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 Amazon.com.

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?

Amazon      B&N  Google   Kobo     iBooks

(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.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Leveling Up Goal This Year

So, this is going to sound a bit strange, but my goal for this year, as a writing, is to train myself at being more efficient.

Now, I know some of you are like, "What are you talking about, Marshall?  You put out two books a year, you're a machine." And that pace is going to continue, of course.

And while I like the label of, "writing machine", the machine could be more efficient.  I could do better.  More to the point, I feel like I need to.

As I've mentioned before, I kind of fake being "superfast" with planning and outlining.  There's a long building, planning and germinating process that takes me a long time, and much of that for the Maradaine books was frontloaded well before any of you even heard of me. 

So, some of the building, planning and germination for other projects have now reached the point where they're blooming.  Stories that have been just sort of percolating in the back of my head have now starting coming out.  Of course, I also have to do other work, work that's under contract.  Work you all are looking forward to.  Heck, work I'm excited to finish and get moving on.

For example, this week I wrote several hundred words on two different secondary projects, one of which is Maradaine-tangential, they other is something else entirely.  I've also finished hand-written edits on a manuscript, and I'm about to start putting those into final edits.  So I should be sending a finished manuscript out in a couple weeks.  And then I need to start hand-edits on another manuscript.  PLUS drafting another new novel.

That's a lot of creative juggling.  I can do it, but right now, it's clumsy juggling.  I can do better.  And that's the goal for next year.

So, I better get to that.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

One Skill to Learn This Year

One skill I'd like to learn this year is...how to format my own books.  Don't get me wrong, I love my formatters. They put up with me despite my habit of finding "one more error." (There's always one more error, damn it). I'm not planning on throwing them over anytime soon; however,  I'd like to get to the point of being able to update the backmatter of my book without breaking all the pretties of the interior at a minimum. Then, level-up to Master of the Formatter Universe as time permits.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Being a Career Writer: What to Focus On

This is one f those questions with a million answers.

I have one, Focus on your craft. Jeffe just said the same basic thing, but not surprisingly, I agree with her.

Listen, anyone can tell you that marketing is key. Or having an agent. Or editing. They are all important. but at the end of the day what you are selling is your ability to  tell a story. If you can
't tell a good story, you are, frankly, in the wrong business. OR, you haven't practiced your craft well enough. As a rule I can scare the crap out of most readers. Why? I've been honing that particular skill for twenty-five years. It's a skill. It's one I practice with a lot, It's one small faction of the craft of writing. I need to be able to tell a good story, make certain that a reader is invested in the characters, make absolutely sure that the world I build (be it local or a vastly different world of possibilities with super-heroes, aliens, or sorcerers) makes enough sense and is tangible enough for the readers to enjoy it. I need to tell multiple perspectives and share enough information to keep the entire affair coherent.

And I only have words to do that with. I might have a book cover, but there's no promise that whatever cover I have will make any sense with the story. You think I'm kidding, but I'm really not, I've had more than my share of craptacular covers that had absolutely nothing in common with the words under that illustration. If you are VERY LUCKY (and I have been several times) then the cover reflects a part of your tale. A fraction. A very small drib.

So, no, the cover isn't important to the tale. Except, of course, when it is.

No I need to tell a story, I need to make that story flow with ease, and to suspend disbelief in my readers. I need to convince them, with just words, mind you, that it's possible for a single man to fight the gods, or that a collection of small, militaristic tribes can possibly be a threat to an empire hundreds of times larger. Or that the world can be changed with a spell that ends all technology and unleashes horrors best never considered. I need to make sure that readers believe a reclusive college boy might get revenge for a girl who is tormented by what a corrupt cop made her do. I need to make certain they believe said cop could get away with his crimes. I need to find the logic that binds those notions and then I need to breathe life into those little golems crafted with nothing but 27 letters set in the right order, used again and again.

All of the rest of it, the editing, the marketing and in rare occasions the movies or shows made from those notions, all of it, is secondary to the tale being told.

With words. Just words.

Yeah, concentrate on your craft and storytelling.

That's just my two cents.

Speaking of Two Cents  (or actually a bit more)

THE TWISTED BOOK OF SHADOWS is coming soon. This will be a completely blind submission anthology of horror tales crafted by writers who may not have even heard about the anthology so far, It will pay professional rates and will also offer royalties. There will be no names on the submissions. Just titles and word counts. So no bias will appear for marquee names. Once upon a time editors like Charles L. Grant and Karl Edward Wagner made it a point to find the stories that affected them the most. These days most anthologies never get a chance without at least half of the stories being written by heavy hitters in any given field. This will be a level playing field. Please, please, please spread the word far and wide. If you like horror that is.

More details and yes, a chance to support this project, can be found here.