Character is destiny, part 2: The Character Store

This is part of a six-part series on characters that I'm doing. You can find the other parts here.
~Character is destiny, part 1: The Edward/Bella dilemma.
~Character is destiny, part 3: Character Store, cont.
~Character is destiny, part 4: Who gets to be the catalyst?
~Character is destiny, part 5: Building a villain
~Character is destiny, part 6: Never underestimate the Everyman 

So, now that we've talked about WHICH character should tell the story, we have another problem.

What kind of characters should we have in our stories?

To help you out, I asked my readers to tell me their favorite characters, and I threw in a few of my own as well. (There were a lot, so it will take two posts.) I've also given movie examples of these characters, so you  can see how they work.

The Trickster:  The trickster has a wide range of manifestations, such as the good-at-heart con-artist or the thief with a sense of honor. Tricksters are identified by their practical skills, exceptional intelligence, good powers of observation, and the ability to plan and execute elaborate schemes.  Tricksters occasionally try to go straight, but are usually prevented by the need to protect family or enact revenge. Subsets can include the spy or the super-hacker.

Movies with Tricksters: The Sting, Ocean's Eleven, Gone in Sixty Seconds, The Bourne Identity

Strong and Tortured:  This character is generally tall, dark, handsome and mysterious. They are experts at brooding and hint often at dreadful secrets in their past. The Tortured character is usually wrestling with their past or their future. They're often in love with someone that they try to stay away from, or they may give up love for the greater good. Immortality is a frequent attribute, but isn't necessary.

Movies with Tortured characters: Twilight, Aragorn from The Lord of the Rings.

Coming-of-Age or Coming-into-Power:  This character usually starts out as an insecure, doubting person, who sees themselves as ordinary. As the events of the story unfold, they grow in confidence. In fantasy lit, this character often turns out to be possessed of unusual powers, or someone with a great destiny.  In current day novels, this character is usually a teenager, or a twenty-something finding their place in the world.  Coming-of-Age characters are usually taught by the Wise Mentor.

Movies with Coming-into-Power: Shopgirl, Garden State, Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, Frodo from Lord of the Rings

The Screw-Up: This character has messed up beyond all recognition, whether through addictions, misunderstandings, or selfishness.  They have a tendency to ignore signs of disaster, and often believe what they want to believe despite the evidence. The story here is a redemptive one, the characters, once confronted with the truth,  are generally forced to make amends in some way. At the end, they usually achieve a sort of peace.

Movies with Screw-Ups: My Best Friend's Wedding. Twenty-Eight Days,


That's all for now. Questions? Comments? Snide Remarks?

Character is destiny, part 1: The Edward/Bella dilemma

This is part of a six-part series on characters that I'm doing. You can find the other parts here:
~Character is destiny, part 2: The Character Store
~Character is destiny, part 3: Character Store, cont.
~Character is destiny, part 4: Who gets to be the catalyst?
~Character is destiny, part 5: Building a villain
~Character is destiny, part 6: Never underestimate the Everyman 

Last week I did something I wasn't sure I'd ever do, something I was a little embarrassed to tell people about.

I read the excerpt of Midnight Sun.

For those of you who don't know, Midnight Sun was supposed to be the fifth book in the Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer. It tells the events of Twilight from Edward's perspective instead of Bella's.

The book was partially written when someone leaked the work-in-progress to the Internet. Ms. Meyer was so upset by this that she has put the project aside for an indefinite period, and put the leaked draft on her website for her fans to read.

I am not so much a S. Meyer fan, though I have respect for her storytelling abilities. (She got me thorough all four books, which is a feat in itself.) But a friend heard me grumble about how much I disliked Edward as a character, and suggested I read the partial draft.

I was amazed.  Being inside Edward's head was a completely different experience from being inside Bella's head, and for me, a much more interesting one. Instead of the Bella's dilemma "Why is this guy ignoring me and what's his dangerous secret?" the central question is "What can I do to avoid killing this girl, and how can I keep my family from killing her?" I found myself more involved in the story that I was originally, and wishing that the entire series was written from Edward's perspective.

This got me thinking about character.

The Greek Heraclitus said that character is destiny, and whether or not that's true in life, it's certainly true in your novel. Your choice of point-of-view character determines everything. What are the tensions in the story? Who is your supporting cast? What does the voice and tone sound like?

 All of these decisions are affected by who tells the story.

But choosing a point-of-view character is a tricky business. How do you know whose story it is? And to complicate things further, your main character and your point-of-view character may not be the same person. Many classic mysteries, for example, have the sidekick tell the story. That way the detective can save the final reveal for the very end, astonishing everyone, including the sidekick.

So how do you decide whose head to stay in?

It depends of course, a lot on the kind of book that you're writing. But here are three questions I ask myself:

1.) Who has the power? Powerless or passive characters can be very hard to engage with. (I would classify Bella as one of these, but that's just my opinion.)

If your story is about a prince rescuing a princess and the princess spends almost the entire book locked in a tower crying, you may want to try telling it from the point of view of the prince. Or a servant who secretly helps the princess by smuggling her food, and eventually assisting in her escape.

2.)  Who changes the most?

Terry Brooks says that without change, nothing happens. The process of changing and adapting to new circumstances creates an automatic story tension. In the Twilight story--at least in the first book--it isn't Bella, but Edward who changes the most. His internal struggle gives the story weight.

3.) Who keeps the secrets?

This is largely applicable to mysteries or thrillers. If a character has a secret the reader absolutely cannot know until near the end, try telling it from a different perspective. But be careful here. Sometimes keeping a secret from your readers isn't necessary. I preferred watching Edward try to keep his identity secret, as opposed to watching Bella try to ferret it out.

Any thoughts? How do you decide which character tells the story?

Dawn of the Dreadfuls review!

(Note: I'm in Coeur d'Alene for the weekend and my Internet access is spotty. So if I'm not around as much, that's why.)

As I've mentioned before, the lovely people at Quirk Publishing occasionally send me free books for review purposes. This is the newest one.

My favorite thing about Quirk is that they constantly put out books that make me wonder "Can they really pull this off?" I wondered that with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Jane Austen and zombies? Really?) I wondered that with Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. (It just sounds undoable, doesn't it?)

The other thing about Quirk is that every time I ask that question, they answer "Heck, yeah we can."

And they're usually right. 


With Dawn of the Dreadfuls, I was even more cautious. I'm not as much a fan of Austen spin-offs, prequels and sequels. Even well-done and well-written ones just don't have that Austen flair. (Though I did read an entertaining series of mysteries once  with Elizabeth Bennett as the sleuth.)

Because of that, I expected Dawn of the Dreadfuls to be less awesome than Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and in that respect I was right. But I was pleasantly surprised by it overall.

The background of how the average, reasonably respectable Bennett family becomes mighty slayers of the undead, is engaging and well-done. There are plenty of zombies and an unexpected villain or two. The prose isn't Austen, but it stands well alongside the other spinoffs I've read.

Definitely for anyone who liked PP&Z, loves zombies,or ever wanted to see modest, gentle Jane Bennett stab someone with a sword.  4 stars

A synopsis rant.

(A quick announcement: Next week I start the mini-series on Character Types. If you want to get in on it, leave a vote for your favorite kind of character.)

Okay, I'll just say it. I HATE synopses. Hate them. With a passion like a thousand flaming suns. Loathe, abhor and despise them.

We hates them, my precious, yes we does...

I know what you're going to say, you're going to say that it's a good skill to have. That it's a useful tool for editors and agents to get an idea of where your book is going and if you've plotted well. You may even throw in that synopsis writing never goes away, so it's best to learn to do it well.

You're probably right, but I don't care. I still hate them.

Right now some lucky person who's never written a synopsis is scratching their head, wondering why a sane, rational and intelligent adult is spewing out venom for what is basically a glorified book report.

To which I say two things:

1.) If I were a sane and rational adult, I'd be an accountant, not a writer.

2.) I just spent THREE hours staring at my computer, wrestling with plot points and characters and summaries, just so I could produce something that reads like this.

When Nisha meets with Matron, she learns that the House Council does not believe she can find anyone to speak for her at the Redeeming, an event where House girls are chosen as wives or apprentices. Nisha was left at the gates of the Houses at the age of seven, has no knowledge of her parents and, for reasons Matron will not explain, Nisha was never formally trained in any House. The Council has decided to sell Nisha as a slave in order to recoup their expenses in raising her.

Clearly my exposition skills need work.


An apology (and goats)

Sorry, all! I had a great Monday post all planned. I was going to review Dawn of the Dreadfuls.  But life, as life sometimes does, came up and hit me with a cudgel.  So instead, you get a reminder to vote for your favorite kind of character, and and some adorable pictures of baby goats. (via

See you Wednesday!

Inquiring minds want to know: What's YOUR favorite kind of character?

Hello, lovely readers!

Seeing as this is, at least in part, a writing blog, and seeing as there has been an inordinate amount of me smeared over it lately, I thought this would be a good time to do a mini-blog series on character types.

To that end, I need your feedback (yes, even you lurkers.)

What is your favorite type of character? Do you like the handsome-yet-tormented heroes? The good-at-heart-con artists? The can-survive-anything-including-an-apocalypse types?  Cast your vote today!

As for me, two of my favorite character types are the Everyman, and the Super-Competent.  (This is probably an indicator that I'm schizophrenic, but since all writers are a little mad, I try not to worry too much about it.)

What's your favorite character?

In which I tell the truth.

 So, last Wednesday, we played this game...

I told you six lies and one truth, and everyone got to guess what the true answer was. I also threw in a bonus lie, which pretty much everyone guessed. I am NOT an accomplished liar. At least not in person. On paper though, I'm a little better.

As promised, here are the answers!

1.) I broke my foot in high school when I was run down in a crosswalk.

FALSE:  This is a tricky one, and caught most of my family. I broke my foot the same year I got run over, but the two did not happen at the same time.  I actually broke my foot missing a step on the stairs. Lamest. Injury. Ever.

2.) Once while I was donating plasma, I fainted dead away. They had to send me home.

FALSE: I did a regular plasma-donating stint about five years ago, and while I did develop some vitamin deficiencies, I never fainted.

3.) For a short time, I roomed with a girl who was a stripper.

FALSE:  She was a table dancer. (and a lovely, sweet girl) In fact she told me her favorite part of the job was that she didn't have to strip, which I agreed was a definite perk.

4.) My favorite food is tacos.

FALSE:  Tacos are one of my husband's favorites. My favorite food is pasta, specifically macaroni and cheese. I also adore soup.

5.) My husband and I became friends while I was volunteering as a roadie for his local band.

TRUE:  Two of my good friends were the lead guitarists/singers of the group. (My husband was the bass player). I loved music, so it seemed like a good idea to hang out with them a lot. I wasn't a particularly good roadie, but I did help pack equipment and roll cables.

6.) I beat my husband at Scrabble on a regular basis, which makes him quite amusingly frustrated.

FALSE: I have NEVER, not ONCE beaten my husband at Scrabble. Never. And he's not even a writer, he's a math geek. Who beats me and everyone else on a regular basis. Stupid game. *growls*

7.) I used to have a boa constrictor as a pet. His name was Sandy.

FALSE:  I wanted a boa constrictor after my garter snake, named Sandy, died. My mom said I couldn't have any snake that wouldn't fit under her foot.

How did you do?

Now, normally I would pick a certain number of people to pass this on to, but since I had SO much fun with this, I'm doing something different.

If you are a follower of this blog, you automatically get this award. And if you leave a link in the comments to your various lies, I will go and guess which is the truth. That way, everyone can play.

Go forth and deceive!

Monday Snippits: Coversations I have had

I'm on the phone with my five-year-old nephew, who's just finished a long and incomprehensible story about a solar system he's coloring.

Me: "And how's your hamster, Christian? How's Bob?"

Christian: "Bob?  Umm..."  long pause  "Bob is my hamster."

Another long pause

Me: "Oh. That's good..."

I'm helping customers at work. The customer at my register has five people behind her and cannot decide what she wants.

Me: "Do you have any questions?"

Customer: "Yes, what's the difference between soy and nonfat?"

Me: "Umm..."

Husband: "You look so cute with that hat on."

Me: "Really? I thought it might make me look dorky."

Husband: "No, it's cute. You look like Strawberry Shortcake."

Me: arches eyebrows

Husband: "In a good way."

Anyone else had funny conversations lately?

In which I tell lies.

 A while back, my good friend Amy over at the Invisible Sister blog gave me this award.

And since I am both a creative writer and an accomplished liar, I was delighted to play.

The idea is that I have to tell you six lies and one truth, and YOU have to guess what the true one is. (Answers will be revealed next Wednesday.)

Here we go!

1.) I broke my foot in high school when I was run down in a crosswalk.

2.) Once while I was donating plasma, I fainted dead away. They had to send me home.

3.) For a short time, I roomed with a girl who was a stripper.

4.) My favorite food is tacos.

5.) My husband and I became friends while I was volunteering as a roadie for his local band.

6.) I beat my husband at Scrabble on a regular basis, which makes him quite amusingly frustrated.

7.) I used to have a boa constrictor as a pet. His name was Sandy.

Okay, now that I have finished telling you all kinds of outrageous things, can you spot the truth? 

(Bonus points to whoever spots the eighth--um.. I mean seventh--lie hidden in this post.)

See you Monday!

On bullying and being alone

 Every now and then, something happens in the YA writer's community that reminds me how proud I am to count myself a part of it.

This week that something was Young Adult Authors Against Bullying.

In response to the heartbreaking story of Phoebe Prince, two YA authors, Carrie Jones and Megan Kelley Hall, started this group to speak out against extreme bullying, to share stories and provide support.

My story isn't an extreme case, but I thought I'd share it anyway.

My very first week in first grade: I'm in a tiny private school, in a tiny Washington town where I don't even live. I live twenty minutes away. There are nine other students from first to twelfth grade. They all live here. They all know each other. I am an outsider.  In the library, far from our two teachers, they tease me until I cry and run into the main room. Sitting there alone, I'm passed by one of the older boys on his way to the restroom. He stops.

"I just wanted you to know," he says awkwardly. "That I don't dislike you. I was just teasing you because everyone else was."

I nod and say thank you because I can think of no other response to this. But I file it away. I am not hated, but neither do I matter.  I do not belong. This will become the theme of my elementary and middle school years as my parents move me from school to school looking for a place I can succeed.

In fifth grade, the school closes. I'm moved to public school.

Things are both better and worse here. I am mocked here by some kids, sworn at and called names, but mostly I ignore them. A few kids will play with me and that is all I want. There is a brief period of weeks where I join in a group who's teasing a girl who's even more of an outsider than I am. It feels good not to be the one singled out, but it isn't that much fun, so I eventually stop. I tend to stick with the boys, as the girls are all playing by a set of rules I do not understand.

But mostly I read.  A lot.

One day, my church group goes to a skate night in the bigger town nearby. The place is packed. I haven't skated in years and soon tire of falling down. No one will skate with me, no one will sit and talk with me. And there's no place to sit anyway. I end up under a counter, seated among the coats stacked around the bar stools, reading. I think nothing of this, it's standard operating procedure for me when I'm stuck somewhere lonely and overwhelming.

A day or two later, my mother calls me into the living room. "I just got a call from [youth pastor's name] about skate night. What did you do?"

I stare at her, not understanding. "I skated for a bit, and then I sat and read the rest of the night."

My mother sighs the sigh that means I've missed something vital. Again. "Well whatever you did, they think there's something mentally wrong with you and they don't want to take you anywhere anymore."

"Oh," is all I can think to say. Once more I am the outsider, a line drawn around me that I don't understand. And this time it's the adults who drew it.

I'm in seventh grade, a different private school, and I hear some girls talking about me while I'm in a bathroom stall. They're saying how weird I am, how strange. Their words are carelessly cruel, spoken less with malice and more with mocking indifference. I am a joke to them.

The situation is so much like a book that I don't know whether to laugh or cry. I content myself with simply flushing the toilet, and walking out of the bathroom in plain sight. Later that day, the girls are sitting behind me, and I hear one of them whisper "Miriam's not bad, really. She's actually kind of cool." I am immediately happy that I made them feel guilty and sad because I know they don't mean it.

Also in seventh grade I discover that lots of people have "invisible friends" who always seem to be sitting in the seat next to them.

"You can't sit here," they tell me. "That seat's saved for my invisible friend."

It doesn't seem worthwhile to point out how pathetic that statement is. So I always go sit somewhere else.

I'm twelve years old and I am the quintessential outcast, the bookworm, the one who follows people because she's curious, who stares just a bit too long, who doesn't know the rules of the game she wants to play so badly. For a while, I'm even the smelly kid because no one told me I had to wear deodorant every day.

In terms of outright bullying I get off easy. In most of the schools I attend, coarse name calling and physical bullying are strictly monitored and the schools are small enough to make that feasible.  The adults might not know what to do with me, but they do protect me to a certain extent.

But  I don't hang out with anyone at school. Moments of friendship, of connection, are periodic and fleeting. No one tells me secrets or cares about mine. I am alone.  Sometimes in the darkest moments, suicide crosses my mind. But books are an easier form of escape, and besides, I'm an introvert. I don't need people.

Or so I tell myself.

For eighth and ninth grade, my mom home-schools me and my sister. Now I am alone and it's okay, there's no one to see all the things I do wrong.  By the time we move and I start tenth grade in yet another school, things are better. But the feeling of being the outsider never really leaves.

Even now, at almost thirty, I cringe inwardly whenever I say something awkward. I've been known to tear up in despair if I misread a social situation. And it is a constant effort for me to reach out to the people around me instead of burying myself in a book.

I wasn't physically tormented or verbally flayed in school. Mine is not a case of extreme bullying. But I do know that feeling of aloneness, of hopelessness, of being sure you'll never get it right and things will never be for you the way they are for everyone else.

That's why I joined this group, and if you have a story, I encourage you to join too. Because none of us were as alone as we thought we were.

Monday Snippits: Adventures in irony

Last Friday...

5:15am- Alarm goes off. I flirt with the idea of quitting my job and going back to sleep. Practicality wins out and I get up, bumping into walls on the way to the bathroom.

6:00am- Drive to work, noting that the gas tank is nearly empty. But it's payday, so I'm not worried.

6:30am- Morning coffee and work

10:30am- On my break, I attempt to buy some lunch and a game I've been wanting. My card comes up declined. It's expired. I use the last of my cash for food.

2:30pm- Get off work, spend some time reading. Try to write, but my Dana is out of batteries.

3:30pm- Drive home, catch up on computer stuff and generally relax.

4:45pm- Realize three things. 1.) I'm hungry. 2.) There is next to no food in the house, and  3.) my card is expired and I have no cash. Husband's card is fine, but he's in school for the next couple of hours.

5:30pm- Husband calls, looking for his backpack. Can I bring it to him? Excited about getting the card, I run out the door without my coat.

5:31pm- It begins to rain. Hard.

5:40pm- I pick up the card and go straight to Winco, which is crowded. I have to park in the next lot over and walk. In the rain.

6:00pm- I get in and out in of Winco in record time. Despite being wet and cold, I'm feeling pleased with myself and happy to have gotten dinner, so I decide to buy gas on the way home.

6:15pm- I lock the keys in the car at the gas station.

6:16pm- I say many bad words, while rattling the doors to try to make them open.  I'm only a block from home, but I can't get in without the keys. My purse and phone are both in the car.

6:17pm- Try to call husband from the gas station. It turns out to be a long distance call and I'm refused.

6:18pm- The nice gas-station lady lets me use her iphone. Husband picks up on the second call. He's just finished, but it will take him twenty minutes to walk to the gas station.

6:20pm- To entertain myself, I open up the paper and check my horoscope. This is what it says.

Your noble effort to complete certain projects, return calls and/or clear your desk might be frustrating.


What do you do when you fail?

 Note: This is one of two posts I wrote last month for the Boise Novel Orchard blog. Because I've picked up a few more followers since then, I thought I'd repost them here. Enjoy!

I have a confession to make. As many of you know, I've been trying to write 500 words a day this year. And right now my average... is not so good. About 50 percent follow-through, in fact. (Maybe worse. It wasn't a good few weeks for me.)

I'm still making it a goal, but it's a goal I don't always reach and that got me thinking.

What do you do when you fail?

I'm not talking about rejections from agents or editors or bad reviews/critiques. Those are things you don't have much control over. But what do you do when you set a goal for yourself and don't make it?

It happens all the time with me. Exercise and diet are the two biggest offenders, but writing is up there. I make a goal, I set out to do it....

And I mess up. Forget. Get distracted. Get stressed. Get too tired. Watch TV.

So what do you do?

I think the biggest key is to focus on the present.

If you aren't making your goals, don't dwell on your past failures. That leads to making excuses, or if you're a self-flagellating type, getting discouraged.

And don't worry about the future. "How will I ever learn to do this?" "What if I suck for the rest of the year?" "What if I NEVER make my goals?" These are not profitable questions, and won't help you.

Focus on the present. It's about you, today, doing today's work. It doesn't matter if you didn't do it yesterday, or the day before, or for the last six months. You can do today's work today.

Maria Killilea in her book With Love from Karen says: "Now is all that can be presently profitable."

So that's what I do when I fail. I start over, every day, and do it again. And I try to be patient with myself. I missed many blog posts when I first started trying to blog on a regular basis. I fell down a lot when I learned to ride a bike.

Failure is part of the learning process, and as of this minute, all your failures are in the past.

Focus on the now.

And go write 500 words, too. :)
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Fabric art in the header by Carol Riggs.