Monday, September 30, 2013

When Characters Don’t Cooperate

As a writer, I say a lot of weird things.  I talk about the voices in my head, about blowing up houses and killing people. 

But there’s a phenomenon I’ve experienced, and I’m sure that I’m not the only one.  I sometimes have problems with characters who try to take over.  And I know what you’re thinking.  You’re the writer.  Don’t you decide what happens?

That’s like me asking, “They’re your children.  Can’t you control them?”

Now, maybe some of you are amazing parents and do have control of your parents.  But there are always those special kids who have their own way of doing things.  And that’s how some of my characters are. 

I was talking to my Alpha the other day (she’s read EVERYTHING I’ve ever written).  And she asked me about a novel I’d been working on in Junior High.  That novel wasn’t bad, but my characters decided to sabotage me until I completely lost control of the novel and had to set it aside.  I had two character who were twins, based off of me (which, I learned, is a terrible idea).  One of the twins picked on the other one so much that she became incredibly, violently depressed.  That’s right, half of me made the other half depressed.  A psychologist could probably have a field day with that.

I hadn’t planned how these characters would behave, what their paths were.  So they chose their own paths.  One son got mad at his parents, packed up, and moved his family to Greece.  Another broke off his engagement because he lost an arm.  I had a character chance his name halfway through the story.  By the time I set it aside, it was a muddled mess and completely different from what I’d imagined.

That's why I plan my stories.  My characters may surprise me, but I can always direct them back to the right path. 

Now I have a different phenomenon.  I’m currently working on planning out the third book in the same world, with same characters.  Character who were only children in the first book are now older with families of their own.  I go back and read the first book, and there are so many hidden things in there about these characters that just match up perfectly to who they are now.  I’ve even had betas mention that it sounds like a certain character will go through specific trials that eventually happen.  There’s foreshadowing that I don’t even realize was foreshadowing.  And I love it when my characters do that.

How about you?  Had any fights with your characters recently?

Friday, September 27, 2013

When Dreams Come True

I’m going to veer a little off topic today.  I think this can apply to just about anyone.  I would love to hear what you think below.

When I was seven years old, I decided I wanted to be a nurse.  Not just a nurse, a nurse for old people.  I was the crazy 10-year-old that not only could spell the word geriatric, I knew what it meant too.  As a child, I used to unbend paperclips and poke stuffed animals and dolls, pretending I was giving them shots.
Since I was seven, there were only two moments when I doubted my decision.  Both were important, but I’m only going to mention one.  It was when I was about nine or ten.  My dad took us to see a high school performance of Oliver! During intermission, my little sister (only two at that time) fell and split her chin open.  We had to rush to the hospital where my other sisters and I waited in the waiting room for what felt like hours.  As I sat there, all I felt was fear.  I saw the blood gushing from my sister’s chin and I was terrified.
I realized I couldn’t be a nurse if I was afraid of blood, and so I put away many of my medical toys, thinking that I couldn’t achieve my dream. My fear was in the way.

Thankfully, as I’ve now realized years later, it wasn’t the blood that scared me.  It was the uncertainty and the inability to do anything to help.  I wanted to be a nurse because I wanted to help the elderly.  Not knowing what to do in that situation (even though I was only ten) made me doubt my abilities as a future nurse.

Obviously, I overcame that doubt.  I’m currently a BSN working at my dream job – in a nursing home.  I can’t count the number of times people have asked, “Why don’t you do something more with your degree?”  I’ve been told that I’ve thrown my education away and that I’m wasting my time as a floor nurse.  With a BSN, I could be management, work in prestigious hospitals.  I’m encouraged to continue on my education and become a nurse practitioner.

But I don’t.  I’m a floor nurse at a nursing home.  I’m the one who gets to see everyone’s hemorrhoids, wake them up late at night when they’d rather be asleep.  I’m the one who gets yelled at by both patients and doctors.  I act as the middle man.  I deal with death on almost a daily basis, helping others learn to prepare for it or deal with it after it occurs.  I’m expected to work nights, weekends and holidays, 12-hour shifts.  When someone has an infectious disease, I still go in to provide their care.

And I love it.

Not a single shift goes by that I don’t go home, exhausted and content.


Because I still remember why I became a nurse.  That dream as a seven-year-old girl wasn’t about the money, prestige or anything else.  I wanted to be a nurse because I wanted to ease the pain and loneliness of the elderly.  I wanted to be the one they called when they needed help.  I wanted to be able to make a difference in their lives, especially so near the end.  And so, no matter what others think, I keep working, keeping perspective on what really matters.

Having dreams and goals is important, but so is remembering why we wanted them in the first place.  Every dream needs a little perspective.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

In Behalf of the Plotters

I’ve been writing a long time.  Probably beginning with “The Adventures of Iggy Worm,” which my dad helped me write in kindergarten.  I caught the bug early and I always had a lot of ideas.  I loved the first few chapters: pen scribbling furiously, trying to get words down.  The only problem was… I never knew how to finish.  After 3 or 4 chapters, my ideas would sputter out and I’d get stuck.

And just about that time, I’d get a new idea and off I’d go again!

By 7th grade, I was pretty frustrated.  I had notebooks of unfinished stories.  I attempted a new novel and this time, I finished about 60 pages. 

Progress, right?

As a sophomore and junior in high school, I got another idea for a novel, but I let it sit.  For 6 months, I didn’t write a single scene.  I doodled random creatures from my fantasy world, wrote back-stories for characters and contemplated the plot.

Six Months!

For me, that took a lot of discipline.  I had to keep myself from writing until I was ready – until I knew the ending.

Once I started, I had a detailed, 21 page outline and an entire notebook filled with notes.  I was ready.  And the amazing thing is that I finished!  It was my first full length complete novel.

Since then, my writing process hasn’t changed much.  My stories come in flashes – just a glimpse or a hint of what can be.  Then I have to give it time and space, doodle and draw, scribbling out random thoughts until they finally come together, forming a whole picture.

Of course, over time, I’ve learned to speed up the process.  For my Red WIP, the idea came to me and I spent about a month pondering it.  Once I knew where my story was going, I was able to write the 1st draft – 50,000 words at that point – in 1 ½ weeks.

I’ve heard many argue that plotting (and especially extensive plotting) can ruin the creative journey.  What fun is the journey if there are no surprises on the way?

For me, the destination is just as important as the journey.  If I don’t know where I’m going, how do I know I’ve arrived?  Maybe it’s something I learned from my mom.  Plan in advance so that you don’t have to stress while you’re there.

What do you think?  Plotter or Pantser?

Monday, September 23, 2013

Dealing with 'You Can't'

You can’t do that.

You’re too short to play basketball.

You’re not smart enough to go to med school.

You’re not talented enough to write a book worth being published.

Have you ever heard anything similar to these phrases?  Have you ever thought anything similar?

We’ll call these the ‘you can’ts.’  They keep you from not only achieving our goals and dreams but they keep us from even attempting.

We all know our shortcomings – better than anyone else.  But when that’s all we do, focus on what we lack – we never have the chance to prove ourselves wrong.  What we really need is a little perspective.

By the time Alexander the Great was 30, he had conquered the known world.

By the time Michael Phelps was 26, he’d been the most successful athlete in the Olympics three years in a row and became the most decorated Olympian of all time.

By the time Florence Nightengale was 40, she founded the first nursing school in London.

What did all of these people have in common?  They ignored the naysayers and the doubters.  They believed in themselves and they didn’t give up at the first failure.  The pressed on and persevered.  

Failure is only failure when we stop trying.

The best way to silence the ‘you can’ts’ is by proving them wrong.  Just take the first step.

I remember when I first moved to Spain, I went to my beginning Spanish class – having already taken 3 years in high school.  We had a pretest to determine how much we already knew.  I stared at the test the entire 50 minutes.  I had no idea what they were asking or what I was expected to do.  Needless to say, I failed the test.

The next class, my teacher asked me to stay after class.  She told me in no uncertain terms that I would not pass the class.  She said that I should drop the class because there was no way for me to catch up.  As you might expect, I took her words to heart.  I knew I was bad at memorizing.  I knew I didn’t get Spanish and that it was hard.  I almost dropped the class, but then I had one single thought.

Who was she to decide if I would pass or fail?

I decided to take the class and prove to her, and more especially myself that I could learn Spanish.  The class had 2 midterms and a final.  I failed the first midterm.  I got a C on the second.  And I aced the final.  I ended the class with a B average.  And all because I didn’t listen to someone telling me that I can’t.

Why postpone our dreams when all we have to do is think that we can and take the necessary steps.  Don’t ever let the ‘I can’ts’ control you.  Prove them wrong.

Friday, September 20, 2013


Recently I’ve been struggling with a scene in my Red WIP.  It has a lot of action and there’s a fight within it.  I was struggling because I had a hard time keeping track of the action, reaction and motivation of each character.  Various betas had complained that the action slowed when I stopped to have the character react, but at the same time, they didn’t understand the purpose of the fight.

After struggling with the scene for several days, I had a mild epiphany.

What do screenwriters do when they’re planning the layout of a scene?  (Especially when creating animated films.  I’ve watched a lot of Disney behind the scenes.  J )  They create storyboards.  They pick out the important parts of the scene – the parts that need the most emphasis or link two thoughts and lay them out side by side.

Although I love colors, I’m not much of an artist.  I can draw stick figures.  Instead, I wrote out the key points of the scene on notecards, taping them in order on a board I have at home.  Of course, I did use different colors to write it out.

Storyboarded Scene

All of a sudden, I understood the scene.  I was able to slow the action down for myself so that I could understand the actions and reactions of the characters and the necessary motivations.  When I finally rewrote the scene, I could speed up the action, but still understand the why behind it.

The storyboard was so successful that I decided to try it again – this time with a scene filled with internal conflict.  Again, I was able to slow down the thoughts long enough to understand the why behind it.  And I was able to find the actions and details that helped propel the story and conflict forward.

Second Scene

How do you break down your scenes?  Do you act?  Draw?  Outline?  What works best for you?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

What’s in a Name?

I write fantasy, which means that I like to use unique and different names to help create that setting. 
I began writing in junior high, and I created what I called the ‘Random Namer,’ something that I still have and that has served me well over many, many years.  (And amazingly I still have the original.  I’ve kept it well preserved.)  It’s just a simple notecard, I’ve cut to create two sliding numbered bars.  I choose a random number, say 12 and write down the letter associated with that number (in the picture below, it would be 'b'.  Then I set number one to the letter I just used (b) and write down the next number twelve.  

Random Namer

 I separated the consonants and vowels so that I can be sure that there are vowels in the names. 
With this small device, I’ve created hundreds of names.  Not all of them are good, but there are some that are absolutely perfect.  In fact, this created a name that my husband wants to use for one of our children.  (We’re still debating about that.  Denego’s pretty evil.  I don’t really want to name a son after him.)

I’ve also used the first letters (or two letters) in words during class lectures when I got bored.  I’ve taken several names and mixed them together into a final one.  I’ve taken names of drugs (because I think they sound funny anyway) and turn them backwards.  You’d be surprised how many ways there are to find unique sounding names.

And I feel that I’ve gotten to the point where I know when a name sounds ‘right’ and when it just sounds foreign.  Some of my favorites are Kanya, Denego, Larzo, Hanen, Pazdina, Sitna, Aydra, Karvid and Edric.

When I’m first plotting out a story, letting it spin around in my brain, I don’t choose their names automatically.  I’ll use generic names while trying to figure out plot points so that I don’t have to worry about that until the story is being written.  Then I’ll change them.  I’ve only had one instance where I had a character who refused to let me change his name.  I tried several times until I realized that he is and always will be Benji, even if it’s a fairly typical name.

I have no qualms about changing a character’s name over and over until it feels right.  I had one character change names three times until it felt right.   He started as Onispa, then became Vikezany, and now he's finally known as Onis.  I’ve even changed a character’s name, not because his name didn’t fit, but because in the sequel there were too many characters with names that started with the same letter.
For me, the name has to fit.  Otherwise, it just doesn’t feel right, and I can’t stop obsessing over it.

How do you find names for characters?  Have you ever read a name that rubs you the wrong way or do they even matter?