Your hero’s dark side

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C. Patrick Schulze has a great post up on his blog about the importance of developing your hero’s dark side and its importance both for character development and the plot. It really turned on a lightbulb for me about the main character in the political thriller I’m plotting out. I also want to revisit a few characters in the other novel I’m working on, too. Check it out!

Great character development worksheet

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I love things like this. It’s a list of questions to get you thinking about various aspects of your main character — preferably before you really start writing your story — to help you flesh them out a bit and make them come alive for your reader.

I probably have four or five different character inventories on my hard drive.  One of these days, I’m going to combine all of them into one monster character worksheet, because each one I encounter has a few great ideas that I haven’t seen elsewhere.

Another great character development resource that I really like is Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook (currently unavailable at Amazon, but copies can be found on eBay), which has all sorts of exercises to help you further develop your characters (and various other aspects of your story – plot, conflict, dialogue, etc.), including exercises specific to protagonists, antagonists, and secondary characters.

Got any good sources for worksheets to help you develop various aspects of your story? Please share them in the comments!

Dilemma: choosing a setting

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So I’m having this debate with myself about the setting for one of my novels-in-progress.

The novel is a political thriller. At present, it is set in the near-future in the United States. All the events in the story take place in the run-up to a heavily contested presidential election.

There’s a reason for this: I am exploring some recent trends in politics and the media, and what they mean for the individual in today’s society. Only with more explosions and sex than that sentence would suggest.

Well, maybe not more sex, considering some of the recent scandals involving politicians.

But now I’m thinking, do I want to set it here in the near future, or come up with a more fractured dystopia than the one we’re already living in? Maybe project current trends forward fifty or a hundred years? Or set it in a made-up country? Or both?

There are arguments in favor of (and against) the different approaches, naturally.

In favor of keeping it in a near-future America: I can use people and places as a shorthand for general concepts — e.g., present and past political figures, D.C., Hollywood, San Francisco, Detroit, etc.

Also, writing about present reality in your own country is just generally easier than writing about a different era or country.

But…well, then you have to keep things believable for the present reality. Your main characters can’t be too outrageous. You have to rely on things – technology, social trends, political and corporate entities, etc. – that exist or are at least plausible in this society.

Do-able, certainly. But is it as much fun to write? Or to read, for that matter?

Back in the eighties, I was a big fan of the Max Headroom show. It took place in this warped futuristic dystopia where the media conglomerates pretty much ran the show (as opposed to present reality, in which the media are manipulated at least as much as they manipulate).

I can see creating a similar world for my characters to play in.

And I think it would be a lot of fun to do so. Even if it would be a lot more work.

Thoughts? Suggestions? (Please?)

Writer’s Block

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Just a little something I wrote back during NaNoWriMo, when I needed a break from the novel. Thought I’d share it now that I have somewhere to do so:

God contemplated the text on His computer screen as he massaged his temples. Jesus Christ. He had a headache the size of the Middle East, and it had “humanity” written all over it. What time was it, anyway?

Not that time had much meaning to God. When you’re omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent, time becomes pretty meaningless, after all. Still, it was obvious to Him that He’d spent way too much time at the computer. His neck was starting to hurt, and His eyes felt dry and scratchy.

How had He let it all get so complicated?

In the beginning, everything was so nice and straightforward. The hero, Adam. An Everyman sort of character, salt of the earth. His love interest, Eve. Beautiful, mysterious, but the only woman in the world for him. A good villain, that snake, trying to lead them astray just for the hell of it.

He should have made it a short story. That was the problem. Damn it, why did He try to turn it into a novel? Now He was stuck with this massive epic – 780,000 words and counting. What publisher was going to want to touch that?

Hell, War and Peace was only half a million words, give or take a few.

This damned manuscript spanned thousands of years, and it had plot holes you could drive the escaping tribes of Israel through. He had no idea how to handle the completely different tones of the old and new testaments.

Maybe He should call a book doctor. Or several book doctors. No publisher was going to want to edit this monstrosity in-house.

But first, He had to come up with some sort of ending to the misbegotten thing. Somehow, He didn’t think “and they all lived happily ever after” would work here. Not with this batch of characters.

“To hell with it,” He muttered, clicking over to his browser window. “Let’s see how my NaNoWriMo buddies are doing with their stories.”

So, I’m looking for a writers’ group

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Oddly, a good writers’ group is harder to find here in Los Angeles than it was when I lived in Colorado. Or maybe I just got really lucky when I lived there.

Certainly, there’s no shortage of writers in California. That’s not the problem.

The problem is, either the groups are hell-and-gone from where I’m living (the South Bay), or they want money from me.

Rather a lot of money, sometimes.

I don’t happen to have much money at the moment. Certainly not enough to pay hundreds of dollars to get together with other struggling writers and work, drink coffee, and bounce ideas off each other.

I can afford the coffee. Barely. But I can’t afford to spend $300 for an 8-week writing group that’s more of a class.

When I was living in Colorado, I went to a site called MeetUp, where one can find like-minded individuals for get-togethers. I found a group of writers that met for a few hours once a week at a congenial coffee shop for writing and occasional conversation.

It was nice. I miss them.

They have MeetUp groups in Los Angeles, too, but they all seem to want money from me. Or, as noted, they are too far away for regular meetings.

I’ve found one promising-looking group that meets in Torrance, which is not too far away. The trouble is, it requires me to drive somewhere on a Saturday afternoon.

Which means I would have to find parking when I get home.

That’s a problem when it’s a summer weekend and you live in a beach community. Most weekends, my car doesn’t move. If I need to go somewhere, I walk.

And so I continue to look.

Any suggestions?

Yeah, okay, I’m starting another blog

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This will make my third active blog, though it’s my first under this name. The other two are under a pseudonym. A different pseudonym, I should say.

I’ve accumulated a few over the years.

I’ve been doing a lot of writing lately. I’ve got two novel-length stories in progress, which I hope to find a publisher for once I finish the writing and the re-writing and the editing and the proofreading and the shredding and deleting and re-writing again and…well, you get the idea.

More on the novels later.

Lots more, I’m sure.

I’ve come to the conclusion that if there is one thing that goes well with writing and editing (and so forth), it’s a fair amount of grumbling. What shall I do about this enormous hole in my plot? My characters are causing all sorts of problems by refusing to act the way I thought they would! How the hell am I supposed to finish this thing if life keeps getting in the way of my writing? Why did I think this was a good idea, anyway? Where’s the coffee? I need my coffee! How can anyone expect me to write anything without sufficient caffeine?

Thus this blog.

I hope to update it a couple times a week, but of course, that’s going to be dependent upon how the novel-writing is going.

Not to mention the non-writing parts of my life, neglected though they may be.

I may post excerpts from time to time. Maybe even entire chapters, if I feel like I need input from someone I haven’t already begged to read it three or four times already. We’ll see. Feel free to be vicious in your comments…I used to be a lawyer and have developed a really thick skin when it comes to criticism.

Good thing, too. One shouldn’t become a writer if one only wants to hear nice things about their work.

Constructive criticism is particularly welcome. But if you can’t be constructive, at least be amusing in your critiques.