Friday, July 25, 2014

Secondary Characters

This week, my husband and I decided to go see Maleficent.  I was interested to see how they would turn the fairy tale upside down.  As I’ve said before, I love retellings of fairy tales, and I’ve seen it done quite well.

As we watched, especially near the end, there was one thing that really bothered me.  It wasn’t anything major, or anything that really spoiled the movie, but it was one that’s kept me thinking for a while.  There was a character in the movie who had a lot of potential.  He was in almost every scene.  Yet he did absolutely nothing for the plot.  He was a fluff character who sat back and watched everything else happen.

I’m talking about the crow.  Okay, I know he played little part in the actual movie as well, but he had so much potential.  He was the one there as Maleficent was learning to like the ‘little beastie’ and he was the only one who was willing to talk back to her when he thought she’d done something wrong.  With just a little creativity, I think he could have been more than just a flat secondary character.

So what is the importance of secondary characters?  Are they there to support the main character?  Provide guidance?  Maybe even conflict.

As I look through the different WIPs that I’m working on, I’ve started to really look at those secondary characters and try to determine exactly what their purpose is.  I’ve come up with three things that I think are necessary for a secondary character to be round and to really draw the reader in.

1.  A secondary character must have a role in the story.

                I guess that should be pretty self-explanatory.  If there’s no reason for them to be there, then why are they there?  Except I know I’ve seen and read many stories where there are secondary characters who are only there for filler.  I’ve even created characters like that.  In The Orphans of Jadox, there are quite a few orphans running around.  Though they play a part, most didn’t have a role in the story, other than to show that there were children.  I ended up cutting five of them, and it didn’t even affect the story. 
                In Maleficent, the crow really didn’t have a role.  He was probably there just because there was a crow in the original movie.  If he had been deleted from the story, I think everything would have been exactly the same.  Honestly, she could have been speaking to herself with all the interaction that they had.

2. A secondary character must move the plot forward.

                Now this may sound similar to point number one, but here’s the difference.  You can have a character in the story, who has a role (father, boss, child, etc) but as much as they play a role, they don’t do anything for the plot.  It’s like taking the scenic route when you want to get to your destination. 
                I’ll give another example.  I had a character who was sold as a servant and ended up learning to sew.  The seamstress taught her everything she knew, and despite all odds, they became friends.  Then she was sold again, and she never saw the seamstress after that.  I had a beta call me out on that.  She told me that unless my character needed to use her sewing skills in the final conflict, the entire side plot didn’t do anything for the story.  Did she have a role?  Yes.  She taught my main character, they formed a friendship.  Yet, she did nothing for the story and plot itself.

3. A secondary character needs to have motivation of their own.

                I think this is the most important.  Everyone has some purpose for existing.  Even if the story is told from the main character’s point of view, that doesn’t mean that every character within the story doesn’t have their own agenda.
                I love bringing up Wreck it Ralph for that exact reason.  You’ve got the bad guy, Ralph, who wants to get a medal.  He’s the main character.  But all of the secondary characters have their own agendas too.  Finding the cybug.  Winning a race.  Saving his game.  Their paths intersect, and every interaction is propelled forward by each of their individual desires.  Having a secondary character there just to help the main character doesn’t help either of them.  Give them a reason to do what they do.

Anything else you’d add to the list?  What secondary characters do you love?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

One Year Anniversary

Wow. I have something amazing to share. Today is the one year anniversary of when I started my blog.

It’s incredible to think that it’s been that long. This morning, I went over my first post. I talked about how I wanted to take my writing seriously. I know that has definitely happened, and I know that it’s in large part because of the connections I’ve had here. I really appreciate all of you and the support that you’ve given me.
I’ve learned so much from all of you. 

Over the past year, I’ve done so much more than before. I rewrote the Blue WIP in August and September. In October, I finally decided to try NaNoWriMo, and I was able to write my Yellow WIP in November. What a fantastic experience, working towards a goal with other writers, especially ones in my own area! I’m already gearing up for this year. 

 January, I participated my first Twitter Pitch session, which was much more fun than I expected. Earlier this year, I finished another revision of the Blue WIP and finally named it The King’s Councilor. My betas have only one chapter to finish and I’ve already started the next set of revisions. I also revised my Yellow WIP (now called The Stone Mason) last month.

I even started sending out queries to agents. Something that I don’t think I’d ever expected to do. What a great adventure it’s been so far, and I know that the momentum is only just starting. 

 My question is, what should I do to celebrate? Any ideas?

Friday, July 18, 2014

Emotional Engagement

Last week, my brother and I got in a teensy argument about the difference between books and movies. 

He said that it was difficult to really become emotionally engaged while reading because they can’t see the emotions being portrayed by the characters.  With movies and TV there’s always background music to alert the watcher as to how they should be feeling and reacting.  It’s more than just reading, it’s a whole experience.

For me, I feel like reading can get more emotional for me.  There’s the opportunity to really get into the character’s head.  I don’t just know what they’re thinking by watching them, I know because their thoughts are right there.  Their reactions and emotions are available for me to experience with them.

So out of curiosity, I want to see what you all think!  Please vote below!

What medium do you find the most emotionally engaging? free polls 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Gaining a Little Perspective

This week has been a little rough for me.  I’ve received some difficult news and I’m trying to adjust to some new information.  I’ve had less time to write, which makes it even harder because that’s really my outlet for stress.

I’ve been wallowing in the blues for a few days, but yesterday, we had something happen that woke me up to all of the blessings I have.

Yesterday, we had a rainstorm.  I’m not talking about a quick afternoon shower.  Yes, it was quick, but it was downpour, including hail.  Unfortunately, there was so much rain in such a short amount of time (it only lasted about an hour maximum) that we had flash flooding across the entire town.  Streets were closed, and an entire area was almost shut down.

I got a call from my sister yesterday evening because they had a leak in their basement.  We rushed over, but the five minute drive ended up taking half an hour because of all the roadblocks.  When we finally got there, their basement apartment was so flooded they were using snow shovels to try and get the water out as fast as possible.  It was a losing war, and we ended up removing everything from their apartment before tearing out the carpets.

So now, we’ve got some house guests.  And we love it.  I get to spend some extra time with my nephew. 

But my previous problems don’t seem that bad next to relocating.  I guess I just needed a little perspective on what I do have.  I really am blessed, and I need to focus on the good, not the bad.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Skimming the Story

 Over the past few days, I’ve been reading a book that had been recommended on multiple sites and was so popular, it had a pilot created for a TV series (which was unfortunately not picked up.)

Unfortunately, it took me several days to finish.  Usually, if I’m hooked, if I have to put it down, it’ll only take me two days to finish.  This one took me five or six.  And I wasn’t that upset when I had to put it down.  Add to that, I ended up skimming a large portion of the story.  Not because it wasn’t well written, but because it didn’t add to the plot.  There was a lot of background information, a lot of narrative and not so much action.

I’m not a huge action person, but I can get impatient if I want to know what’s going on in the story and all I get is a detail of the trees standing in the yard.  On some beta reads, I’ve told various people “get back to the story.” 

Fortunately, I had one beta tell me the same exact thing.  It’s so easy to see it in others’ writings, but sometimes it takes someone to point it out in our own. 

Conflict and action is what moves the story forward.  Taking long, meandering side trips can sometimes frustrate the reader.  They’d better be some awesome side roads with amazing views.

What about the rest of you?  What makes you skip sections of a story?  What makes you put down a book?

Friday, July 11, 2014

Start With Action?

Yesterday, I started revising The King’s Councilor, starting at chapter 1.  One of the biggest complaints that my betas had was that my characters had completely perfect lives.  They were all happy.  In fact, Cassie achieves her goal in the first chapter.

The first time I read it, I was surprised.  I started in the action.  That’s where the story begins.  Cassie’s going to learn that her goal didn’t start there, but it continued as she attempts to find her place on the king’s council.  So of course, she has to begin by achieving her goal of becoming a councilor. 


Then the second person said it, then the third.  There was no denying it.  Everyone thought it was too easy.  It didn’t matter that the problems arose after she got her new position.  They wanted to see the conflict, and they wanted to see trials — right in the first chapter. 

I’ve heard the advice to start with action.  It’s good advice.  I remember when I first began working on Servant of an Empire, I started at the beginning.  The story started when the king dies, right?  Sure, but that meant there were multiple boring chapters before the actual story started.  I started that novel so many times, just to get stuck a few pages in.  It wasn’t until I was rereading my outline when I realized that I could cut the first two pages of my outline (12 point font, single spaced) and start where the action really started.

However, it wasn’t until this revision that I realized that maybe it’s not about starting with the action.  It would be easy to throw the main character into some crazy situation, maybe almost ran over by a cart or something.  Or even when I started with Cassie being presented to the king and achieving her status as councilor.  Both of those are action.

So here's my new motto: 

Start with the conflict. 

What’s the main conflict of the story?  Where does your character run across their first stumbling block?  That’s what drives the story.  

Action sequences?  Sure they’re important, but without conflict to guide it, it’ll feel like cheap special effects.  

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Writing and Reading

Since I finished the draft of The Stone Mason last week, I decided to take a few days off of writing and read.  Not that I need an excuse, but now I don’t feel guilty for spending too much time reading and not enough time writing.

It’s hard to find that balance.  As a writer, I always want to be learning.  And the best way to learn to write is to read.  On the other hand, if all I do is read, then I don’t have time to write.  It’s one of those conundrums that can sometimes suck all of my free time as I try to find a balance.  Fortunately, I don’t have any difficulty leaving my house a mess while I work on the two.

So this week, I started the Lunar series.  I’ve seen several people recommend it and I wanted to check it out for myself.  Plus, it’s a retelling of fairy tales, and I’m a sucker for those.  I’ll read any retelling available.

Picture taken by me

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect going in, and I’ll admit, I wasn’t quite sure what to think.  A cyborg Cinderella?  I guess it’s been awhile since I’ve read anything that sci-fi.  After the first chapter though, I was hooked.  Most of the plot twists were pretty obvious after the first few chapters, and there were very few surprises.  What hooked me was the characters and the creative use of the fairy tale.  Honestly, think about it.  

A cyborg Cinderella. 

Of course, I immediately went to the next book, which is a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood.  Again, Meyer did a fantastic job of blending fairy tale with the futuristic alien invaded world she’d created in Cinder.  If I had the money, I would have jumped right into the third book.

Unfortunately, I don’t.  I spent it all on books.  So while I wait for the opportunity to read the next book, I’ve started revisions on the King’s Councilor. 

How about the rest of you?  Any advice on balancing writing and reading?  Any good book recommendations?

Monday, July 7, 2014

Using People as Setting

A few weeks ago, my husband and I went to Yellowstone to celebrate our anniversary.  We had a lot of fun, and there was a lot of amazing sights. 

As we traveled, I started thinking about how I would describe it if it were in a story I wrote.  I guess that’s proof that a writer’s mind is never still.  I’d focus a lot on the geysers, the smell of sulfur, and the formations created in stone.

Then there’s the never ending landscapes, trees and mountains.  It almost feels like you can see for miles. 

For some reason, there was something about the dead trees in the middle of the large basins that just amused me.  I think I took way too many pictures of those.

There’s no way to mention Yellowstone without talking about the wildlife: deer, elk, and buffalo. Of course, I can’t really tell the difference between any of them, so I didn’t really take pictures of those.

But when I think of our visit to Yellowstone, I wouldn’t stop there.  When we arrived at Mammoth Springs, we got there at approximately the same time as 2 tour buses of Asians.  It was a madhouse trying to take a picture of anything without having someone jump into the way. 

Many of them thought I was part of their tour group and tried to talk to me, but I didn’t understand a word I said.  And once they realized I was with my Hispanic husband, we got many confused and perhaps disappointed glances. 

They were people, visiting a National Park.  Yet for me, they became a large part of my visit.  If I were to describe the setting of Yellowstone, the tourists would be a large part of the setting.  I didn’t know any of them personally.  I had limited interactions with them, but at the same time, they were a major part of my visit.   

I didn’t take any pictures of them, since I wasn’t sure that would be appropriate. 
When I describe setting in my stories, do I think about the people that surround my characters?  I don’t think so.  But they don’t live in a vacuum, there’s always someone around.  In The Stone Mason, Rowell goes to school.  Yet, I don’t think I ever described the other students. 

What do you think?  Can people be included in the setting description?

Friday, July 4, 2014


Whew!  I know I’ve been a bit MIA lately, I’ve had a little bit of life get in the way.  Fortunately, it wasn’t anything bad, just a lot of celebrations.

So today, I thought I’d just let you all know what I’ve been up to.

Yesterday, I finally finished the draft of my Yellow WIP, which right now I’m calling The Stone Mason.  I’m going to be doing a final read-through for typos, then hopefully I can find some betas willing to do a structural read for me.  I’m really excited about this one.  I love getting into that kid’s head, and the chance to ‘think’ like a teenage boy. 

I’ve also had some wonderful people going through The King’s Councilor, and I think that they’ve really rooted out some of the plot flaws, especially in the middle.  I’m hoping to jump in and start with revisions in the next few days.  I just need to buy a new blue binder.  Though, I don’t always need an excuse like that to buy office supplies.  Those just make me happy.

This month (at least, if I understand correctly) I’m going to be published!  It’s an article in Home Health Aide Digest on maintaining wellness in the mental health hospice population.  It was an amazing experience working with my editor, and I’m excited to see it come out.  I’ll admit that I check my mailbox frequently as I wait for my copy.

And for those of you wondering about The Orphans of Jadox, I was very blessed to be one of the ones picked by Brenda Drake to participate in the July query workshop.  I can’t wait to get some feedback, and the chance to make it shine even more.  Not that the rejections aren’t fun.  I do keep them all in a file to remind myself that even though they say no, they’re also proof that I’m actually trying.  I don’t think that would have even been a possibility a year or so ago.

Last but not least, I’ve been working on the prewriting for my next NaNoWriMo story!  It’s going to be set in Milwaukee, so hopefully at some point, I’ll learn how to spell that without using spellcheck.  I'm going to also have to assign it a color at some point.  I’ve applied to be a joint ML in my region, and I’m eagerly waiting for their response.

Wow.  When I look over everything, it feels like a lot.  I guess I’ve been so busy I haven’t really paid attention to what’s going on.

So what about the rest of you?  Any news you want to share – writing or otherwise?