asking questions. :jump:

Jordan Dane
October 5th, 2010, 07:43 PM
Hi Jordan, (First draft completed urban fantasy for YA)
Tristy.

BTW, Tristy--Congratulations on completing your first draft. That's such a great feeling. And the world building on an urban fantasy is not an easy feat, my fine friend. You are cool. :whistle:

Tristy
October 5th, 2010, 07:53 PM
Thanks Jordan,
I've got the morning off (mum's got my daughter) so I'm busily typing away. I'm not sure about mixing up my POV's for now. In my first draft I have a character that my heroine meets, who is charming and fascinating, he turns out to be bad, but just disapears a few scene's later, I'm thinking of making him my evil genius, the one who is responsible for letting my evil red eyed vamps loose on the human population. My heroine is also a Vamp, but hasn't turned evil. My Vamps mostly live on another planet and my heroine accidentally ended up on earth. Is it enough if i give voice to this one evil character who is responsible for the others? I'll show the other as the come out of the darkness but I don't want to get into their minds, there are too many.
Cheers
Trsity.

Jordan Dane
October 5th, 2010, 08:22 PM
:hide:
Thanks Jordan,
I've got the morning off (mum's got my daughter) so I'm busily typing away. I'm not sure about mixing up my POV's for now. In my first draft I have a character that my heroine meets, who is charming and fascinating, he turns out to be bad, but just disapears a few scene's later, I'm thinking of making him my evil genius, the one who is responsible for letting my evil red eyed vamps loose on the human population. My heroine is also a Vamp, but hasn't turned evil. My Vamps mostly live on another planet and my heroine accidentally ended up on earth. Is it enough if i give voice to this one evil character who is responsible for the others? I'll show the other as the come out of the darkness but I don't want to get into their minds, there are too many. Cheers Trsity.

I think that a charming evil guy sounds intriguing. And you can give hints to the reader that his charm is covering up something darker. That can be subtle or more overt, depending on your goal. You can clue readers in that he's charming to her, but a bad guy when he's not with her. Yet his true motives can be kept secret from the reader. That could work too.

I can totally see why a charming vamp might want to check her out. Does she have special abilities to cloak who or what she is, since she went to the wrong planet? Maybe he's come to her to find that out. Maybe she has abilities she doesnt know yet and only HE is aware that her being on earth was a mistake, a very deadly mistake. (Like on the show FRINGE this season, Olivia isn't aware that she is the only human being who can travel between worlds. And the bad alternative universe people know this. They're trying to brainwash her into believing she's on their side. Nasty bastards.)

Or maybe this charming dude works for someone more sinister who gives orders. Seldom do head guys do the dirty work. They usually order it done. But I like your idea of letting this guy's charms cover up his real intentions. :shuriken:

SherryG
October 6th, 2010, 01:33 PM
Thanks for this Jordon. You've given me a lot to think about. Maybe he does need to come in earlier. Not sure how. There is a second 'bad guy' in the story, perhaps they connect somehow.
To answer you first question, I'm a pantser, and he didn't turn up till late in the story, but as soon as he did, I knew he was the character behing all the evil going on in the story. I'll definately reconsider my approach on this, as until he turned up, I didn't consider the story HAD any suspense in it :-) I know! How sag is that? LOL
Thanks Jordon.

Jordan Dane
October 6th, 2010, 02:11 PM
:wacko:
Thanks for this Jordon. You've given me a lot to think about. Maybe he does need to come in earlier. Not sure how. There is a second 'bad guy' in the story, perhaps they connect somehow.
To answer you first question, I'm a pantser, and he didn't turn up till late in the story, but as soon as he did, I knew he was the character behing all the evil going on in the story. I'll definately reconsider my approach on this, as until he turned up, I didn't consider the story HAD any suspense in it :-) I know! How sag is that? LOL
Thanks Jordon.

I'm a pantser too. So I know what you're saying about all of a sudden discovering a character. But I think of book plots differently now than just going with the flow. After my first completed MS where my characters totally ran amuck and took over my book, I learned that I shouldn't give them that much control. I still don't outline or plot much, I only think of what I call "big ticket" plot points ahead of time. I'm an impatient author and want to get started (to discover my characters). I used to write the first three chapters and a 5-7 page (double spaced) synopsis - basically a proposal - so in case I had to set the project aside, I would know where I was headed and could pick up where I left off. And basically, in the first 3 chaps, an editor expects to see the basic premise of your book set up. It can have action, but mainly the basic conflicts should be known, IMO. Be aware that if you're drafting a proposal, an editor or agent will ask for the first 50 pages or 3 chapters, plus a synopsis. So it helps to have this already drafted AND that writing sample needs to clearly give a flavor for your voice, your characters, and the conflict ahead.

To get a feel for what I'm saying, you may want to check out my 9-Act Screenplay structure or the traditional hero's journey, as an alternative. My website has the 9-act structure (http://www.jordandane.com/writers_9.php)on my FOR WRITERS (http://www.jordandane.com/writers.php)page. This framework is what serves as the foundation for the big action blockbuster movies. If you're not sure your story has enough suspense--even you have doubts--it probably doesn't. Now that doesn't mean new characters can't be introduced after the first 3 chaps--Lord knows I've done that before--but for the most part, the basic story should be there--the set up.

Maybe your bad guy is trying to tell you something--that the story doesn't start in the right spot. Would your story be more suspenseful with HIM in the picture earlier? Starting a book is always the hardest for me.

Jordan Dane
October 6th, 2010, 02:22 PM
Sometimes I don't get this right and have to start over. And only my gut instincts on story telling guides me. But I usually know that in a book of suspense, that I have to start with the action. In crime fiction, that usually involves a crime or murder--something that instigates a change in the life of my main character. Start on the day his or her life changes forever, maybe.

Below is an excerpt of an article I have posted on my website - FOR WRITER's (http://www.jordandane.com/writers.php)page. The topic is Start with a Bang (http://www.jordandane.com/writers_bang.php). If you write other genres, read between the lines on what will work for your story, but the basics are here. I hope these tips help.

How do I begin my story? <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" /><o:p></o:p>

Start in the middle of the action or a problem. Below are some examples: <o:p></o:p>

A murder—the BANG of a gun <o:p></o:p>
An emotional lover's quarrel - the emotion is key <o:p></o:p>
A personal conflict - good against evil or an underdog pitted against a tyrant <o:p></o:p>

Or create a new and intriguing world or a unique place or time <o:p></o:p>

The beginning of a mission to an exotic place—what's at stake? <o:p></o:p>
A futuristic new culture with a surprise twist <o:p></o:p>
A fantasy world with its own rules or values <o:p></o:p>
A small town with heart warming people the reader cares about <o:p></o:p>

Begin with a compelling and identifiable feeling—readers can be voyeurs or empathize <o:p></o:p>

The sensual sensation of skin on skin <o:p></o:p>
The pain of a bullet to the leg—desperation to stop the bleeding <o:p></o:p>
Sinking into a bubble bath after a gut wrenching day (but avoid describing the day's events until later in your story-this can slow the pace and dilute the action of the scene) <o:p></o:p>
The first taste of homemade pie that reminds you of another place and time <o:p></o:p>

Dialogue can be a good intro—No chit chat—Make it count <o:p></o:p>

You can start in the middle of the action but try and keep to the beginning of the dialogue <o:p></o:p>
Don't make the reader guess what your characters are talking about <o:p></o:p>

Start with a compelling human interest story or a distinctive character <o:p></o:p>

Readers are drawn to emotion and human pain or passion <o:p></o:p>
Paint the portrait of a compelling character in his or her world—Why should we care about them? <o:p></o:p>

What else should I know about starting my story? <o:p></o:p>

For action sequences, remember pace is key <o:p></o:p>

Stick with the action—there's no time for back story when guns are blazing <o:p></o:p>
Place the reader in the midst of it all—using all their senses <o:p></o:p>
Short sentences as well as short chapters and scenes add tension—sometimes switching between key scenes can build on the momentum <o:p></o:p>
Don't let introspection detract from the action—Remember, they might still be firing weapons at your hero/heroine. It's all about action, reaction and pace. <o:p></o:p>

The catchy first line or set up—Can we talk? <o:p></o:p>

Everyone places a lot of importance on this—I'm more of a believer in a fuller concept. The rest of the scene makes or breaks that one good line, so— <o:p></o:p>
Make it count—No gimmicks <o:p></o:p>
Don't cheat the reader on the implied promise of a good book <o:p></o:p>
The hook of a well-constructed first sentence or introduction to a story is only meant to draw the reader in. The rest of the chapter should keep them there. <o:p></o:p>

James Patterson—Thoughts that resonated with me after hearing him speak at nationals <o:p></o:p>

Be there—he has this on his computer as a reminder to put the reader in the scene with all the 5-senses <o:p></o:p>
Start each chapter/scene as if it's your first word in the manuscript—take the same effort and apply it through the entire book <o:p></o:p>

<o:p> </o:p>

SherryG
October 6th, 2010, 04:42 PM
Jordon, thanks for your quick and comprehensive reply. The story was not intended to have suspense, conflict and mystery, yes, but suspense, no. I joined your class because I need to know how to add and make my suspense both tenable (sp?) and creditible. I've hop over to your pages in just a 'mo'. Thanks again.