Saturday, January 20, 2018

Cook and Caravan Master - Tertiary Characters?

Chef Stephanie was first introduced in this book
I write in two genres primarily – science fiction romance (SFR) and Ancient Egyptian paranormal romance. I have a fantasy romance series started but it’s certainly not my primary focus.

Our topic this week is so-called ‘tertiary’ characters and do they ever try to take over a story?

In the SFR, I write pretty lean, with my focus on the hero and heroine and the dilemma they’re in. I might have a few secondary characters, especially if the novel is set on my Nebula Zephyr luxury cruiseliner (interstellar spaceship variety).  The ship has an entire crew obviously, not to mention a rotating set of passengers, but we’ve not met most of them. There are strong secondary characters, like Security Officer Red Thomsill and his fiancée Meg Antille, but they were the lead characters in their own novel  before moving to the Nebula Zephyr. An example of a tertiary character on the ship, I guess, might be the Executive Chef, Stephanie. She’s been in a few of the novels for a scene or two, and was the lead in my special Thanksgiving short story, but for the most part she’s in the background, cooking up those terrific five star meals the cruise line boasts about. Will she get her own plot someday? Maybe…but at this point I don’t have an idea for her. She’s certainly never tried to take over the story.

In the ancient Egyptian series I’m more likely to have tertiary characters because I’m dealing with a powerful Pharaoh and his court, as well as the entire pantheon of Egyptian gods, any of whom could show up in a book at any point. (Ancient deities are like that!) But again, none of them try to take over the book. They might find themselves appearing in other books where I hadn’t necessarily expected to place them but where they fit the narrative. A good example of this would be Caravan Master Ptahnetamun, who first appeared in Dancer of the Nile. He showed up again in Magic of the Nile and just recently in Lady of the Nile. (Yes, I am quite stuck on “of the Nile” as part of my book titles LOL.) He comes onstage for a few scenes where he’s needed and exits gracefully, never demanding his own story arc.

As others have said this week in discussing their characters, I do assume any or all of mine have a full, rich life going on, with all kinds of events and milestones…but none of that detail is needed for my story. Or at least not right now.

Honestly, it’s not something I worry about when I’m writing a book!

Friday, January 19, 2018

Background Characters with Minds of Their Own

I wonder if the romance genre doesn't much lend itself to tertiary characters with delusions of stardom. Something I say because I'm with Jeffe on this one. Tertiary characters? We don't need no stinking tertiary characters. Mainly because there's just not space. We've got internal conflict reflected in or exacerbated by the external conflict. We're maximizing hero and heroine page time. Or hero and hero. Or heroine and heroine. Or any combination thereof.

Secondary characters? Absolutely. Even the most committed of romantic partners need challenges and/or narrative outside of the primary pairing. Unless this is where we're talking 'tertiary.'

Anyway. I am 100% guilty of grooming my secondary characters to become the primary characters of their own novels. If I've ever had tertiary characters, they were zombie squirrels, and even then, I feel like those where more plot device than anything else. In Enemy Games, Silver City might be a tertiary character. I wanted the station to have personality - for it to feel like a familiar city with idiosyncrasies all its own, but there's no danger that I'm ever going to have a space station be the main character of a book. I don't think. Granted, as I type that I kinda want to - just to see if I could pull it off. Maybe I need to get out more.

What does everyone else think? Do romance writers have to spend enough page space on other issues that we don't have room for tertiary characters who want to break out of the background? I'm trying to think of anyone I've read with a background character chewing the scenery. If there is one, it'll come to me at 3AM. I won't get up to tell you about it. I know I haven't yet had a character try to take over a book. So far. If that ever does happen, I'll probably have to bargain with the character - behave and I'll get you your own book. Or novella. I look forward to having to deal with it if ever.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Tertiary Characters Taking the Stage

So, I've often said how my time acting on stage has, in part, informed my writing.  Namely, to treat characters as a part that an actor would enjoy playing.  That means, when I bring in a tertiary character, I usually plan to have some fun with them.  Give them a deep, inner life that isn't necessarily on the page.  Sometimes to the point that they take a greater role in the narrative than I ever intended.  For example, when I was writing The Thorn of Dentonhillthe character of Hetzer literally only existed at first so Colin had someone to talk to when standing on street corners or sitting in the turnabout.  But as Colin ran headlong into the big confrontation at the end of that one, I realized Hetzer wouldn't let him go alone, and suddenly Hetzer became a crucial part of the climax.

I had plenty of opportunity for those kinds of characters in Lady Henterman's Wardrobe.  Part of the plot demands that the Rynax Brothers and their crew do a pit of con-artistry, and that means there are always the random people who they do that to.  Be it a guard at the office building they want to get into, a public servant they want to get information out of, or a head butler they want to hire them, they're constantly interacting with people briefly, and I strive to make those people pop.

But, for me, the ones that definitely took a life of their own was a pair of boys on the street.  In Lady Henterman's WardrobeMila continues to have her "Bessie's Boys" to run errands for the crew, be an extra pair of lookout eyes, or whatever else she needs.  In Holver Alleythey were largely a nameless group of young boys she bossed around.  Here, we get to meet a few of them, and two of them-- for me at least-- kept coming back into the plot. 

The youngest, the tiniest of the Bessie's Boys, the twins, Tarvis and Jede.  Both of them, at the tender age of six, are possibly the most savage and cold-hearted little bastards you'd ever meet.  And, oh my lord, were those two just a delight to write. 

And you'll get to meet them both soon enough, when Lady Henterman comes out in March.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Intrusive Tertiary Characters

ST:TNG: The Borg
Tertiary characters who demanded the spotlight...Do I have any? What'd I do with them? Why aren't they more important? Did they get a promotion to secondary?

Confession: I suffer greatly from the Cast of Thousands curse. I can't afford to add upstarts to the roster who shouldn't be there. Any tertiary characters--the guys who might not even have names--who somehow hog the focus of a scene during WiP drafts are usually indicators that I'm not using my secondary characters well. For me, third-string characters are either fodder or seeds planted for future books.

In short, if I have a tertiary character demanding focus he needs to shut his pie-hole or be assimilated. Resistance is futile.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Tertiary Overload

So the concept for this week's article is tertiary characters that demand more attention.

"Jim, whatever do you mean?"

I mean characters whop aren't supposed to be overly significant, who decide otherwise as you're writing. Sounds crazy, right? But it happens, It happens a lot more than I like ot think about. Let me give you a perfect example. Bump. Bump is a knock off character. meaning that his sole purpose for existing when I created him was to be a name and a filler and the likelihood, especially in MY writing, is a short, lifespan with a violent death.

Yeah. Didn't happen.

In the first draft of FALLEN GOS (See picture below) Bump just went crazy. he went from being a smart ass character with a few lines to being THAT guy on the battlefield. Which Guy? THAT guy, the one who does absolutely insane shit because it strikes his fancy. In one scene, when all is lost and nothing is working, Bump grabs a horse, spurs it into action and leads it over a cliff, where the poor animal rolls down the too steep area and crushes several of the enemy under its weight before it dies. In his defense, the horse was old and lame. No one buys it. But he DID save the group with his antics. From that moment on, he tried to commandeer the novel. He stole scene after scene without any hesitation whatsoever.  (for the record, I do not condone animal violence, But I write fantasy set in a barbaric time, and barbarians, especially crazy ones, do their own thing.)

From then on Bump became a hero of the story.

Right up until my editor slapped some verbal sense into me.

Most of Bump's scenes of heroic madness were reassigned to the character they were supposed to come from in the first place, and he was pushed back down to tertiary character. For a moment he shined so very brightly. Then common sense prevailed.

it's not the first time that's happened and I pray it won't be the last.

Sometimes the mind does its own thing when you're writing, Sometimes that means the plot goes off the rails and other times it means that character who was just there to add to the body count screams "Screw you! I want to live!"

Happened in my first novel, too. by the way. I created a female character whose sole purpose was to torment our "hero" with mind games. She was supposed to die a horrible death. I did everything but put a shotgun to her head. I ran her over with a car. Still, she would not die. Instead, much to my surprise, she evolved. By the end of the tale she became a young woman of surprising strength who fell for one of the guys who was also meant to be a secondary character and both became important to the tale.

is there a moral tot his story?

Only this: Let your characters do their thing, If it goes to far, rein them in, but otherwise you can assume that your mind is finding ways to work on what it sees as a flaw in your tale. That may not work so well if you write rigid outlines, but since I don't I can take advantage of the situation from time to time.

On the new release front, this week sees the release of A HELL WITHIN the third of the Griffin & Price occult detective series, co-written with my buddy Charles R. Rutledge. Available in both ebook and trade paperback at

Also, BLOODSTAINED WONDERLAND, the very long awaited sequel to BLOODSTAINED OZ, came out on the January second. It's a limited edition (500 signed and numbered 15 signed and lettered) get 'em while they're hot from Earthling Publications.

That's it for this week! Keep smiling, 


Sunday, January 14, 2018

Can You Spot the Tertiary Character in This Novel?

I gave the man an aquarium for Christmas and Jackson finally discovered it has living creatures in it. He's quite bemused by the concept.

Our topic this week at the SFF Seven is tertiary characters who demand the spotlight.

It's a funny thing about my brain that the word "tertiary" takes me right back to organic chemistry, and not to writing things at all. As far as chemistry is concerned, tertiary structure is when a chain of proteins (for example) is folded up, with disulfide bonds maybe. Primary structure is the basic molecule, secondary structure is when they get chained up. After the folding of tertiary, you might get bundles clumped together to make quatenary structure.

What about the quatenary characters, I ask you???

Really... does anyone think about tertiary characters? I certainly don't as a reader. I don't even really think in terms of secondary characters. Do you, as a reader?

I suppose secondary characters come into play because most stories focus action on one or two protagonists. It's been an interesting game for those of us watching A Game of Thrones who haven't made it through all the books in A Song of Ice and Fire, to see the story wrapping up to show that the sprawling epic with tons of characters - and protagonists - is about the Stark family in the end. And that Jon Snow may be the protagonist after all. Hard for me to tell how much of that is the show runners refining the story that way, however.

But in most books that aren't multi-tentacled monster fantasy epics, there is one protagonist, maybe two. They are the single molecules upon which everything is built. The secondary characters are part of the world they live in, because no person is an island, so those connections create chains of people.

As we all know, secondary characters in one book often become the protagonists in sequels, and all of you readers are adept at picking out who those people might be. But can you spot the tertiary characters?

If I extend the chemistry analogy, those are secondary characters who get wrapped in and cemented with extra bonds. I think, however, that the suggester of this topic wasn't thinking in those terms. Instead, tertiary must mean to them another rung lower than secondary. But if you have the protagonists, everyone connected to them, then the next rung down is.... bit players? Characters without lines? Pets and livestock?

I frankly don't know, so I'll be interested in what the rest of the gang has to say this week. For my part, I'm a believer in the advice that all characters live full lives that begin long before they walk onto the page and continue after they walk off. Some of the best observations on this come from theater.
In this perspective all "tertiary" characters demand the spotlight, because they are all the protagonist of their own tales. Whether the author chooses to spin the POV to show that tale is another question.

But you all tell me, is there a character you've read who you'd regard as tertiary who then became a protagonist?

Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Can She Write A Series Challenge

This week’s topic is a challenge or ‘leveling up’ activity we’ve each decided to undertake for 2018. I have to say, my writing is my writing is my writing….as you know if you’ve been reading me here, I’m superstitious about my Muse and my process. HOWEVER, late in 2017 I did decide the time had come for me to tackle an actual series, with an overarching plot arc that would run through the five volumes. Ta da!

 I never used to think I could write such a series, being an as-I-go plotter (also known as a seat of the pants writer) and wasn’t much tempted to try it. I like writing standalone stories set in one universe, be it ancient Egypt or my interstellar civilization, the Sectors. Sometimes I even do a sequel or have the same characters make an appearance in more than one book (usually as secondary characters since they’ve already had their own book). So, I do connected series with no problem and I do have a long term arc in my head, but don’t require each book to move the action forward.

So I came up with a race of genetically engineered super soldiers, the Badari, created by the enemies of the humans in my Sectors. I added to that mix a colony of humans kidnapped in their sleep by the aliens in charge of all this questionable science and brought to the planet where the Badari are held, to serve as subjects in more experiments. The questions in the big arc are how do the Badari gain their freedom, how do the humans ever get home to tell the Sectors about this new threat…and of course how does the romance occur in the midst of all this? The first volume, Aydarr, was released in December and I’ve written the second book, Mateer, and that one is at the editor. I’ve just started the third book, with probably two more to go to wrap everything up. I also have lots of plot ideas in my head for more stories about the Badari, if readers like them, but those would be in my standalone writing style, since the big arc will be wrapped up.

It’s going fine so far, I’d say. I did enough outlining to know what the major plot point to be achieved was for each novel, but not so much detailed planning that my Muse would balk at writing the book. (As I’ve mentioned before, if I plot too much before I write, I lose all interest in doing the actual writing. The creative spark flees – the story is told.)

It’s too soon to say if I’d write another actual series. I really do like the standalone experience of writing, but I’m enjoying this challenge so far. I think my biggest hurdle is that I feel I owe it to the readers to get each book in the series out within 4-6 weeks of the previous book and so I have to write the Badari novels back to back, not stray off and play with some other shiny plot in between.

Here’s the blurb for the first book, if you’d like to see more details:

Jill Garrison, a maintenance tech at the Sectors Amarcae 7 colony, goes to sleep one night as usual only to wake up in her nightgown stranded in the middle of a forest on an unknown world. There’s no time to think as she’s stalked by carnivorous predators and rescued by genetically engineered warriors calling themselves the Badari. Turns out they and she, along with her whole colony, are now prisoners of the Khagrish, a ruthless race of alien scientists. Working for enemies of the Sectors, the Khagrish have created the Badari to be super soldiers.

Aydarr, the Badari alpha, isn’t sure he can trust Jill but his attraction to her is undeniable. He impulsively claims her as his mate to prevent her death at the hands of the Khagrish.
Can he continue to protect her from the experiments already underway? Will his claiming her put his pack in jeopardy from their alien masters?

As Jill searches for a way to rescue her fellow humans and get them all to safety, she finds herself falling for Aydarr, despite the secrets he’s keeping. She has a few of her own.

The situation becomes dire when Aydarr and his pack are sent offplanet on a mission, leaving Jill unprotected, prey for the senior scientist. Can she escape the experiments he has in mind for her? Will she be able to thwart the Khagrish plans and liberate humans and Badari alike? How will she and Aydarr reunite?

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(Stock photos purchased from DepositPhoto.)

Friday, January 12, 2018

The Year of Challenge

A few years ago, based on I have no idea what, I started proclaiming each year as The Year of <Insert a Writing Point to be Worked on Here>. One year was the year of action. Another was the year of getting emotion on the page - or at least seeing if I could up my game on that point. This past year has been the year of taking 'telling' phrases out of my writing. As much as possible. These are the phrases that generally start 'character knew', 'character thought', 'character wondered', or 'character felt'. There might be more. But yeah. That's been my own personal little challenge.

This year is the year of learning to write to an outline. Why? Because I am the queen of overwriting and I would very much like to give up the crown. No. Seriously. Queen of Overwriting. The cut file for the current WIP is longer than the target 100k word count of the manuscript. Literally two novels. One to keep. One to throw away. The *incredible* waste of time and effort. Feel free to picture me shaking my head and knocking back a gulp of tea. This is no way to run a railroad. Or write a novel.

So this year. I learn to plot, outline, and then do my damnedest to not write an entire extra novel in the pursuit of the novel I do want written. Yes. I am still a character driven writer. And I do actually expect a book to drift from an outline, but the thing I'm hoping to get from this endeavor is a means of visualizing the story's skeleton. What flesh I hang upon that skeleton is up to me and the characters, but with the skeleton available to me, I have fantasies of being able to actually finish a novel draft in a reasonable time frame. Say 90 days.  I'd like faster, but I don't want to get ahead of myself here. 

The other thing I hope for is more coherent storylines. See. I'm a little like the writer/artist for Hyperbole and a Half. Give me a story to write and I want to include ALL THE THINGS! With an outline, I'd have a simple yardstick for whether or not my umpteenth subplot actually serves the theme. Again. In my fantasies. 

So yeah. The Year of Learning to Outline. Better stories, less waste. I think I can sell that.