Sunday, May 30, 2021

Author Coaches - How to Spot the Phonies


This week's topic at the SFF Seven is whatever is on our minds. Now that The Promised Queen has been out for nearly a week, I'm once again reminded of the many, many scavengers that begin circling the sparkling and hopeful fresh meat that is a new release. 

So, as a general warning, remember that there are a LOT of people out there looking to make money off of authors. From paid reviews to advertising to various "services," they are targeting authors by searching for new releases in particular, and attempting to capitalize on the mounds of money they hope you're making - or your desperation if you are not.

More specifically, my current MOST LOATHED scavenger critter out there right now is the Author Coach.

And yeah... I'm fully aware of that irony, as I do offer author coaching myself. I justify this in my own mind in that I'm simply asking to be paid for the kind of thing I was already doing for free. I love mentoring! But I also have to watch how I distribute my time. Writing books is my number one commitment. By charging for the advice I used to give for free, that puts a value on my time and reminds me where my priorities should remain.

Which segues nicely into what I see happening in some of these other "business" offerings.

These people offer to teach you how to write a novel - in whatever time frame sounds sexiest at the moment - and they tell you they can teach you how to make it into a bestseller, via amazing story tricks or marketing know-how, etc.

They have snazzy, clickable titles that promise ways to get your book in front of everyone, to write a breakout novel, to write a bestseller, to write your first novel, to make a viral book video, to get reader email addresses, and so forth. Yes, these are all things many of us would like to be able to do. That's the hook.

The question is: can they actually teach that?

BECAUSE - and this is the bit I always come around to - if they know so much about how to do the thing, why aren't they actually DOING it?

In the case of one famous agent who's built a considerable career selling books and workshops on writing a bestselling novel, I have always wanted to ask why, if he can teach this, aren't all of his clients bestsellers? I mean, wouldn't he want that? 

If an author is a bestselling rolling in royalties, why on earth would they be spending their time teaching anyone how to make viral Tik Tok videos? If a writer is making easy money writing books, why are they spending money on Instagram ads extolling their author coach services? Writers like Nora Roberts aren't spamming your IG feed with ads to teach you her secrets. Because she's making her money from actually writing.

In this era where anyone can add "Bestselling Author" to their credits either by a) lying, b) fudging the exact list, or c) buying their way onto a list, then it's become meaningless. And if being a Bestselling Author is their sole credential for teaching you anything, I'd take a hard second look at what they've actually done.

Frankly, the slicker the business site looks? The faster I'd run away. 

 I'm not saying there aren't good and helpful people out there - I like to think I'm one of them - but look very carefully at what these folks are promising vs. what they're actually doing. 

Friday, May 28, 2021

War of the Character Clones

Characters on stage need motivation - as much as I hate that old 'what's my motivation' chestnut. It's more nuanced than that, and also, if you're the actor, it's literally your job to work out motivation based on the script. I'd say 'that's a rant for another time' but it isn't. It plays directly into our topic this week: Carbon Copy Characters. 

How many Hamlet movies do we have? I can think of three off the top of my head. There are scads more. While the words for Hamlet never change, and the action of the story never changes, the character changes between movie versions because of the person playing the character. Each individual brings their own experience, their own emotional weight, their own interpretation to the lines that haven't changed in hundreds of years. I think my favorite illustration is the Unsolicited Advice skit. 8 actors and 1 crown prince read a single line of Hamlet's soliloquy - for comedy, of course, but you still get a sense in that bit of how different each of their Hamlets would be. 

Authors working with characters need to take a cue from the great variety of Hamlets across the history of the play. Go to YouTube and search 'To Be or Not to Be'. Look at how many videos come up. What makes us willing to watch so many Hamlets? 

Because when we watch Hamlet, caught between life and death in one short soliloquy, we aren't watching a single character grapple with suicidal ideation and the fear of mortality. We're watching individual human beings each bringing their own fears, their own disappointments, their own unique sorrows to bear. We're watching THEM as Hamlet, not Hamlet played by them. Fine distinction, but it matters.

For authors, that translates to bringing unique wounds to each character we write. I suspect this is much easier for character driven writers than for plot driven writers. Because a character driven process begins with characters and finding character voices, it's never a conscious thought for me to make characters across books different from one another. It follows naturally from my need to understand how each character starts a story broken. It's from that place of brokenness that plot flows. Even if two characters share a basic wound - it isn't safe to trust others, for example - that wound will have come from different experiences. The responses to that common wound will be utterly different based on who these people are. 

Creating unique characters isn't about what they do. Sally in this book is a hairdresser, and Sarah in that book is a truck driver. That's window dressing. What makes these characters distinct from each other is emotion. Their responses to conflict and obstacles. They likely have different goals and different tactics they use to achieve their goals.  Those are the tools in the writer's toolbox that build characters that will stand apart no matter how many books - or Hamlets - you subject yourself to.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Distinctive characters or distinctive authors?

Here follows a treatise on how one ought to make one's characters appreciably different in every book, thus--

Okay, hold up. I just can't.

Sometimes authors want their characters to be similar from book to book. It creates a familiarity and sense of comfort for autobuy-type readers. Kind of like Jimmy Stewart and Harrison Ford often play the same character from movie to movie, there is a value to knowing what you're going to get when you open, oh say, a Dan Brown novel.

This is not me casting aspersions on Dan Brown, or Stewart or Ford either, for that matter. We like what we like.

Truth is, I wish the characters in my three books were more consistent. Can't tell you how many people have said they dug the protagonist in book one but either disliked book two or never even read it because the heroine wasn't anything like the book one heroine. 

I suspect that the magic here is to find the character that resonates and then riff off that character as often as possible. Note that the first step is to find the right relatable character. Don't iterate on a crap character that nobody likes . Find your groove and then groove the hell out of it.

Or do what I do: stop reading reviews and just write what you love because you love it, and others may or may not follow suit. 

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

New #Fantasy #Romance Release: The Promised Queen (Forgotten Empires, Book3) by Jeffe Kennedy

 Our amazing Sunday blogger Jeffe Kennedy is at it again, releasing another new heart-pounding romantic fantasy! The third book in the Forgotten Empires trilogy. Yes, for you dear readers who like to wait until a series is complete, this is it! So, wait no longer and dive into the world of the Forgotten Empires today!


THE PROMISED QUEEN 
Forgotten Empires, Book 3

Claim the hand that wears the ring, and the empire falls.

Conrí, former Crown Prince of Oriel, claimed the hand that wears the Abiding Ring, but the prophecy remains unfulfilled. Queen Euthalia of Calanthe returned to her island kingdom, but broken in mind and body. With the blood of war unleashing ancient terrors, Calanthe isn’t the haven it once was.

Lia must use her magical bond with Calanthe to save their people while Con fights to hold off the vengeful Emperor Anure and his wizards. Con and Lia will have to trust in each other―and in love―to fend off ultimate disaster.


Miss the first two books in the trilogy? Get them here: 

Monday, May 24, 2021

Cookie Cutter Magic

 So the topic of the week is how to avoid making the same protagon9st in each book or series. 

Well, that's j=harder than you might think. Why do I say that? I've been accused of it, by a reviewer who really liked my stuff.

Apparently two characters from two different series were too similar for her.

Well, Hell, I could tell them apart. Lessee. One of the characters was an apprentice herbologist and the other was a blacksmith. One got his hands shattered. One was violently murdered. In the other circumstance, one was a soldier who became a general and one was a mercenary. They have absolutely nothing to do with each other except, apparently, they had similar personalities. 


I have nothing. There are entire stories with these characters that are RADICALLY different, so either the characters are reacting to situations in similar ways, or the reader is reading into this, or, maybe, I'm not so great at creating different characters. I mean, one is a career soldier who has never married. One is a husband with three kids. Did they have similarities/ Probably. the apprentice herbologist was shy. The blacksmith couldn't quite build u the nerve to talk to the girl he adored. The mercenary knew his way around a sword and so did the soldier. Did they look alike? Nope. Not even a little. Mercenary had red hair and worked a kilt. Soldier had dark hair going gray, and wore a uniform. 


The thing is, I write characters with backgrounds and histories and motivations. If they come across the same way I'm obviously doing something wrong, or the reader is listening to my voice and filling in gaps that I've not noticed. 


But you know what? I wnt back and read several passages from the books that pertained to those characters. Yeah, no, I can still see less similarities and more differences, so I didn't think it's me. 


Always try to approach these things with a critical eye, and always try to make certain you aren;t using cookie cutters to make your characters. y9our mileage may vary.

 I mean, they look different to me...






Sunday, May 23, 2021

Protagonists and The Promised Queen


Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is "Avoiding Same Protagonist, Different Name, Different Story: How do ensure your lead characters are unique per series/standalone?"

This isn't a great topic for me because I ... don't. In that, I don't ensure or strategize this kind of thing. Maybe because I'm an intuitive writer? Characters come to me and tell me about themselves. I don't have to avoid finding the same one any more than I have to worry about running into the same people over and over in the larger world.

But that's cool because it's release week for me! 

THE PROMISED QUEEN - book three in the Forgotten Empires - comes out on Tuesday, May 25!


As far as protagonists go, an early reviewer said this to me:

Really appreciate how at no point did Con become some magically articulate prince. He still said "...stuff" instead of somehow finding a way to wax eloquent in the third act. Thank the gods.

I love that! In honor of Con's uneducated and rough ways that have him saying "stuff," here's a scene where he does exactly that.

******************

We walked in quiet for a few steps, Lia turning us at a four way intersection where all the paths looked the same to me. “Do you know where you’re going?” I asked.

“Metaphorically in my life, or literally in this maze?” she replied lightly.

“Now you sound like Ambrose.”

“He has his moments. The answer is yes to both.”

“You know where you’re going in life?” 

“That has never been a question for me. My life belongs to Calanthe.” Before I could say anything to that, she continued. “And there’s a pattern to the turns in the maze, which everyone knows, even if they never come this way. The maze is here primarily to prevent anyone from stumbling into the heart of the night court by accident.”

“Am I going to be shocked by what I see?” I blurted out, figuring I’d better ask.

She gave me an assessing look, eyes glowing with color, like the decorative lanterns did. “You might be. Do you mind? We can turn back.”

“No way. Not after I just confessed to regretting not learning what I could when I had the opportunity.” Besides, maybe I’d get some ideas about pleasing Lia. If I could figure out how to be a better lover for her, she might want to marry me again.

“You could still learn, you know,” she offered. “It’s never too late.”

For a pained moment, I thought she’d read that thought—then I realized she meant reading and stuff. “I’d feel like an idiot.” I could just picture it, sitting there like a hulk in some schoolroom, painstakingly reading aloud from a kid’s book. 

“You said you feel like an idiot most of the time anyway,” she countered.

“Good point.” We turned twice more, and I began to get the pattern now. “Two lefts, then a right, and repeat?”

“Exactly. Now you know.”

“Not that I’d come this way without you.”

“You could. The night court would—”

“I know, I know. You offered this before and I said I didn’t want it. Quit bringing it up.”

“No need to growl, grumpy bear.”

I laughed, a hoarse grating sound. “I thought I was a wolf.”

“It changes, moment to moment,” she replied. “And you’re not, you know.”

“A wolf or a bear?”

“An idiot. You’re a very intelligent man. One of the smartest men I’ve been privileged to meet.”

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Death Matters

 


This week's topic is: The Necessity of Death: Do you have to kill characters for there to be enough risk? What other threats work better/just as effectively?

First, let me say that I don't preach many rules in fiction. I think writers should hone their craft (meaning you should know how to wield your writerly tools such as grammar, structure, concept, etc., and everything should be done on purpose, down to word choice). But everything else? The cans/cannots? I don't go there because a deft writer can make something that's been labeled a no-no a work of art. It doesn't necessarily mean everyone will like it, but it also doesn't mean you can't do it. I have three beautiful doggies, and I can invariably say that I don't want to read or watch anything about dog death. And yet I watched a movie where a puppy's death in the first ten minutes motivated the main character to hunt down his enemy, and I cheered for him all the while. 

Why? Because that death mattered. This is really the only rule I'll preach on this topic. I think I've said before on this blog that it's good to make things personal, and death as a motivator is as personal as it gets. The threat of death makes characters act, as can a death itself. It can send a whole series of events into motion because, ultimately, most of us want to live, and we want those we love to live. We want innocents to live. Having that desire/need tested shows us what our characters are made of. It shows their mettle and morals, how much they'll bend those morals to get revenge or set things to rights. It shows us their determination, mental state, grit, and their inner landscape of turmoil, regrets, and hopes. Death is so deeply felt, and as long as it resonates within your character/s, I like to think that, chances are, it isn't a wasted moment on the page.

But are there other options for risk/stakes? Of course. A gazillion. Threaten someone's freedom and see what they do. Threaten to take their memory. The sight or hands or... the creativity of an artist. The voice of someone whose voice is everything. Destroy the only possible route out of a dystopic city where a character, alone, is trapped. Give them plenty of food. They can live. But there's no one else left. They're faced with a very desolate future.

All sorts of things can be used to drive and test our characters. Death is only one choice. But if it matters to the writer, chances are it will filter into their writing and hopefully matter to the reader. 

_______________________

Have you added The Witch Collector to your Goodreads lists? The Witch Collector is book one in Charissa's The Witch Walker Trilogy, coming 11.02.2021. Check it out!


Friday, May 21, 2021

The Death of a Character

Every living thing in this universe shares at least one thing in common. We will all die. Most of us likely heard 'death is part of life' or 'death is a fact of life' as we were growing up. Most of us have been touched by the deaths of loved ones. 

So when someone asks if it's absolutely necessary for characters to die in my novels, the answer is 'of course'. But.

BUT. 

Anyone I kill off in a story must die for cause. The death(s) need to mean something to the characters left behind, or they need to augment reality. Any time you're writing military SFR, if people aren't dying when you shoot at them, you're writing parody. You need to apply a cost to everything characters do. Or don't do. You need consequences. 

Sure, I can make the consequences impact the character directly, but consider the psychological impact of your poor decision destroying an innocent's life. That's some heavy guilt and it's hard to get rid of. Am I fond of fridging girlfriends, boyfriends, or anyone else? I'd like to say no, but I have a lot of dead people who are driving a hero in the current WIP. I think that's the textbook definition of 'fridging'. That sucks. I didn't want to be that author. Forth book in a series, tho. So it's not like I can change it now or make it somehow okay. I don't want it to be okay. I want it to be raw. And hard. And haunting. 

Anyway. We're off track. Death must mean something. If it doesn't, then killing off a character becomes a toss off. These are the character deaths in books, TV, and movies where a writer just kills the character. It's almost an accident. Oops. I dodged when I should have parried and now I'm dead. I understand that this is, in fact, reality. All too well I know this. But you know who handles what could have been a toss off death so adeptly that it carried a boat load of weight and emotion? Peter Jackson. Lord of the Rings. Battle of Helm's Deep. The elf Haldir leads a troop to bolster the defenders. Heroic! Hopeful, even.

Then Haldir takes an enemy arrow between the eyes while defending the battlements. It's almost accidental (and never happened in the books). It's a brilliant piece of theater - a full few seconds to watch realization cross his face, then that face go slack, and the slow motion fall. It's also amazing emotional manipulation - just as the audience is cheering the heroic elves riding to the rescue, they're toppled from their emotional perch by the arrow of Haldir's death. I totally see why Peter Jackson put it in the film when it isn't in the books.

The hero. Fallen. Lovely imagery. Sledgehammer of 'aw, man, I liked him'. 

A toss off would have been 'Hey! Hero riding in with reinforcements! Oops. He's dead. Oh well.' It would have been a quick pan. Or someone who deserved a better, weightier death accidentally falling through a magic mirror. Not that I'm mentioning names of authors or books here.

Summary:

  • If I kill named characters on the page, I want them to have earned their deaths as much as other characters have to earn their HEAs. I don't often kill named characters.
  • If I kill people off stage, it's to drive named characters into the character arc they've been avoiding.
  • If I kill people off stage, it's also set that stage for stakes and/or ticking clocks and because there are no wars without atrocities. I just don't have to enumerate them or dwell on them. Often.
  • If I kill NPCs in large number, I always mean to include the stories of heroism that never actually make it into the darned novels. There may someday be a short story anthology of those depressing heroic-unto-death stories collected and published.

And now, a bit of new life. The monarch caterpillar I brought in to save from the red wasps cocooned in a nursery on my front porch. It emerged and flew off into the world on Tuesday.