Make Your Characters Stronger

How can you make your characters sound stronger when they speak? Think of the ways authoritative people talk in terms of their word choices and tone of voice.

Choose one of each:

1.A. “I think we should hit the beach at dawn. That way, we’ll probably be able to avoid the patrol boats.”

B. “We’ll hit the beach at dawn so we can avoid the patrol boats.”

2.A. “It is my belief that it would be best if we took the right-hand path.”

B. “Let’s make a right-hand turn.”

3.A. “I suppose I could agree.”

B. “I agree.”

4.A. “Oh, dear, perhaps this yellow dress would be more suitable. It brings out the highlights in my hair, and I do want Butler to notice me.”

B. “The yellow dress complements my hair, so I’ll wear that one. Butler has to notice me tonight.”

5.A. “I guess it would be all right if you borrowed my bracelet, but if you don’t mind, please see if you can return it tomorrow.”

B. “You can borrow the bracelet, but I’d like it returned tomorrow.”

If you chose any “A” answers, you’re making your character sound weak. To strengthen your heroine, have her sound positive and determined. Characters should focus on their goals, not on their appearance or performance. Avoid phrases such as I think, I guess, I suppose, dear me, maybe we should, It is my belief that, I don’t know.

Of course, exceptions to the rule do exist. Just make certain your character doesn’t sound wimpy when he speaks or has an introspection. Cutting extra verbiage can help. Aim for precision of speech, but avoid curtness. Remember that dialog should further your plot or reveal character. Phrases that reveal hesitation or self-doubt may indicate places that need revision unless you purposefully want your character to act this way.

Strong heroes appeal to readers, so take out your pen and get to work. Good luck!

Character Names

clip_image002How does a writer devise a name for a character? First, we can’t choose a name similar to the other main characters or you’ll run into people named Maria, Marilyn, and Merle. It gets confusing for the reader. So that eliminates certain sounds and letters. The character’s ethnic heritage or her role in the story may influence your choice. For example, I can’t proceed with plotting my next romance without obtaining a name for my heroine, but so far, nothing has struck my fancy. The story is based on Norse mythology so that gives me a place to start. I looked in The Writer’s Digest Character Naming Sourcebook by Sherrilyn Kenyon, an excellent resource that lists names by nationality and gives their meanings. Then I drew up a list of Norwegian female names that caught my interest. I narrowed these down to selections with a certain sound I wanted.

To visualize my characters, I cut out pix from magazines like TV Guide and Entertainment Weekly. So here is my heroine. She’s the perfect counterpart to my serious, brooding hero, Lord Magnor.

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My female name choices:

Dagny (joy of the Danes)

Kelci (from the ship’s island) Kelsey

Mildri (mild and lovely)

Randi (lovely, goddess) Ragnfrid, Ragni

Brief character sketch: Heroine sculpts mythical figures of trolls and fairies out of natural materials and sells them online. Owns a pottery studio, wants to open a gift shop, and maybe teach children arts and crafts.

Other Women in the series: Nira, Jennifer, Lianne, Algie

Men: Zohar, Paz, Magnor, Dal, Kaj, Yaron

If I name her Dagny, I can’t call her Dag for short because one of the established heroes is Dal. So I have to keep in mind these other people when I choose her name. Mildri is cute but maybe too mild for her. Kelsey is too ordinary, although Kelci is a different spelling that might work. Ragni? Call her Rage for short? Hey, that might do. She looks kinda angry at the world, doesn’t she? I can’t nickname her Rag with a soft “g” because it would sound too much like Kaj.

What do you think? Who does she look like to you? Any other suggestions? What means do you, the writer, use to determine your character names?

THE PLOTTING BRAIN

You’ve put aside the first draft you have just finished so you can gain some distance on the work before tackling revisions. It’s a great time to clean your office, sort your files, and write a few blogs. But your mind starts seguing into the next story. 

 Here’s what floated into my mind, even when I’m trying to take a break:

 My next hero is a Tsuran swordsman who has been disgraced on his home world and shunned by his people. What dastardly deed did he commit? He protected a family member by taking the blame for a murder that she’d committed under duress. Thus close family ties mean a lot to him. Now bring in a heroine who is trying to escape from her family obligations. Conflict! 

Add another element. Say our hero, Lord Magnor, is protecting his sister who killed her abusive husband. After he was incarcerated, he learned that she’d been cheating on the man. Betrayal!

Now he’s a sullen, mysterious loner forced to join a team of warriors because they’re the only ones who will accept him. How will the heroine differ? She has to be a people person, outgoing, gregarious, generously reaching out to others. Maybe she gives of herself too much and has overextended her limits. Perhaps her last boyfriend left when she put her dedication to various causes before their relationship. She doesn’t want another man who’ll be so selfish and who lacks compassion. So why does this fierce warrior appeal to her?

Before I delve further into their GMC, what is the hero’s main mission for this story? He has to find the secret weapon that will destroy the evil Trolleks who’ve invaded Earth (it’s a paranormal romance). How will he proceed? Even though I have a list of plot threads from previous installments that have to be tied up in this volume, I’m stumped.

I give up and start cleaning out my files. Oh cool, here’s an article on archetypes. You know what I mean: marriage of convenience, rags to riches, twins, secret baby, prince in disguise, etc. Hey, what if I mix one of these into my story? Imagine the sparks if these two characters had to wed. What if (yes, we plotters use What If? a lot) the heroine enlists Magnor as her fake fiancé? Nah, that’s been done to death already. So how to put a modern twist on the old marriage of convenience tale in a way that would suit my story?

   ideaGenius strikes. My bad guys are using theme parks to recruit humans as their mind slaves. Magnor goes to Las Vegas to follow a lead.  What else is Vegas if not one huge theme park for adults?

I’m getting excited.  I can envision my hero striding down the Strip in his cloak and sword. He encounters a woman who drunkenly boasts to her friends that she can snag any man who walks through the door. Guess who it is?  Yep, our hapless hero.  But he doesn’t fall for her allure right away. Nope, he recognizes the watch she wears as being significant to his mission. And when they end up in a wedding chapel, our warrior from outer space has no idea what it means. They wake up the next morning together in a hotel room, and…you get the picture. Cool set up, huh?

Now I have to figure out why the Norse goddess Hel releases her “Dead Walkers” so the hero has to brave the underworld to stop her. It could be another ploy for dominance by the evil demon, Loki. He’s manipulating the Trolleks, and… well, I don’t want to give too many spoilers. In case you haven’t guessed, this series is based on Norse mythology.

As each idea comes to me, I jot it down. It’s all jumbled right now. Next I’ll sit down and do my Character Development and Romantic Conflict charts, figure out the plot progression, and write the synopsis. It just has to brew upstairs a while longer.

What do you think of my story idea so far?  Any suggestions?  When you finish a book, how long of a break do you take and how do you approach the next story to get started?

The Big Dark Moment

In a romance, the Big Dark Moment is the crucial juncture when all seems lost between the hero and heroine.  He stomps away and she strides in the opposite direction, and it seems as though they will never be together again.  How can they overcome their insurmountable obstacles?  Will love triumph in the end?

Of course it will.  The prerequisite for a romance is the HEA  (Happy Ever After) ending. But for this HEA to have emotional impact, our characters first must experience the painful Big Dark Moment when their relationship seems hopeless.

Tossing a cog in the story wheel isn’t the way to go about it.  This confrontation must arise naturally from the character’s internal conflicts.  Take Paz and Jen from my WIP.

elegant woman Jen is a fashion designer who looks as svelte as her models. For years, she struggled for parental approval.  Growing up in a wealthy family, she internalized her mother’s superficial values that appearance matters.  But she yearns for a man who can appreciate her for herself and not for her looks or money.                                                   

Drift Lord warrior Paz Hadar isn’t the rich businessman she’d expected to snag, but he brings out her strength and resourcefulness and admires her bravery.  Yet when she tries to discuss their future together, he clams up.  He’s planned for nothing beyond this mission, and so she figures he’ll leave her in the end.  Paz, in turn, gets angry when she pushes him for his plans, believing she can’t accept him for the person he is and wants to mold him into the ideal man. And if he’s not good enough for her, forget it. And so he stomps off.  Jen feels he doesn’t care enough about her feelings to truly confide in him.                                  angry eyes

 Thus they go their separate ways, until each one realizes how much they need the other.  But by then, Paz seeks to prove himself by attacking the enemy all on his own.  Jen rushes to his side, but it’s too late.  He’s been…well, we don’t want to give the story away.

sad woman

 

 

 

Action and reaction propels the story forward, leading to the Big Dark Moment and the final confrontation with the villain. And when Paz and Jen finally commit to each other as we know they will, we’ll heave a deep sigh of satisfaction.  Sour before sweet, despair before joy.  It makes the ending all the more Happy Ever After.  

               wedding couple

 

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FINISHING YOUR BOOK

When you’re nearing the end of your book, do you tend to race ahead?  I have 25 pages to go in my WIP before reaching my required word count, and I’m beginning to think I might go over.  I still have several scenes to go to reach a satisfactory conclusion. While I’m tempted to rush through to the finish line, this is actually when I need to slow down to bring all my plot threads together. So here is my advice for what you should do when approaching The End.

 Take Your Time                                                                                     

You’re sick of working on this story.  You just want to finish.  You’ll layer in more details later.

STOP.  You need to slow down and work your way through each scene as the story logically unfolds.  It may be tedious and make you grind your teeth, but remember why you’re writing in the first place.  You love the process.  So enjoy the storytelling and live with your characters a while longer until their tale is done.

Tie Up All The Loose Ends

If you juggle several plot threads in a complex storyline like I do, you’ve either lost track of them or you keep detailed spreadsheets and notes to guide you down the track. Make sure you have covered all your footprints. Often I may have to take care of this on my second read-through.  On the first revision, I’ll write down questions that spring to mind about the story from the reader’s viewpoint. Or I’ll do a plotting board as the story progresses, and these questions will be in a different colored ink from the main plot.  You’ll want to resolve these questions by the story’s end.  There’s nothing more frustrating as a reader or tv viewer than to be left hanging.  You know how this feels. Don’t do it to your readers. Be sure you have answered all the story questions for an emotionally satisfying end.

Resolve The Plot Before The Romantic or Emotional Resolution

If you’ve done your job right, your main character will have changed or come to a realization about herself by the end of the book.  The emotional resonance of this revelation should follow the climactic sequence with the villain, if you have one. Or the external plot, if there’s no definitive bad guy. Perhaps the internal revelation prompted the action that led your heroine to the final conflict. Then have her reflect on it, change her direction in life, make a decision, or alter an important relationship with another character. Maybe it means accepting herself or shedding her guilt.

Each book in a series should affect the personal relationships in your character’s life. Nothing is static. People change based on their experiences. So should your characters, and it’s much more emotionally gratifying to your readers when this final declaration comes at the end.

In my Bad Hair Day mysteries, my hairdresser sleuth Marla Shore decides to date the handsome detective at the end of book one.  By the end of book nine, they’ve set a wedding date.  Yes, it’s taken them that long to get together because they’ve had a lot of issues to resolve. Each volume in the series offers a step forward in their relationship even though they might falter along the way. So, too, in Silver Serenade, my recent sci fi romance, the heroine agrees to marry the hero at the end and also realizes she might make a better intelligence officer than an assassin. These decisions come after she’s tested her skills and defeated the bad guy.  It wouldn’t have the same resonance before then because we’re still caught up in the tension of executing the external plot.  So after the adventure comes to a close, have your protagonist let us know how this has experience has changed her.

As a reader, what do you find most satisfactory or unsatisfactory about endings?

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SCENE STRUCTURE

Ever wonder how a writer constructs a scene? Check out my blog on Scene Structure today over at Savvy Authors: 

http://bit.ly/9dzBIl

Congratulations to the winners of my guest blog/interview Prize Drawings:

The Galaxy Express:  Erica Anderson

SFR Brigade: Mason Canyon aka Pamela Mason

You still have a chance to win a $7 gift certificate to TWRP by commenting on any of my sites in July.

Also watch for my discussion on Diversity versus Intolerance in Science Fiction Romance over at http://www.thegalaxyexpress.net

SETTINGS THAT SIZZLE

Join me for a discussion of Settings that Sizzle over at Babes in Bookland!

Prize drawing for $7 gift certificate for TWRP from all my blog commenters in July so please leave a comment.

Here is the Babes in Bookland fabulous review of Silver Serenade:

Silver Malloy is an intergalactic assassin for S.I.N. from earth. Her first assignment is a dream come true – to eliminate Tyrone Bluth, the cruelest, most ruthless outlaw in all of the galaxies. Tyrone is also responsible for the death of her family, which he must pay for with his life.

 While implementing her mission, Silver is tackled by a tall, handsome Kurashian named Jace Vernon. Jace is a wanted man on the run with a similar mission; only he needs to capture Tyrone Bluth to clear his name and regain his royalty status on Kurash. The future of his world and the lives of many depend on this.

 Jace needs Tyrone alive; Silver needs him dead!

 The unlikely duo team up in their efforts to locate Tyrone and the excitement begins! They face Crockers and Weavers; find themselves in the most daring of situations; attend a very strange auction that takes them to the ultimate fantasy land most are unable to ever leave; and even acquire an additional Elusian companion.

 Having not been exposed to many sci-fi writings, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first opened this book. I am ecstatically surprised. If all sci-fi futuristic books are written as Ms. Cohen has written Silver Serenade, I would add many more to my shelves.

 Amazing Heroine, Sexy Hero, lovable sub-characters that truly complete the ensemble and the attention to detail is remarkable. Furthermore, I was impressed with the way Nancy Cohen incorporated the need for peace among worlds, their politics, and their leadership to this enchanting tale. Silver Serenade is a futuristic romance that holds a lot of worldly realism. Past, present, or future; there will always be war, a need for peace, differences of opinions, good, and evil.

 Silver Serenade is strangely captivating and oddly intriguing in an exciting, first-rate way. This is not your 1960’s Star Trek story. This is an exceptional, fast paced, futuristic book that takes you to different worlds and introduces you to a whole new outlook on this genre of writing.

4.25 Shoes

 Babes in Bookland

http://www.pfd.bravejournal.com/entry/54599

SEQUELS: CHARACTER GRIDS

For the first time in my publishing career, I’m creating a character grid to keep track of my characters. I’m doing this three-quarters of the way through book number two in the series because it’s essential for what comes next.

It wasn’t necessary for my earlier Bad Hair Day mysteries because those stories all featured Marla Shore, hairdresser and amateur sleuth. We, the reader, viewed everything through her eyes.

But the paranormal romance series I’m working on now features warriors from the stars who join forces with a special group of Earth women to prevent a coming cataclysm. Each book involves a different warrior and his destined mate. Book One sets the story into play and creates the world building elements. By Book Two, my characters have scattered and each one has a specific job to accomplish. When all the guys come together at the end of this story, I have to know what each of them has been doing.                                                                  

Have I confused you yet? It’s complicated, especially when you add my two villains into the mix. How are they reacting to the heroes, and what countermeasures are they taking? Figuring out this grid is giving me a headache, even though I have most of these details in my notes.

For those of you who write series with spinoff characters, what methods do you use to keep track of each character’s movements?

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RESEARCH: ON-SITE LOCALES

When you research an area in person for your story, observe your surroundings with the Writer’s Eye. What does this mean? Use the five senses in recording your observations. Back up your notes with photos and recordings if you wish. But later, when you have plenty of reference materials, you might forget just how hot it was outside or what sounds    you heard unless you’ve jotted it down. So what are you looking for in your on-site research?                                      

SIGHT means more than just seeing with your eyes. It means looking at things with a critical view. Examine the buildings along your route. What color are they? Is the paint fresh or peeling? What are the construction materials? How well is the roof maintained? What do the windows remind you of? Think in terms of analogies. Are they yawning windows like open mouths? Or blank like vacant eyes?

How does this object make you feel? Layering your observations with attitude or emotion contributes to the experience. Describe the front door. Is there a doorbell or knocker, and how does it characterize the occupant if it’s a house? Examine the lawn. Does the grass need a trim? Are weeds taking over? Note elements like overhead electric wires, stray cats, tilted street signs, cracked sidewalks. These details make the setting come alive in your mind after you go home.

Be observant of nature: plants, animals, weather.  Inside a place, note the furniture, art work, knickknacks, room layout, decorating accessories. Look for new ways to describe things, such as objects possessing reflective nature like water, glistening like a cobweb in sunlight, moist with dew, glossy like a polished piano, and so on. You’re not only writing down what you see, but also its characteristics.

What SMELLS do you notice: Stale cigarette smoke? Floral perfume? Barrel-aged Cabernet? Beer and pretzels? Pine wood smoke? Vanilla and nutmeg? Heated asphalt, or rain-tinged ozone? Newly cut grass, or fresh paint? Tar or diesel fumes? What emotional reaction do these scents evoke in you? You can use these smells to convey mood in a story. A honeyed scent will make the reader feel differently than the odor of burnt toast.

SOUNDS:  Close your eyes and listen to what you hear. Birds singing (melodious, raucous, or warbling?), ducks quacking, pounding construction, car engines, airplanes zooming overhead, trickling water, rustling branches, droning air-conditioners, loud grass blowers. See how many different sounds you can distinguish. Are these pleasant or unpleasant to you?

While your eyes are closed, consider your sense of TOUCH.  How does the air contact your skin? Is it warm or cool? Does a breeze lift the hairs on your arm? Ruffle your skirt against your legs? Does the sun beat upon your back and raise perspiration on your brow? Do you feel an insect crawling over your ankle? When you are walking, do you feel the uneven pavement underfoot? Do you trip over an unseen rock? Or is the ground wet sand with a spongy surface? Now consider objects that you encounter. Are they rough or smooth? Silken or thorny? Describe the texture along with the temperature, and if the sensation is welcome or not.

TASTE  is often related to your nose. If you smell sea air, you may taste salt on your tongue. If you smell ripe grapes, you may taste wine. We’re not talking about describing only what you eat. That’s too easy, although you can note the temperature and texture in that regard. This is where you try to detect a taste where there may be none obvious. It’s just another way bringing the scene alive for you when you’re back home.

When you meet people along the way, note their physical appearance, mode of dress, dialect, gestures, gait, and accessories. Take photos so you can remember details later. Ditto for street scenes. A picture can be worth a thousand words as long as you record the sensory details.                                               

Collect useful resources as you go, such as maps, tourist brochures, history books, guides to the flora and fauna, menus, and postcards.

Virtual tours online can get anywhere these days, but they will not convey the five senses that you need to bring your scene alive. Steep yourself in the sensory details, and readers will exclaim how real the place feels when they read your story.

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REFERENCE BOOKS

Who said books were outdated? A home library can be a boon for writers even with the advantages of the Internet. For example, I needed to know the difference between a Chinese junk and a sampan for my current WIP. My characters have to go from an island off the coast of Japan all the way to Taiwan. They hire a boat from a small fishing village. Which type of vessel would be appropriate? Here’s what I found.                                               Chinese Junk

First I looked online at Wikipedia on these sites:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Junk_(ship)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sampan

From these articles, I learned a sampan is a flat bottomed boat used for fishing or transportation in inland waters like lakes and rivers. It’s propelled by poles, oars, or an outboard motor. Sampans are still used in rural areas in Southeast Asia. They may have a shelter on board and be used as living quarters.

On the other hand, a junk is an oceangoing vessel with several sails. War junks and merchant junks were common in the past. With their longer range and multiple uses, this type of ship suits my purpose. I have only to watch videos of Horatio Hornblower to get a feel for the claustrophobic interior.

Suppose my characters walk the deck. What do I call the different parts of the ship? Here I checked my home library and found the following books:

SHIP: The Epic Story of Maritime Adventure by Brian Lavery, Dorling Kindersley ,2004.

The Visual Dictionary of Ships and Sailing, Eyewitness Visual Dictionaries, Dorling Kindersley, 1991.

I love these visual dictionaries. You can find almost anything. We have several of them on our shelves and they’re wonderful references.

Here are some more recommendations, although I have older versions:

The Dorling Kindersley Visual Encyclopedia, Dorling Kindersley, 1995

The Visual Dictionary of Everyday Things, Eyewitness Visual Dictionaries, Dorling Kindersley , 1991

Ultimate Visual Dictionary, Dorling Kindersley, 1994

What’s What: A Visual Glossary of the Physical World, Reginald Bragonier, Jr. And David Fisher, Ballantine, 1981

Descriptionary: A Thematic Dictionary, Marc McCutcheon, Ballantine, 1992.

Illustrated Reverse Dictionary, Reader’s Digest Association, 1997.

Sometimes as writers doing research, we uncover obscure, fun details to add to our stories. Look what I found when I put Japanese Fishing Boat into an online search function: A Japanese trawler was sunk by a giant jellyfish. Cool, I can use this info in my story. These creatures are real and can weigh up to 400 pounds. Read more about it here:

http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2009/11/02/enormous-jellyfish-sink-japanese-fishing-boat

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/6483758/Japanese-fishing-trawler-sunk-by-giant-jellyfish.html

 So while many things can be looked up on the Internet, sometimes a real book is just what you need to meet your research requirements. With the digital age upon us, don’t toss these tree killers–or whatever activists are calling them these days–into the bonfire just yet. Regard them instead as treasures of knowledge.

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