Character Driven Stories

The topic came up in our forum recently, and then I was thinking about it as a started reading a new book because there was a certain disconnect as I read through the first chapter.

So, as I thought about it, I noted two things.

One from my reading:

The conflict created unnatural reactions in the characters. When it came right down to it, I disliked the heroine for her bitchiness in the first scene…but mostly, it seemed that her thoughts [as the author tried to ‘show’ the story] and her actions weren’t realistic. She was stuck in a Russian blizzard, needing rescue! Why is she thinking she should try to bring up a past and resolve anything? Why is she thinking at all beyond, ‘Thank God. You rescued me. Please don’t hate me too much to save my life.’ So there were a few other instances where the author was trying to maintain sexual tension by NOT having the couple hook up too soon, and created conflict. But again, it just felt off, especially since the characters were both young, healthy, attractive, sexually active, and ‘hot for each other’. As an author, reading this book, the conflict felt too contrived.

This is where characterization can play a huge part! Because if even one of those characters wasn’t the horny, sex-impulsive type, then…I could have believed they were holding back as a natural occurence!

Two, from my own writing:

Last week I finished revisions on Book Three of my Hawk Elite Security series, and it’s the first full-length novel that has no sex in it. Before I started revisions, this book had the expected 2-3 love scenes. As I went through on the revisions, the sex kept NOT happening. Believe me, I wanted it to happen! I understand the satisfaction of seeing a couple through even this very private part of their relationship. It’s what romance readers are looking for… emotional connections. But no, I had a character. And do you know what my character’s nickname on the teams is?

Fr. John. Because he’s conservative in his dating life, because no one is quite certain if he’s had sex or not… is he a virgin? Does he even date anymore? He hasn’t–in a long time–and that’s what made his story. So, wouldn’t it be odd to have him suddenly be a lady’s man? a Don Juan? I think it would. It wouldn’t be in character.

I had a heroine who was ready to go, and she did her own pondering on why this guy wasn’t going to have sex with her. But even my heroine had been living alone for a few years, sort of in hiding from herself and the world. So, even for her to jump right in would have been a little off-reality.

I write romance, and I know the possibility of disappointing readers with a book that has no sex in it. But, I just couldn’t get beyond my characters. John was raised a certain way. He’s not perfect. He’s NOT a virgin [cuz, hello, college is a bed of sowing wild oats and living a little rebelliously], but he’s celibate, and has been for a few years. Because he knows, he wants the whole thing. All of it, and he isn’t going to settle for less, or cheat the next woman he’s attracted to by leading her on.

If you get a chance to read Strike Zone, please come back and tell me what you think. Part of me loves this story, because the sexual tension is so darn high. Part of me wishes I’d left the sex in there because it’s satisfying…

But in the end, I left the tone of the book up to the characters.

And if you like things a little hotter, stay tuned for book 4, Strike Force. Oh boy. That’s a different story completely!

About Beth Rhodes

Beth jumps into life with both feet...or head first. Impulsive and spontaneous to a T, she joined Passionate Critters and never looked back. She loves writing and reading, which made this wonderful group of woman a perfect match for her.

If I Knew Then: Writer’s Edition

Today, I thought I’d blog about craft. Specifically, the things I wish someone had told me (or helped me understand better) when I first started writing. I’m focusing on three main areas today.

Goal-Motivation-Conflict

There’s this fabulous book, if you’ve never heard of it, by Debra Dixon, called GMC: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict. When I first started writing, I kept hearing about GMC. Maybe you have, too. No one really explained it in a way I understood or, worse, they assumed I knew what GMC was. At that time, you could only order a hard cover from the publisher to get this book. I paid $20, plus shipping, and I’ve never regretted it. It’s incredible.

To summarize, characters want GOALS because MOTIVATION but CONFLICT. It’s a little more complicated than that. For instance, goals are the future, motivation is the past, and conflict is the present. If you can pull all those together, give your character an achievable goal for a realistic reason (motivation) and then have someone stand in their way, you have instant conflict.

Protagonist/Antagonist

Speaking of someone standing directly in the way, pushing back against the hero/ine, that is your antagonist. You really do need an active antagonist. It can’t be your characters drunk, dead father because he can’t push back. Alcoholic daddy can be part of the motivation, but he can’t be the antagonist.

The protagonist has a goal they are working toward. The antagonist has a goal (GMC of his or her own, in fact) and they are actively standing in one another’s way.

Conflict Boxes

Conflict boxes are these nifty, simple little boxes that help you show how the protagonist and antagonist are in opposition. They’re explained best, in my opinion, by Jennifer Crusie in this blog post. Their goals are mutually exclusive, which means only one of them can achieve their goal. The other has to lose. Sometimes, if you aren’t sure who you’re antagonist really is, a conflict box will show you in about two seconds.

If Only That Were It

Obviously, there’s more to learn, but these concepts will get you well on your way. I highly advise reading GMC and checking out the Basics of Fiction blog post by Jennifer Crusie if you’re at the beginning of your writing career or even if you feel you need a little help in these areas.

We’ve got a slew of helpful writers here, so if you have a question, one of us will do our best to answer. Or maybe you have a tip for a new writer. Just post it in the comments below.

About Lori Sizemore

Lover of nail polish, pens, her Kindle, and fresh coffee. She likes romance filled with messy, real characters and lots of snarky banter. Reading was (and still is!) her BFF; when she discovered writing she fell in love. Come for the snark. Stay for the story.

On Critique Partners Part 2

As previously mentioned, we’ve all heard the horror stories that can happen when youcrit partners graphic 2 get mixed up with the wrong critique partner. Everything from hurt feelings to making changes on a story you probably shouldn’t have made. The question is how do you find the right one?

There are multiple websites and groups via Yahoo, Facebook, and a simple search can set you on the right track.

What are you looking for? Depends on what you want, a one-on-one partner or a group. For a one-on-one partner, you’re looking for someone with similar goals, career, and writing, to your own. Reason being, you’ll both be working towards a similar path and help support one another to get there. It’s as simple as asking the potential partner what they want out of the relationship. If they just want someone to bounce ideas off of, but you’re looking for a partner to help you get ready for publication, then this may not be your person.

Additionally, you want a person whose strengths will build on your weaknesses.  An example: One of my writing weaknesses is writing dialogue. I found a partner who excels at it, through this, I learn from her.

For a group of partners, you want to seek a balanced environment. Look for a group with published and unpublished authors.  This means you’re getting a wealth of knowledge from those who’ve been at this a little longer than others. The success of a group is based on the diversity of the authors. Similar rules to the ones above apply. Within a group, you should find authors with similar goals to your own and those with strengths that will help you shore up your own weaknesses.

You found your potential partner/group how do you get started?

For individuals, do a trial run. Test out a couple chapters, set expectations, and discuss them at length. Schedule chats to review feedback and ask questions. Critique partners are supposed to be your best friend, your confidant, and the person who helps you work out all those pesky problems. Mine talks me back from ledges, a lot.

For groups, apply (if it’s necessary), follow the rules, and as Lori mentioned in her first post, be respectful. Crits are about the positive and negative. It’s constructive criticism, not tearing someone apart either.

What if I disagree with the feedback? It happens. The best part about crits is that partners (good ones) will tell you to use what you think applies and ditch the rest. It’s universally known that not all feedback may apply. Additionally, don’t dismiss anyone’s feedback. I personally, follow the rule of 2. If 2 critique partners call out the same thing then it’s something that needs to be fixed, hands down. Otherwise, a good tip is to follow your gut, but it’s also highly recommended you let those crit comments marinate for a few days before taking action.

Here’s to the search for the partner and the group. I recommend both and, in most cases, more than one. To find those gems is like having a personal treasure chest.

Missed part 1 – Check out Lori Sizemore’s original post from earlier this month.

 

About Landra Graf

Landra Graf consumes at least one book a day and has always been a sucker for stories where true love conquers all. She believes in the power of the written word, and the joy such words can bring. In between spending time with her family and having book adventures, she writes romance with the goal of giving everyone, fictional or not, their own happily ever after.

Writer’s Meh

The other day one of the Passionate Critters said she was having trouble getting motivated to get any writing work done. She knew what she wanted to write, knew she had some edits to do, but her heart wasn’t in it. Other things were just more interesting. Six of us responded that we felt the exact same way, including me. It’s not writer’s block–which I don’t really believe in, anyway–but it is a writer’s meh, which totally exists.

I have two books in various stages of completion, and while I have a third out on submission I should be working on them. One is so close to being done it’s practically taunting me. I was a bit stuck on where I was going with it, but last week I had a brainstorming session with a friend and I realized exactly what I needed to do. But I still haven’t been able to keep my butt in the chair, and some days I can’t even get it there at all.

It’s very easy to blame writer’s meh on lack of time or  life stress–especially during tax season, which is particularly painful when one is self-employed–but that’s really just an excuse. There’s always time to write, even when life is being persnickety.

I think writer’s meh stems from a need to check out for a while. To take stock of where you are as a person, writer, mom, wife, worker, whatever. To clear the brain of cobwebs, I suppose. (I’m thinking a lot about spiders today–I found FOUR in my house this morning. *shudder*) Unfortunately, I’m not entirely sure how to get rid of it. The meh, I mean, not the spiders. I’m pretty clear on how to get rid of those.

Perhaps just a little time is the answer, although a writer friend suggested a meditation exercise that might help. In any case, I think I’m close to getting the cobwebs out, to getting the brain ready to get back to work, and to pushing the writer’s meh away, at least until next time.

How about you? What do you call this weird period of non-productivity? How do you get through and out of it? All of us critters could use your suggestions. 🙂

 

About Marin McGinnis

A lawyer in real life, Marin McGinnis feeds the more creative part of her soul by writing Victorian era romance and mystery. She's spent almost half her life in a tree-lined, unabashedly liberal suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. She's been married to the same great guy for over 20 years, and has one teen-aged son. They all live together in a drafty old house with their two standard poodles, Larry and Sneaky Pete. While her very first book will languish under the bed, the next book, Stirring Up the Viscount, won two contests in 2013 and was published by The Wild Rose Press in January 2015. Her next two books, Secret Promise and Tempting Mr. Jordan, are also available from Wild Rose Press. Marin currently serves as President of the Northeast Ohio chapter of Romance Writers of America and is hard at work on the next book. You can find her here, at marinmcginnis.com, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and Pinterest.

Revolving the Plot

Easter got me thinking about holidays. I love holidays. Mostly because of days off work, special food, and time spent with family and good friends. And I’ve also used them in my writing a time or two. One book took place in the fall so Thanksgiving seemed a natural fit.

And of course, there was a marriage at Christmas. They are just as popular in real life as they are in romance. Who doesn’t love all the decorations? Especially in fiction because we don’t have to clean them up after? I’m on board.

Plus the fact that holidays seem to come with built in conflict in so many directions. Crazy relatives, sulky relatives, controlling relatives, you name it. And a whole host of behaviors that only seem to come out during times of stress. In-laws and outlaws are all great fodder for fiction.

We can’t always use holidays as a plot device, but I think there’s a place for them if they are used as an accessory to great characters who drive the story forward. They can also add interest to the setting, which is one of my favorite things.

I confess, I do love a good holiday read.

Do you like writing or reading holiday stories?

About Sutton Fox

Sutton Fox has been published by Lyrical Press, Gypsy Shadow Publishing and wrote a bi-monthly column for an auto racing magazine for several years. She traded life in Bluegrass Country for life in the Windy City in a home she shares with The Man, a lonely cat, and her beloved dog, Lucy. When she’s not working the edj, you can find her writing or spending time with her extended family.

On Critique Partners, Part 1

I’ve seen people say some pretty harsh things about crit partners. Yes, when you have crit partners that are a bad fit, they can damage your story and your writing. You don’t want those and if you feel stifled, move on.

However, if you think all crits are bad or unhelpful, then you don’t know the purpose of critiques or how to accept them. That sounds harsh. Sorry, not sorry.

The first rule is that you will have CPs you trust implicitly and you will have CPs that you take some of their advice and discard the rest. However, you never argue with a critique. If more than one person says there is an element to your story that isn’t working, you should look at it with a critical eye. Either way, you thank them for their feedback and then you move on.

The problem with arguing with a critique, that something is explained later or it’s really okay because their motivation is real and true, is that you can’t argue with a reader. Best-case scenario, they get to that section of your novel and they’re pulled out of the story. You do not want that. Worst-case? Your book becomes a wallbanger.

If there are questions the CP is asking or suggesting, then maybe you’re not giving enough information at the right time. That’s an easy fix. A few lines peppered in. It is not a reason to have a meltdown.

Bottom line, there are some bad crit groups out there. We’ve all been part of them. The vibe is off, people are mean with their feedback, or they start lecturing you about writing rules. Leave those groups because you can’t grow as a writer there.

There are also awesome groups that encourage you and help you become a better writer. Is it easy? Hell no. Does the feedback hurt sometimes? Yes. This is your beloved story and it’s no fun when someone says it isn’t working for them. But if it’s a solid group with good writers who build you up? Don’t run. Do some introspection and ask yourself why you’re so afraid to change your story. You know what they say—you have to murder your darlings. Sadly, they don’t lie.

Come read Landra Graf on April 29th for part two!

P.S. Be sure to check out our Heart-Shaped Glasses Facebook group because today I’m giving away a free book from my to-be-read pile. You have to comment to win, so come join us on Facebook!

About Lori Sizemore

Lover of nail polish, pens, her Kindle, and fresh coffee. She likes romance filled with messy, real characters and lots of snarky banter. Reading was (and still is!) her BFF; when she discovered writing she fell in love. Come for the snark. Stay for the story.

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