Antagonists Are People Too-Usually (Revisited)

untitledI spent the last month looking at the characters in my novel. How do they relate? Are they effectively carrying out the roles intended for them? Are they unique and easily identified, or do they all present the same?

My main focus for this particular blog is antagonists. I have two in my novel. One is amnesia, and the other is a young woman determined to marry the man of her dreams, even if he belongs to someone else. She uses his amnesia to her advantage, manipulating and deceiving him.

When you are creating antagonists, you must remember they are people too. Help your reader to empathize with them and understand why they act like they do. Even bad people have weaknesses and can show love towards others. They are more than just a device to move your plot in a certain direction. Flesh them out!

Get into your antagonist’s head. Help people to see things from his/her point of view if possible. I write in third person – limited, which allows me to get into the head of any character I choose, as long as I limit myself to one per scene. If this doesn’t work for you, have your point of view characters mull over and try to understand the antagonist’s point of view. You don’t want him/her to be seen as pure evil.

Many professionals recommended that you not use abstractions, such as corporations, disease, or war as your antagonists. They are unrelatable.

If you must use an abstraction, it’s recommended that you put a human face to it.  Instead of organized religion, you may consider a resentful pastor seeking revenge. Instead of corporate greed, you may consider a Bernie Madoff type. One of my antagonists is a medical condition that a second antagonist exploits to get what she wants.

You want your antagonists to be strong, smart, and capable. At least as much so as your protagonist. This serves to give the story balance and maintain interest.  It also helps to increase tension and suspense. You know the antagonist is capable of defeating the protagonist. The story could go in many different directions.

There is a lot of information on the internet about perfecting your antagonist. Hope this post provided a couple nuggets and got you thinking 🙂

-Jan R

Antagonists Are People Too-Usually (Revisited)

The Five Most Common Mistakes In Beginner Manuscripts

Mistakes-blog.jpgThis is one of my favorite blogs. I wish I could claim it, but the post was actually written by Jerry Jenkins. I love his work. If you haven’t visited him, I would highly recommend you do. He did put a disclaimer at the end of this article saying it was ok to share with friends, so I am in no way stealing his work. Hope this helps someone and hope you consider visiting his site.

It doesn’t sound fair.

It doesn’t seem right.

But here’s a dirty little secret of the writing life you need to hear:

Any veteran editor can tell within two minutes whether they’re going to reject your manuscript.

It takes longer to decide whether they’ll recommend it for purchase, of course, but—sad to say—it can, and often does, go into the reject pile just that fast.

“What?” you say. “Before I’ve had a chance to wow them with my stupendous villain? Before my mind-blowing twist? Before my plot really takes off?”

Sorry.

And I’m not exaggerating.

Why?

Because the competition is so stiff and editors have so many manuscripts to read, you have only nanoseconds to grab them by the throat and hang on.

Every writing mentor hammers at this ad infinitum: Your editor is your first reader.

Every word counts. You get one chance. You must capture them from the get-go.

Am I saying editors look for reasons to reject your work?

No, no, a thousand times no! They’re looking for the next Harry Potter!

Editors want you to succeed!

Then how can they know so quickly that your book won’t cut it?

In my lifetime in the business I’ve heard dozens of reasons, but let me give you my personal top five from my experience as both an editor and publisher:

  1. Throat-clearing

This is what editors call anything that comes before a story or chapter finally, really, begins. It usually consists of a page or two of scene setting and background. Get on with the story. Get your main character introduced, establish and upset some status quo, then plunge him into terrible trouble that reveals the engine of your story. Is it a quest, a journey, a challenge, what?

There’ll be plenty of time to work in all those details that seemed so important while you were throat-clearing that would have cost you a sale. For now, your job is to start with a bang.

  1. Too many characters introduced too quickly

I’m usually wary of generalizations or hard and fast rules, but almost any time I see more than three characters within the first few pages, my eyes start to swim. If I feel like I need a program to keep track of the players, I quickly lose interest.

Your reader is trying to comprehend the story, and if you ask him to start cataloging a cast of characters right away, you risk losing him. Keep things simple until the story has taken shape.

  1. Point of View violations

Maintain a single Point of View (POV) for every scene. Violate that cardinal rule and you expose yourself as an amateur right out of the gate. Beginners often defend themselves against this criticism by citing classics by famous authors or citing J.K. Rowling, the exception who proves the rule.

Times change. Readers’ tastes evolve. This is the rule for today, and it’s true of what sells.

  1. Clichés, and not just words and phrases

There are also clichéd situations, like starting your story with the main character waking to an alarm clock, a character describing herself while looking in a full-length mirror, future love interests literally bumping into each other upon first meeting, etc.

Also avoid beginning with an evocative, dramatic scene, and surprise, surprise, the main character wakes up to discover it’s all been a dream. There’s nothing wrong with dreams, but having them come as surprises has been used to death and takes all the air from the balloon of your story.

It’s also a cliché to have your main character feel his heart pound, race, thud, or hammer; and then he gasps, sucks wind, his breath comes short… If you describe the scene properly, your reader should experience all that and you shouldn’t have to say your character did. Put your character into a rough enough situation, and the reader will know what he’s feeling without having to be told—and hopefully, he’ll share his distress.

  1. Simply bad writing:
  • Written-ese

This is what I call that special language we all tend to use when we forget to Just Say It. I recently edited this sentence from a beginner: “The fire drop from the pommel of Tambre’s sword shot past the shimmering silver mist of her involuntary dispersal.”

I had to read a few more paragraphs to have a clue to what it even meant. That’s written-ese.

Hollywood screenwriters coined this term for prose that exactly mirrors real life but fails to advance your plot. There’s nothing wrong with the words themselves, except that they could be synopsized to save the reader’s time and patience. A perfect example is replacing all the hi’s and hello’s and how are you’s that precede meaningful dialogue with something like: “After trading pleasantries, Jim asked Fred if he’d heard about what had happened to Tricia. ‘No, what?’”

  • Passive voice

Avoid state-of-being verbs. Change sentences like “There was a man standing…” to “A man stood…”

  • Needless words

The most famous rule in the bible of writing hints, The Elements of Style, is “Omit Needless Words,” which follows its own advice. This should be the hallmark of every writer.

Example: The administrative assistant ushered me through the open door into the CEO’s office, and I sat down in a chair across from his big, wood desk.

Edit: Obviously, there would be a door. And even more obviously, it would be open. If I sat, I would sit “down,” and naturally it would be in a chair. Because I’m seeing the CEO, a description of his desk would be notable only if it weren’t big or wood.

Result: The administrative assistant ushered me into the CEO’s office, and I sat across from his desk.

Re-examine these 5 common mistakes, and study more self-editing tips here

-Jan R

The Five Most Common Mistakes In Beginner Manuscripts

Do Your Research!

Writing fiction can be fun. You get to create your own world with your own characters and you can take your story anywhere you want to go. Right?Unknown

Well, that statement is true to a certain degree. You do have a lot of leeway,
but keep in mind your story has to make sense. It has to be believable to your readers. That’s where research comes in. Your plot may be fictitious but your details had better be correct.

Anachronisms-details out of place and time can break a readers suspension of disbelief if they notice the error. If for example, a character in ancient Egypt consults his watch, a reader would instantly be drawn out of the story and roll their eyes. That is an extreme example but I think it helps you get the picture.

There’s no excuse for anachronisms or lack of detail.  Once you know what you are writing about, immerse yourself in the subject. If you want to write about police, you do a ride along or shadow a precinct. If your novel takes place in a school, interview teachers or volunteer.

You can also use social media to learn about people and places, by watching videos or listening to interviews.  My novel is set primarily in the Carolinas but my main character is deployed to Afghanistan for a short period of time. I’ve never been to Afghanistan and have no intention of ever going there.  For that short but important segment of my book, I watched a documentary and actual footage. I also read pages set up by marines returning from the area describing what it was like for them. I found the information I needed to make that portion of my story believable through research.

I think it’s best to set your novels in cities that you know.  An author who follows this rule is Nicholas Sparks. His books are set in North Carolina. That’s where he lives. He understands the culture and can provide the details his readers expect.

One word of caution is to remember your research and detail are the seasoning for the story, don’t make them centerstage. Resist the urge to show off how much research you have done. You don’t want to overwhelm your readers with unnecessary information.

-Jan R

Do Your Research!

You Can Break These Rules Too!

largeWrite what you know

You can write about stuff you know nothing about as long as you can pull it off and make it believable. By using the internet, you have the world at our fingertips. A luxury that wasn’t available to your predecessors.

Write everyday

I would love to write every day, but I have had to deal with some major crisis in the past few months that have interrupted my daily routine and superseded my wishes. Life happens. Give yourself a break. Forcing yourself to write every day doesn’t mean it’s good writing. I would say you need to aspire to write every day. Think of it as a goal and not as a requirement.

Kill your darlings

During the editing process, we have all heard cut, cut, and cut again. I wrote a blog on it a while back. You should edit your manuscript removing unnecessary, mundane sentences/paragraphs, but that doesn’t mean you have to delete any and every sentence or paragraph that isn’t doing the work of moving your story toward the ultimate goal. It’s okay to add a scene/ paragraph/ sentence that’s funny, beautiful, or clever, but it has to keep your readers’ attention and be seamlessly incorporated into your story.

Invest in a Thesaurus

This is a great tool to use when used correctly. We don’t want to repeat a word over and over. It doesn’t read well and can become distracting. The Thesaurus provides a list of alternatives for the word you are using. The problem is a lot of newer writers don’t choose your ordinary everyday words. They want to look smart, so they choose the million dollar word that leaves there reader scratching their head and wondering what the author was trying to say.

Never write a prologue

I’ve heard this one and actually pulled the prologue from my novel. I didn’t delete it, because I continue the debate of putting it back. Why did I remove it? I’ve been told agents don’t like prologues and they shout amateur. With this being said, I have read prologues in the books of successful authors.

So when is a prologue okay? When it serves a purpose.

Avoid the passive voice

I wrote a blog a while back on staying active. As a rule, you should stay active, but that doesn’t mean you can’t write anything in the passive voice. If you’re using good grammar, it’s bound to happen on occasion 🙂 The passive voice is another tool that you can use during the writing process, if you know how to use it. An example would be your desire to share information without getting into specifics…Things were misplaced. Mistakes were made.

The idea for this blog came from an article I read in Writers Digest written by Jeff Somers. We all want to be good writers and follow the rules, but like many of you, I do question the validity of rules, and have broken a few 🙂

-Jan R

You Can Break These Rules Too!

Break The Rules!

63845248-stock-illustration-illustration-for-break-the-rule I read an article the other day that made me stop and think. It went against everything I had been told, but it also supported everything I had been told. I know that was confusing so I’m going to clear it up for you.

We have all heard show don’t tell. Telling is a sell-out and the result of lazy writing. Right! Wrong!

Showing is the rule of thumb and I support it wholeheartedly. The problem is people who take it literally and want to show everything down to the most minute detail or those who think you can never tell anything, and of course, that’s simply not true.

If you show every single detail, you will never finish that novel and your reader will get lost in the minutia.

My husband is always telling me you can’t check your brain in at the door. Of course, he’s referring to my reliance on the GPS in my car, but it relates to every aspect of life.

Rules are great and give us guidelines to follow, but yes, rules are sometimes meant to be broken.

Something to think about.

-Jan R

 

 

Break The Rules!

Something To Think About

I’m busy with the grandson today but had to take a few minutes to give my followers something to think about 🙂

“Describing your writing as trash while you’re still drafting is like looking at a bag of flour and an egg and saying, ‘My cake tastes like crap'”. Paul Grealish@paul-grealish

“Don’t be so quick to put yourself down. Remember we are all a work in progress.” Me 🙂

Hope you have a great day!

-Jan R

Something To Think About

Pacing Is A Tool

3.4-PacingexamplePacing sets the tempo of your novel. How fast or slow it moves depends on the function of the scene and the intent of the author. As discussed in a previous blog, you can speed your story up or slow it down depending on how you use exposition and action.

Intensely dramatic or violent scenes can be either fast or slow depending on your intent. If you slow down the scene, you can ring out the last bit of suspense and mystery, as well as heighten the drama by stretching out something that occurs in seconds.

Sudden shifts in pacing from slow to fast can shock your reader and make your book memorable. Nicholas Spark’s books are a great example of sudden shifts in pacing. In his books, Message In a Bottle and The Best Of Me, he uses the entire book to build a relationship between the main characters only to kill one of them off on the last page. I was totally shocked and a little mad after reading those books. I like happy endings. But he achieved what he set out to do. They evoked strong emotions and I’ve never forgotten them.

Tolkein’s, The Lord Of The Rings vacillates between exposition and action. The varied pace and information provided, allows us to visit middle earth and participate in its history.

Remember, a fast pace is action-packed leaving your reader breathless, and slow pacing is meditative and dramatic.

While I love action-packed, fast-paced books, I realize we need exposition to give the reader a breather and prepare them for what comes next. Balance is the key.

Pacing is an important part of your novel, and if you are a novice, it’s something you probably haven’t given much thought too.  I know I didn’t. I love to read and knew that some of the books I read were more fast-paced than others, but didn’t stop to think that the author intentionally wrote them that way.

When you begin the editing process, the pacing is another fundamental to add to your list of things to review.

Hope this helped.

-Jan R

 

Pacing Is A Tool