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Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Characterization Part III

Characterization Part III
Characters in a Romance

This is not a how-to post. It's not even a suggestion post. It's a disjointed list of the things I find personally important when it comes to writing characters who are in romantic relationships. 

I will readily admit that the romantic elements of any story are not my strong suit. Chemistry, sex, relationships...I write better friendships and action sequences. So please take this week's WW post with a grain of salt, or skip it altogether if that's more your speed. 

Alright, on to the list:

- I want every character in my books to have value as individuals, which means I don't ever write anyone solely for the purposes of providing someone with a love interest. I want them all to stand on their own, to have their own hopes and dreams, and problems. I can't force it - that's why, sometimes, when readers request that I write a book for so-and-so character, I can't give them a firm answer because I haven't found "the one" for him or her yet. 

- In that same vein: no cipher characters. No females who are empty shells into which the readers can pour themselves so that they can feel they are personally experiencing the romance that unfolds. Reading is the ultimate vicarious experience, yes, but I prefer love stories in which both parties are fully-fleshed, believable, and in which their love feels real and important. I'm happy for them - not wishing I was one of them, if that makes sense. 

- If I could pick a theme song, it would be "That Don't Impress Me Much" by Shania Twain. "Okay, so what, do you think you're Elvis or something? Whatever." Okay, so the leading man is a biker, a firefighter, a cowboy, an MMA fighter, a Navy SEAL. Why? There's that old "why" question again from Part I. His profession, his name, his tattoos - none of those things by themselves are what make him lovable.  And I want him to be lovable - to the audience, sure, but mostly to the person who's falling in love with him. 

- It's not enough to simply describe both parties as attractive. They have to be attractive to each other, and that's a total package kind of deal. Physical traits play a part in it, sure, but it has to go deeper than that. There has to be compatibility, mutual interests, real caring and emotion. In a really great love story, it doesn't matter what the characters do for a living or how much money they have - we, as the audience, are starry-eyed because their love is so perfect and meant-to-be. 

- Making a "Why" list can be a great way to figure out the characters' romantic journey. Why are they drawn to one another? Why each other specifically and not someone else? Why are they resistant? Or, why are they falling so quickly? The more time you spend asking yourself about the reasons why they work, the stronger the relationship is going to be on paper. 

- Remember that you want the audience to fall in love with the couple as a unit, but, as previously stated, if the romantic elements were removed, the individuals in the couple should still have compelling emotional journeys throughout the novel.

- Names don't make characters sexy; characters elevate names to sexy status. 

- Not every reader wants the same kind of romance. Got an idea that doesn't fit the mold? A hero who isn't alpha? There's someone out there who wants to read that (probably me!).

When I'm writing, it's always characters first, romance second. A little spice and sex won't magically make boring, flat characters more interesting, nor fix a weak plot. In my approach, if the book is a cake, the romance is the sprinkles and candles on top. I like to think of it as people we love falling in love with each other. 

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Workshop Wednesday: Characterization Part II

Workshop Wednesday: Characterization Part II

Secondary Characters:
Anyone who's read any of my books will tell you that I like to write secondary characters. Usually a lot of them. Part of this is because I prefer to write book series versus standalones, and secondary characters are necessary in that instance; but also because the growth of a primary character is expedited or hampered by his relationships with others - those "others" are your secondary characters.

I generally find secondary characters fascinating, and I think it's because they're on the fringes of a story, and therefore still mysterious. There's the potential for discovery there, and learning more about them. Because I think mystery is a large part of their appeal, when I start a book or series, I leave the secondary characters' backgrounds fairly open-ended. I decide a few things about them, and then allow the rest to reveal itself to me as they interact with the main character(s). 

But that's the thing - there IS a reveal. They DO have histories, fears, wants and dreams of their own, and aren't simply there to prop up the hero or heroine. For me, it's important, as a writer, to see them as individuals and not just supporting players; to think of them as having their own stories down the line, even if I never wind up getting to them (because some secondary characters end up being more interesting than others). It's important for the main character to care about them, truly engage them in conversation, and for the secondary characters to have unique opinions on the issues at hand. 

In real life we walk in our own familiar shoes, but as a writer, we, like actors in a stage play, are changing costumes behind the curtains and throwing ourselves into a dozen different roles. It requires a great deal of empathy -  elsewise you'll write the kind of book in which the characters are all clones, distinguishable only by name and a few superficial details. 

The problem with a big cast of POV characters is that you then have a lot of competing voices in your head. It can get stressful. It's why, unless it comes naturally and easily, I wouldn't recommend a writer tackle a large cast of characters on their first attempt. Fiction writing is an exercise in detaching yourself from the imaginary folks in your head, and learning how to let characters speak through you; the more characters, the more overwhelming the process can seem. 

If you're juggling a cast with multiple narrators, here are some things to keep in mind:

- Make sure each new POV introduced has something unique and valuable to add to the narrative. A different perspective, a view of an event that no one else can see or hear, some insight for the audience that will help put everything else into context. If you shift POV, make sure it's for a reason, and that it's enhancing the plot, rather than rehashing what someone else has already said. 

- Make sure each character has his or her own voice. This doesn't mean the style of your writing needs to change, in fact, it shouldn't; but the thoughts themselves need to fit logically with that character. For example: seven different characters wouldn't use the exact same terms to describe the same instance. 

- In the interest of reality, keep the dialogue simple and person-appropriate. A biker isn't going to wax poetic for long paragraphs, and a titled English gentleman isn't going to say "ain't." 

Next week, I'll talk about my personal approach to writing characters in a romantic relationship, and how to avoid the pitfalls of character clichés. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Workshop Wednesday - Characterization Part One

Workshop Wednesday - Characterization Part One

For me, characterization is the most important part of the whole writing process, so apologies in advance if this post gets vast and out of control. 

All my writers out there, you can join the conversation here on FB in my new self-pub-friendly writers' group. 

Every one of my books or short stories begins with a character, or a group of characters. I would like to say that I spend weeks expertly crafting them like a piece of fine furniture, but I can't take credit for that. Generally, characters walk out of the fog in my brain, wave, and introduce themselves. Sometimes they are unexpected, and other times I've already got the table set for dinner, watching the clock, hoping for them to show up. I realize this is not at all helpful as far as writing instruction goes, so in this post I'll (hopefully) break the process of characterization down in a way that helps you find your own special characters amidst the brain fog 😊

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Blackmere Manor Aesthetic

I've always wanted an excuse to write a decadent, creaky, secret-keeping old Gothic house, complete with somber portraits, ornate candelabras, and unsettling canopied beds. 

He cast another glance over his shoulder at the Gothic masterpiece of a home, its narrow, mullioned windows, its dangerous eaves, its rain-streaked stone façade. The stone gargoyles on the roof seemed to move if you squinted, their lips peeled back in constant snarls, wings spread threateningly. Tucked away deep in the woods outside of Richmond, the house couldn’t have looked more out of place in Virginia if it had tried, seemingly snatched off the cover of a novel, plucked from a dark and stormy English countryside.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Middle Distance

67,378 words on White Wolf, and I'm in that dreaded middle distance. Beginnings are thrilling, endings are a relief and a realization of all your hard work. But the middle is drudgery, even when you love what you're doing. After about the 20k word mark, it starts to feel like work

But in a way, this whole book is a beginning. It being the first in a series. Everything is fresh; nothing is old and tired. 

The things I'm enjoying the most:

The words. This one of those rare, joyous projects in which I can scroll to any page, any scene, and find myself so happy with the way the words have laid themselves out. That's when it feels inspired, and meant-to-be, and the right thing to be writing at the right moment. That's the best feeling in the middle of a WIP; I love it.

The way it's not tidy. The words are, for sure, those are precise and careful. But the story is boiling over like a pot on the stove, running in directions that make it hard on the genre labels, and taking it's sweet time, spreading out, turning to caramel in its own way. Long, slow-burning, with that creeping sort of dread that builds and builds. 

Five years ago, two, even just one year ago, I wouldn't have been ready to write this book. All the books I've written up until now have been an amazing kind of practice for a series of this scope, so I'm feeling really grateful for all the words that have come before; from the Walkers to Walking Wounded, all have prepared me to be a writer who, though scared of the enormity, is just reckless enough to try and tackle this mountain. 

This is, I apologize, the boring part for readers, when all I can say is "I'm still writing," and I can't wait for the day, soon, when I say that it's done and ready for your Kindles and bookshelves. Though it sometimes feels like it, I know that middle distance doesn't last all that long. 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

WorkShop Wednesday - Outlining and Story Planning

My pre-planning notebooks for Walking Wounded and White Wolf

Outlining and Story Planning

It's been a while since I last wrote a Workshop Wednesday post, and I'm glad to be back at it! This post, like all my writing posts, is based largely on my own writing experiences and education, shared with the hope that you might find something helpful in them. These are merely my opinions and findings. I'm now moderating a small, closed FB group for writers interested in the indie writing and publishing process, and you're welcome to join here

Monday, August 7, 2017

I Do What I Want

This post is for everyone, but it's aimed specifically at writers out there who are seriously considering self-publishing, and who are holding back because they're uncertain. I've been exactly where you are, and these are the things I wish someone had told me then. 

Tuesday, August 1, 2017


This was war.
It was so easy to think of it in terms of ideals and speeches and flags, but it was this: the breaking-open of living things.

I live to write books that say, "Here's something terrible that happened, and here's how this group of people handled it." As a reader, so long as those characters' reactions are honest, I will gladly tug on someone else's boots and walk a mile or two with them.

Katya is the kind of character I love to write. The kind who takes all the horrible things that have happened to her, balls them up tight, and lets the rage turn cold and analytical. The kind of bottom-of-the-food-chain, caught-in-the-machine's-gears character who does what she has to in order to survive. 

I feel like this is a good place to say that this story is dark, but nothing my regular readers can't handle.

From White Wolf
Copyright © 2017 by Lauren Gilley
All Rights Reserved

When she looked down at his face – and God, the aristocratic cut of his features, the way his gray eyes had a blue cast in this light – a jolt of awareness crackled through her. The weight of his hand, of his gaze, of his breath turning to frost in the air between them. She wanted, absurdly, to shove his black fur hat off his head and spear her fingers through the dark waves of his hair, feel the warmth of his scalp in her hand. Wanted to climb inside his coat, up close where his heat bled through his clothes, smell the sweat and dirt on his throat.
The sudden, visceral urge horrified her. She’d been close, skin-close, to [someone like him] before. When she closed her eyes and turned her face away from Nikita’s concerned gaze, she could see the other face – the crooked, nicotine-stained teeth, the harsh lines around his mouth, the grimace of effort as he tore at her skirt…
She made a frightened, involuntary sound in her throat.
“I’m fine,” she said, but she wasn’t. Because she’d allowed him into a dark and secret part of her psyche. A damaged place in which rape and intimacy had become so tangled that she wanted to sink her teeth into his skin for reasons that shocked and confused her.
“I’m fine,” she repeated, and this time she forced herself to be, taking a deep breath, fixing her gaze on the clearing ahead of her. She unslung her rifle and snugged the stock into her shoulder.