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Conflicted Character   Leave a comment

A Threatening Fragility Front CoverI like when my characters have internal conflicts — emotional, ethical, or mental struggles — while trying to decide what to do about the external problem that drives the plot. The challenge isn’t a physical thing, but a struggle within the protagonist to make the right choice.

Why?

An external task that’s easy to complete often lacks tension and unpredictability, which leads to boring stories. Adding an emotional roadblock makes the task much more interesting.

What needs to be done is clear, but the protagonist doesn’t want to resolve it that way for personal reasons. Either the right choice has consequences he doesn’t want to suffer, or there is no good choice—whatever he does has serious ramifications.

Internal conflicts require a fully-developed understanding of the character, because these conundrums are based on who the protagonist is because of what has happened to him or her in life, and this past makes it harder for him to make decisions and resolve external challenges. They typically come from the morals and ethics of the character, and, more often than not, choosing one side negates the other, and the protagonist can’t have it both ways.

So how do you set up internal conundrums for your characters?

Just as every real person has a set of morals or values that they like to think they would never violate, a character who is more than a plaster saint must also have lines they won’t cross easily. What a character thinks is true affect his behavior. If the “right” choice contradicts what the protagonist holds as true, he’s going to struggle to make that choice. Nothing builds conflict like some serious soul searching and nothing causes soul searching like being asked to contradict your deeply-held beliefs. That can create a lot of fun conflict to play with in a novel.

How a character believes other people should be treated will also affect how she makes a decision—and sometimes these are much harder to reconcile. For example, if the protagonist believes killing is wrong, any choice that requires killing someone will be met with fierce resistance. Morality is rooted in personal rules and laws about acceptable behavior. But if killing is the only way to save someone she loves or to prevent something terrible from happening, a character might be tempted. Doing a bad thing for a greater good can be a persuasive argument … and a slippery slope to disaster. There’s the post-traumatic stress disorder, the dark night of the soul, the belief that others are judging you for your actions, and that fact that now that killing is on the table, you might not be able to take it back. Think of Rick in the Walking Dead. “We don’t kill the living.” Once they had to kill the living, however, it became easier to justify killing the living, but not any easier to live with the guilt that follows.

Sometimes a character wants to do things he knows are wrong. It could be a lie or a theft. What he wants to do goes against what he knows is right, and a lot of conflict is possible as he tries his best to rationalize why it’s okay to do it anyway. Such ethical slip-and-slides can be compelling problems for your protagonist to regret and have to deal with at the worst possible time in the story.

Fear is a powerful motivator for stepping outside your morality. If a character is focused on survival, he might make bad decisions that go against his morality. Maybe a character who would normally intervene when a woman is being abused chooses not to step out of the shadows because there’s a mob doing the abusing. Being too afraid to do the right thing is a conflict nearly everyone can relate to.

Shame is also a powerful emotion. People can ignore their ethics and personal beliefs if it means saving themselves from a terrible secret being revealed. They’ll act to avoid standing out or looking foolish, which can keep them from doing the right thing at the right time to prevent a problem. Someone who witnessed a crime while doing something embarrassing isn’t likely to tell anyone for fear his own transgression will be exposed.

Internal conflicts are fun opportunities to put the protagonist in the hot seat and force him to decide who he really is and what he really stands for. How far is he willing to go to help a friend? What will he risk? What does he value? His struggles while making a decision shows readers who he really is as a person. And it all makes for a much more interesting story.A Threatening Fragility Front Cover

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Edit Ruthlessly   2 comments

As writers, we’re also readers. What is a common mistake you see in many books? Offer suggestions for making a change. You can even share a paragraph from a book and correct it.

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Image result for image of manuscript editingI love to read and when I’m not writing, that’s often what I am doing. I love books by indie authors, but I also have favorites among the authors you’ll find in a mainstream bookstore.

Because I was trained in editing and have made my living at least partially editing the writing of others, I tend to notice errors and if they’re in a published book, they drive me crazy because I can’t fix them and, depending on the author, I wonder how they got past the professional editor.

Errors?

I have no opinion on the Oxford comma. They are forbidden in journalism writing, which is why I rarely use them, but it’s not technically an error to use it. If you don’t know what an Oxford comma is, google it. It’s useful information. My rare usage is reserved for those times when absolute accuracy matters.

So, what do I consider to be errors?

Well, there are the standard ones – were, where … there, they’re … it’s, its … affect, effect … lie, lay, laid, lain  — yes, those are different words with different meanings. Learn to use them correctly, authors! Grammar and spelling really do matter. Not all your readers are going to have editing skills, but they will enjoy your work more if grammar and misspelling errors don’t disturb their experience and that pays dividends. Learn the difference between a possessive word that ends with apostrophe then “s” (usually, with some exceptions like “its”) which is different from a contraction that might also end with an apostrophe “s”. Then there are plural words which still end in “s”, but have no apostrophe … ever. That frustrates me.

A while back, I was reading a novel by a traditionally published author and he had a huge continuity error in his book. Remember how in Lost the hatch took a lengthy hike to get to originally, but once they were using it all the time, they seemed to get to it in a few minutes of walking? That bothered me and this author’s error was similar. The rest of the book was good and I wouldn’t say don’t read it (which is why I’m not identifying it), but it did somewhat spoil my enjoyment of it.

In a similar vein, avoid anything that might knock the reader out of a willing suspension of disbelief. I was beta-reading a while back and the author used the American terms for currency throughout a fantasy novel. I understand why she did it, but it completely threw me out of the story. She admitted she did it for convenience sake and put some thought into a currency system for her world that will appear in the published book.

#1 Pet Peeve?

When I learned American Sign Language, I had to accept that some very similar seeming signs that sometimes have similar ways of speaking in English gloss very different concepts. For example, “see” and “look” are similar looking, but very different concepts and Deaf will laugh at you if you get them wrong.

  • “His eyes dwelt on her form.”
  • “His eyes ran along the floor.”
  • “His eyes were fixed on the sky.”

Well, let’s hope not. The hero should keep his eyes in his head. His gaze dwelt on her form. His gaze ran along the floor. His gaze was fixed on the sky. Let’s not give readers the word picture of eyes rolling around on the floor, cloud-hopping and/or groping maidens.

#2 Pet Peeve?

The overuse of the word “that” annoys me. For example, “that” isn’t needed after “said” about 99% of the time, yet even my graphic above uses it when it isn’t needed.

  • “It has been said that words are like inflated money …”
  • “It has been said words are like inflated money …”

There is a simple test for this. Can you think of any other verb that is normally followed by the word “that”?

  • “He climbed that the tree …” Nope
  • “She sang that the song …” Nope

You get my point, right?

Okay, so now you know. These things annoy me as a reader and I hope I avoid annoying others with same issues. Yes, we all make mistakes and an occasional typo making it to the finished book is understandable, but be ruthless with yourself so that you eliminate as few errors as possible.

Interview with Zara Altair   3 comments

Today’s interview is with Zara Altair. Welcome to the blog. Tell us something about yourself. 

Profile photoLela, thank you for inviting me to this conversation. I live just outside of Portland, Oregon, in the United States. When I’m not working on my stories, I’m still writing. I contribute semantically optimized content for several websites and blog article series. Right now, I am also ghostwriting a thriller.

I’ve taught writing in various roles from kindergarten through university. For the past 10 years, I’ve been helping other story writers with developmental editing and script review.

 

 

At what point did you know you wanted to be a writer? 

I’ve been telling stories since I was a toddler and began writing stories when I was around five years old. At that same time, I met a writer of children’s books and knew I wanted to be a writer.

 

 

Tell us about your writing process.

The process is a mix. Characters come to me and want their story told. I get to know my character and, for the historical mysteries, I do a great deal of research.

For planning, I do a three-point plan: Beginning, middle, and end. Then I fill in the chapters that get the story from the beginning to the end. Those chapter notes are loose ideas. I find that as I write, characters do and say things that move the story in unexpected ways. I do not compose the story linearly. If a scene pops into my head, I write it while it is fresh in my mind. A similar process may happen with bits of dialog. So-and-so has to say this, and then fit it into the story.  But, in the main, I write from the beginning to the end, fitting in those already written scenes at the appropriate place in the story line.

Writing time is uninterrupted. No phone conversations. No quick checks of email. I want to get “in the flow” and stay there during writing time.

 

What is your favorite genre … to read … to write?

The Used Virgin: An Argolicus Mystery (Argolicus Mysteries) by [Altair, Zara]I read a lot of thrillers, crime, police procedurals, some legal thrillers. I also read science fiction.

 

I love writing mysteries. I think it is the puzzle that intrigues me. What is the puzzle? Who is involved? Who seems like the perfect foil? What are the clues? Where do I plant them in the story?

 

 

Where do you get the inspiration for your novels?

I find that reading history of the time of my stories, early 6th Century Italy, provides great inspiration for the circumstances of the plot and what issues surround characters. Some of the reading is fairly dry, but as a storyteller my response may be: What the bishops were running a slave trade? The area was known for horse breeding? Sometimes these idea sparks come from scholarly footnotes, not the main text. I’m always looking for juicy situations.

 

Because the Emperor Justinian did everything he could to remove all traces of the Ostrogoths in Italy, research is always a challenge. From quotidian details like meals and clothing to palace intrigue sources are scant. A perfect example is the mosaic of the palace in Sant’Apollonare Nuovo. Justinian had the original mosaic, believed to be Theoderic and his court, removed and replaced with the curtains. If you look closely you can see hands on three of the pillars which are left over from the original mosaic.

 

My central character, Argolicus, was a real person at the time of Theodoric’s reign in Italy. He is mentioned nine times in Cassiodorus’ Variae (iii 11, iii 12, iii 29, iii 30, iii 33, iv 22, iv 25, iv 29, iv 42) as praefectus urbis of Rome. His childhood and ongoing friendship with Cassiodorus come from my imagination.

 

 

What sort of research do you do for your novels?

The Peach Widow: An Argolicus Mystery (Argolicus Mysteries) by [Altair, Zara]I have bookshelves full of historical references. Conference proceedings bound into books, sometimes including lively question and answer sessions. Many of the books are in Italian. One conference may have presentations in English, French, Italian, etc. I struggle through quotes in Latin and Greek. My one comparison to Shakespeare is that, as Ben Jonson said, I have “small Latin and less Greek.” I sound out the Greek. It’s like a kid just learning to read.

 

I traveled to Italy, to interview scholars at the Universitá di Bologna, who graciously answered many questions and supplied me with 30 kilos of books to further my research. Two questions I had were inadvertently answered by just being there. I found a small cookbook in a bookstore about the food of the Ostrogoths, and a bartender gave me a local journal that spoke of an underground café, which for story purposes, was the place where the king stored the wheat and bread that he gave out.

 

 

If someone who hasn’t read any of your novels asked you to describe your writing, what would you say?

My stories are traditional mysteries set in a long-ago time, a time when the Ostrogoths ruled Italy. The main character straddles the two worlds of Ostrogoth and Italian culture. There were no police or private detectives, and murder was not a crime under either legal system.

 

 

Do you have a special place where you write?

Yes, my desk. Sometimes it is covered with reference books.

 

 

 

Are you a plot driven or character driven writer? Why?

Mysteries have a standard plot trope. Beyond that, I play with the characters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What influenced your decision to self-publish?

My short story, The Used Virgin, had been sitting on my computer for several years. I decided to put it out there for anyone who might be interested. Little did I know at the time, how much I had to learn about creating an author platform and communicating with readers and potential readers.

 

What do you find to be the greatest advantage of self-publishing?

Getting the book out is a relatively short process. The author has control of publication.

 

With the number of self-published books increasing by such a huge rate, it is really difficult for authors to make their books stand out. How do you go about this?

I don’t think so much about getting the books to stand out as finding readers who want to read the type of story I write. That thinking comes from working as a writer in the Search Engine Optimization world. Business owners, that’s me as an author, can spend energy on ranking, or they can optimize to engage with customers. It’s a similar approach.

Ask me again in two years.

 

 

Who designed your book cover/s?

I feel fortunate to work with Ryan J. Rhoades of Reformation Designs. After talking with him about the series, he created covers that captured the essence of the time. And, each cover has an important clue hidden in the details. We did that for fun.

Although I had worked with him on other design projects, his branding tends to look very modern. I was hesitant at the beginning but as soon as I saw his first cover I knew I had made a good decision.

 

 

Do you believe that self-published authors can produce books as high-quality as the traditional published? If so, how do you think we should go about that?

Absolutely. Write the best story you can. Find an editor familiar with your genre. Hire a cover designer who understands your book. Choose cover material and paper that match the feel of your book. Self-published authors who put in attention to detail in all phases of book production have no worries about high-quality.

 

Do you belong to a writer’s cooperative? Describe your experience with that.

Nothing so formal as a cooperative. I have been in writing groups for years starting with the Russian River Writers in California in the late 1970s.

My current writing group is small. When I moved to Oregon from California four years ago, I looked at a number of groups but most of them were not a fit. I started corresponding with a contact from a group that had folded and we chatted about our “ideal” group. It took us almost a year to form the group. We have written rules, a trial period, and a tight community.

We meet twice a month. We bring printed copies of the pages. We take turns reading each other’s passage aloud. After the reading each individual comments. The writer leaves with written comments and suggested edits from each member.

The comments and suggestions are instrumental in honing the final story. I recommend a writing group for any writer. What we do with suggestions is up to the writer.

 

How do readers find you and your books?

 

 

Links:

Amazon Author Page

Author Website

Facebook Author Fan Page

Twitter

Goodreads

Google+

YouTube

 

Seeking Inspiration   6 comments

This week’s blog hop topic is “What inspires you, and why do those things inspire you?

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Inspiration surrounds us. All you need do is open your eyes and your imagination and let it in. Inspiration comes from the words of your favorite author to the leaves blowing across your path on your morning commute.

Image result for image of inspirationSometimes it’s hard to see the muse while you’re living your daily life. My husband Brad wonders how I can spend my workday planted in front of a computer screen writing for other people and then come home and write my own stories. And, I can’t really explain what’s going on in my head while I’m doing the mundane parts of my job and my standard life. Exactly what is it about filing or data entry that gets the creative juices flowing?

Inspiration is innate — intimate — to a writer, I believe. I know there are people who do their best thinking while lying awake in the middle of the night, but I do mine in that margin between when I lie down and when I go to sleep. It’s about a half-hour where I can daydream without interruption and those are often times spent at the inspiration well. I’ve trained myself to remember so I write down what I learn later.

I find inspiration in the everyday. I’m fascinated by relationships – happy ones, complicated ones, weird ones, even painful ones. My writing is often an attempt to dissect the meaning behind an event or to describe a particular feeling or emotion.

I’m inspired by things I face and work through in my daily life. The news is a constant source of inspiration for my apocalyptic series Transformation Project. Sometimes when I’m reading or watching television or doing research, ideas will fall on fertile imaginative soil and slowly a story will spring forth, again while I’m doing something completely unrelated to “being creative.” My most recent book, the novelette Hullabaloo on Main Street was inspired by a Washington Post article about how Democrats in Wisconsin were shocked that their neighbors had voted for Donald Trump, but when I opened my imagination to it, I overheard dozens of conversations by people from both sides of the aisle. Yes, I’m inspired by eavesdropping too. Connor’s observation about how his conservative and liberal neighbors asking for help differently is actually inspired by a liberal coworker’s observation about that dynamic.

Living in Alaska is a powerful inspiration. Long walks just through my neighborhood brings me in contact with nature right on the edge of a vast wilderness. I see colors that I want to describe, smell fragrances that want to be put on paper, watch my neighbors do things that just must be captured in word pictures.

I’m inspired by investigating my life — taking it apart at the seams and seeing what’s inside. How did I become who I am? How did someone who shared their story with me become who they are? I look beneath the surface of this visible reality and find places that are more felt than seen.

The creative process itself brings me to a place where I am often in that world and the process itself is inspiring. The act of having to type words slows me down and connects me to emotions, places and characters in a way where I feel what they feel, see, hear, etc.

I’m inspired by challenges. When I reach a point in a book’s narrative where things are hard, I love the feeling of finding the just-right turn of a phrase that solves my characters problems … or drives them forward to face those problems. Don’t we just wish our own lives were that easy?

(Note – not really. I’m pretty mean to my characters and I would not want anyone to treat me that way.)

Although the sources of my creativity are many, back of it rests the one main foundation of my life … my faith. I find literary themes and ways of addressing problems on the page in the words of my Savior. I learn ways of seeing things that are different from what is “normal” because of the tenets of my faith. Writing fiction somehow draws me closer to God and allows me to not only say, but sometimes realize insights through my characters that I’d feel awkward and foolish saying myself.

Inspiration comes in many forms and myriad sources. It’s kind of cliche to say that inspiration is everywhere, but I get my best moments with my muse when I’m filing paperwork or scrubbing the tub, so I think that “everywhere” is about right.

#openbook, #bloghop, #mondayblogs, #amwriting

 

Posted May 15, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Please Support My Thunderclap – 3/4 Way There   Leave a comment

I’m seeking to spread the news about “Hullabaloo on Main Street”, a political satire from a non-partisan viewpoint, which launches May 16. You can help by supporting my Thunderclap campaign. Most people by now are familiar with Thunderclap. It allows a 1-time-only use of your social media network to promote … well, things like my book. And Thunderclap does not keep your social media network information.

I’m at 76% of my goal and would appreciate any help I can get.

Follow the link and thank you in advance.https://www.thunderclap.it/projects/56935-hullabaloo-on-main-street?locale=en

Source: Please Support My Thunderclap

I Kidnap People and Bludgeon Them for a Living   Leave a comment

Consider the act of writing a novel. I know there’s a “recommended way” of doing it, but I’ve never been very good at following recommendations. I do things my own way and that’s how I write.

To a certain extent, I am a discovery writer … what is called the cute, but kind of insulting name “pantser”. Don’t worry. I’m no snowflake who can’t handle an unintentional insult meant as a joke. Maybe that’s what I find insulting about it actually … that they think the act of writing a novel as an organic process is somehow a joke.

Plenty of famous authors are or were discovery writers. Ray Bradbury was. Bradbury gave me permission to write as I was already writing … just letting the words flow even though what I write is often not really very good. He said to do it. He suggested writing a short story every week because it isn’t possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row. I’m not so sure of that, but I believe it worked for him. The proof is in his writing.

So, when I start out any book, it always starts with no real idea of where I am going. Now that I’m in the midst of publishing two series, I really do have to have some idea of where I’m going, but I still can’t comfortably write a story from an outline. I need to let the story develop organically, to let characters talk about drivel or do meaningless things. That may not work for some people, but I am publishing my 5th book using that method, so it works for me.

I’m working on Transformation Project #3 A Threatening Fragility and because this is the third book in the series, I actually did know what the ending would be and what most of the major milestones would be. You’d think it would just crank out from my fingers, all ready to go, but no, I struggled. At 50,000 words, I felt like I was writing stupidity on a stick. Normally, by now, I would have found the passion of the story and begun writing with ardor, but this time … I just wanted to write anything else … which was what had caused me to turn from writing Book 3 of Daermad Cycle. I had too many ideas for other projects and no commitment to the story. So, here I was, 50,000 words into it and feeling a little like I should hit delete and start over.

And then a light bulb came on. I’m being too nice to my main character for the book. Yes, Shane is the main protagonist of the series, but it’s an ensemble cast and currently, what Shane is doing isn’t that interesting. He’s playing his part and it’s important for his later development to do it, but his brother Cai is the one in danger at the moment. So, why was he doing uninteresting things?

Turns out, I like Cai and I don’t want to beat up on him. He’s a really nice guy and I want him to go home to his wife and family and pretty much remain a nice guy. But that’s not what the story requires, so ….

Yeah … things are about to get tough for the nicest guy in the story and I’m sort of wondering how it will change the character because … well, frankly, as a discovery writer, I don’t really know the answer until it exposes itself on the page. And this is where the passion grabs me and drags me along for the ride.

I’ll have plenty of things to fix on rewrite and that’s fine now that I finally feel like the story is coming alive.

#books, #kindle, #amwriting, #amediting, #indiebookblast

 

 

Posted May 9, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in book promotion

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Authors – Want an Interview?   Leave a comment

Christian AnarchyAs a service to the authorial world, I offer absolutely FREE interviews on my blog. There are openings in my schedule. Email me at lelamarkham@gmail.com, if interested.

#amwriting, #interviews

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