Category Archives: Writing FUNdamentals

The Importance of Coffee and Air

It’s not far off to say that for the most part a writer’s blood is 90% coffee or some caffeinated beverage. Even Dunkin’ Donuts noticed that writers are among the heaviest coffee drinkers in the industrialized world ranking #4 in their survey.  I don’t think that surprises anyone.

You know what else fuels writers? Reviews.  Coffee might be our life’s blood but reviews are the air we breathe. Sometimes the air stinks and then we know we’ve either done something wrong, made an enemy somewhere or a troll has claimed our bridge. Other times its all roses and fresh linen. Either way reviews let us know how we are doing and what is or isn’t working in our prose.

So how do you, gracious giver of air, go about crafting a review that keeps us writers breathing? It’s really quite simple. Remember that time you read that one book and got really excited about it and decided your best friend just HAD to read it? Yeah, do that. But write it down and put it on Amazon or Goodreads or where ever you like.  If you want to get technical and look all fancy you can do as Amanda Patterson suggested in a recent blog post about how to write a great book review.  It’s still pretty simple.

Now great doesn’t always mean positive, sometimes you don’t like the book. That’s fine. You are entitled to your opinion and this doesn’t lessen the validity of your review one iota. I don’t expect everyone to love every word I write. Art is wholly subjective after all and some art is meant to evoke negative emotions.

So, this writer would love to know what you think of her works. Good or bad. Air is still air after all.  Now, where is my coffee.

Let’s Get Complicated Part Two: The Positives of Being a Villain

So last time we talked about creating multi-dimensional characters and focused on the protagonist of my novel Sorrow’s Fall.  This week I’d like to help you look for ways to make you antagonist just as compelling and multi-faceted.  After reading my post about Sorrow you are probably wondering what kind of person could possibly be an impediment to him and his goals.  That’s a very good question. It’s also one you need to consider in your own story. For now we are going to assume that your antagonist is another person and not that your character is struggling against nature or something. Nature doesn’t really have a personality, though it might seem like it at times.

In Sorrow’s Fall we are quickly introduced to Qadira Fall. She is the daughter of Lady Zulyekha Fall and the Queen-In-Waiting. She is nearly as powerful as the Barendi Queen herself. She has been raised and groomed to be consummate royalty. She is gorgeous, highly-intelligent and disgustingly wealthy. She also hates Sorrow with a passion. In the book he has no idea why she detests him. All he knows is that she tries to kill him every chance she gets.

She is his antagonist. But outside of her hatred for Sorrow, what is she like?  We know she’s royalty, that she inspires great loyalty among her coterie and that she is driven by the need to save her race. But what core qualities does she possess that take her from just being the person who hates Sorrow to a force all her own?

Last time we started with a negative trait, since most heroes have issues with them. This time lets look at the positive qualities a villain could have.  Yes, even villains have positive traits.  Serious. I’ll prove it.

First I need to figure out her core moral value. The Postitive Trait Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman & Becca Buglisi offers some amazing insight as to why this is so necessary. Not just for villains, but for our heroes as well. In The Positive Trait Thesaurus Appendix B has a method for finding your character’s core moral value. This is the core belief that affects all their other traits.  After making my lovely list of her positive traits I went to Appendix A to see which of them were moral values.  The main one was professional.  I’ll be honest. That confused me. Until I went to the entry for it.  There they list the definition as: exhibiting specialized knowledge and applying it with courtesy and good judgement.

Whoa. Wait-a-minute.  Now I’m more confused. My villain is courteous and has good judgement?  Well, let’s think about this for a moment. She is extremely well educated by the best instructors money can buy. She’s talented, smart, career and success focused, she’s ambitious and mature for her age. She is confident with high self-esteem and is highly ethical.

She’s not sounding very vile.  And if you are not a threat to her, she’s won’t be.  So what associated behaviors might she display where Sorrow can see them?  Lets look at the list.

  • Having the education and knowledge required to be proficient at one’s job
  • Being experienced in a specific field of work
  • Reliability, trustworthiness and honesty
  • Having strong people skills
  • Objectivity
  • Working well under pressure
  • Having a strong command of language and being able to articulate oneself well
  • Adaptability
  • Keeping one’s promises
  • Maintaining control over one’s emotions
  • Being proactive
  • Thinking before acting
  • Treating others with respect and courtesy
  • Being proactive
  • Being a strong listener
  • Assessing the politics of a situation and acting accordingly
  • Using good hygiene
  • Being well dressed
  • Acting appropriately for the situation

I could go on but you get the idea. A couple of the ones I highlighted as far as things Sorrow sees are; being experienced, adaptability, keeping promises, using good hygiene and being well dressed. Each of these things on their own seems pretty neutral or at least positive. So how do we grow her character beyond just being professional?  Well according to Appendix B the next layer beyond the moral core is achievement traits. This was a new thought for me and it took me a little getting used to, but now I see how invaluable it is. So let’s look further into Qadira’s personality and see what achievement traits she’s might posses that build on her core trait of professionalism.

The first one that pops out for me is ambitious but decisive actually wins out as the dominant trait here. Mostly because you can’t get much more successful than she already is, though she does have ambitions. Her decisiveness on the other hand is partly her and partly her upbringing. She’s had to bear a lot of responsibility since she was very young and much is expected of her. Her core value also influences her decisiveness since she is driven by a strong sense of responsibility and has the desire to lead.

Cool, we are on a roll here. Can you see how working from the inmost core trait outward is helping us build her personality and keep her well rounded? Let’s move on to the next layer: interactive.

These traits develop through interaction with others and the world in which the character lives. These traits help her work with her subordinates, handle conflicts, convey ideas and create healthy relationships. So building on our core trait of professionalism and our achievement trait of decisiveness what might be her dominant interactive trait? Here I run across several that are worth noting such as bold, flirtatious, inspirational, patriotic, persuasive, sophisticated and traditional. She is all these traits to varying degrees, but which one is dominant and why? Looking through the book both patriotic and sophistication are good choices, but sophisticated wins.  This is mostly due to her upbringing and the culture in which she was raised. She was brought up to be royalty so sophistication is not only needed, it’s demanded.

Now we come to the out most layer, the identity layer. The book describes this layer as “attributes [that] are tied to a personal sense of identity, leading to satisfaction and contentment with who one is. Traits emerge to allow the character to explore and better understand what makes them unique.” (The Positive Trait Thesaurus 2013, Ackerman & Puglisi, Appendix B page 233). It’s in this layer that I would put patriotic along with traditional. Here traditional actually compliments patriotic. She is very concerned with keeping her native culture untainted by outside influences which is directly tied to politics. She even went so far as to disown her mother who went against the established tradition and is willing to start a war to keep things as they have been.

You’ll notice we’ve not once considered the negative side of any of these traits, yet we already have a very good basis for her character. And she doesn’t seem all that evil does she? 

All of this just from a core value of professionalism.

The Owl and the Raven

“The great destroyers of nations and men are comfort, plenty and security. A coward gets scared and quits. A hero gets scared, but still goes on. ”     – unknown

by Leyla Akdogan

“We make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars: as if we were villains by necessity; fools by heavenly compulsion.” – William Shakespeare

The Owl

Heroes rarely surprise us.  They do what we expect them to.  What is right, what is just, what is honorable.  They may struggle getting there but there is never any real question as to the outcome of their fight.  They may die trying but it will be a heroic death.  But what makes them heroic?  Is it strength, intelligence, wit, loyalty, perseverance, morality, sheer bull headedness?  Is it the fact that they do what is right, not for any benefit or personal gain but simply because it is the right thing to do?

Heroes are rarely seen as such by their peers.  Their actions are often regarded as too avant guard, consider Atticus Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird or Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games.  While a hero’s actions might be altruistic, their motives rarely are.    I personally have always been skeptical of the typical hero.  Why would someone go to such lengths for others with no thought of any gain of any kind?  We all want to be at least recognized for our good deeds if not compensated.

The Raven

Villains rarely surprise us anymore.  They are a necessary evil to thwart the hero.  They are crafty, greed, capricious and cruel.  They seem to appear out of the ether, hate already fully born and festering for revenge on the hero.  They will die before they let the hero succeed.  But what makes them a villain?  Is it strength, intelligence, lack of morality, snark, perseverance, sheer bloody mindedness?  Is it the fact that they do whatever they damn well please just for the hell of it, or at least for some principal gain?

Villains rarely see themselves as such.  They are fully justified within their own minds and see their actions as not only right but necessary.  Darth Vader, Shere Khan of The Jungle Book, Moriarty from any incarnation of Sherlock, Sauron of Lord of the Rings. Shall I go on?  You get the idea.  I personally have always hated the one dimensional evil for the sake of being evil villain.  Everyone has a motive and motive implies will and will implies thought and reason.

The Quandary

So who is the Owl and who is the Raven?  Sometimes it’s surprisingly difficult to determine.  This has given rise to the terms anti-hero and anti-villain.  Theses characters are neither strictly one or the other.  They are the vagabond hero and the dubious ally, the thief with a heart of gold and the benevolent overlord.

To illustrate this point I will be drawing on several characters.  Most I’ve discussed before and a couple will be newcomers.  If you are not familiar with my fandoms then beware of spoilers here on out.

First, Megatron.  Yes that Megatron.  By the time we meet him in the franchise he’s a despotic overlord with the mantra ‘Peace through Tyranny.’  A villain’s villain if you will.  Yet we learn that he and his archrival Optimus Prime were once friends and depending on which backstory you prefer, co-collaborators in the rebellion on their homeworld.  In the most recent iteration their friendship fell apart over method.  Megatron, a former slave and gladiator only knew how to achieve his means through violence.  Optimus saw a more peaceful, albeit slower, method through diplomacy.  Neither was wrong in wanting change in their society.  So what made one the hero and the other the villain?  Motive and execution.

Then we have Loki.  In the original works he is not the scene stealing villain from Marvel, but a crafty, cunning and beloved brother.  He’s as mischievous as he is helpful and often his schemes benefit himself more than anyone.  When they do go awry he still manages to find a way to make the outcome work for him.  Yet he allows his jealousy to get the better of him and resorts to murder and extortion.  This doesn’t stop him from helping when a situation calls for it.  He simple will only do it if it in some way benefits himself.  He’s an opportunist.  Again motive and execution come into play.

Now let’s look at Deadpool.  He’s the ‘Merc with a Mouth’ who fancies himself a hero yet can never quite live up to the hype.  When he’s trying his hardest to be the hero is when he fails the most spectacularly.  Its those moments when he stops trying and just does that the hero emerges.  Yet he’s too bogged down by his own demons to ever fully transcend his penchant for indiscriminate violence. He at times both hinders and helps the other super heroes depending on how the situation strikes him and if he can make money off of it.  Much like Loki, he’s an opportunist and will stab a hero in the back as soon as offer a helping hand.  Motive. Execution.

So how do you write a convincing non villain?

Keep them consistent.  Know their motivations, even if they don’t. Make sure their actions are supported by their motives, that they execute their plans accordingly.  Loki and Deadpool are both consistent in that you know at some point they are going to betray you sometimes just for the hell of it.

Guest Post by Clare Davidson: Four books for authors (and why I love them)

This week I am very happy to have author Clare Davidson as my guest.  Clare is the author of Reaper’s Rhythm.

When everyone thinks your sister committed suicide, it’s hard to prove she was murdered.

Kim is unable to accept Charley’s sudden death. Crippled by an unnatural amnesia, her questions are met with wall after wall. As she doubts her sanity, she realises her investigation is putting those around her in danger.

The only person who seems to know anything is Matthew, an elusive stranger who would rather vanish than talk. Despite his friendly smile, Kim isn’t sure she can trust him. But if she wants to protect her family from further danger, Kim must work with Matthew to discover how Charley died – before it’s too late.



Clare has been kind enough to give me a list of books she considers valuable resources for a writer.  Without further ado, Clare:


Four books for authors (and why I love them)

There are many good reference books out there for authors, but these are a few of the ones I’ve used (lots), in no particular order.

The Definitive Guide to Writing On Your Terms Using Your Own Honest-To-God Gut-Wrenching Voice, by Rebecca T. Dickson.

Full disclosure here, Rebecca was the editor for Reaper’s Rhythm. However, I paid for my copy of this book.

The focus of this book (as the title suggests) is on writing with your own voice. Rebecca offers a series of tools and exercises that help you switch off the internal editor and trust in your own voice as a writer. It’s a book that helps to free you up to just write. It’s written in a very honest way and includes real examples from real authors. If you’re struggling with self doubt, or even just how to get the ideas from your head onto paper, you’ll find this book really useful.

And yes, I’d absolutely recommend Rebecca as an editor too.

Let’s Get Digital: How to self publish and why you should, by David Gaughran.

This book is really useful for anyone thinking about self-publishing. As the title suggests, it gives some really compelling reasons for why you should take the leap and become an Indie author. After that, David goes through the steps of how to self publish. On top of that, he gives 33 success stories, which are inspiring if nothing else. I loved David’s no nonsense approach and his instructions helped me no end when I was publishing my first book, Trinity.

I’d also recommend David’s latest book: Let’s Get Visible: How to get noticed and sell more books.

Writing Fight Scenes, by Rayne Hall

I bought this book after taking a class with Rayne on writing fight scenes. I never had much confidence with fight scenes, but I kept writing fantasy stories with, you’ve guessed it, fight scenes in. I took the class to help me polish up a fight scene at the end of Trinity and didn’t regret it at all. The book has everything we covered in class, without the critiques. It covers different fighting styles and weapons and the types of vocabulary you should use accordingly. If you write fight scenes, this book is an absolute must.

The Emotion Thesaurus, by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi

This is exactly what you think it is. The book contains a list of emotions, in alphabetical order. For each one, it gives you a definition and lists of physical signals, internal sensations, mental responses, long-term responses, suppressed responses and a tips section at the end.

Obviously, some of the responses are repeated for different emotions – there’s only so many reactions, or gestures we can do. However, used in the context of your own writing, this is a fantastic resource, which can really help you show rather than tell.

Protagonist, Antagonist and Just Plain Gonist: Part 2

My last post explored seasons 1-5 of Supernatural and which characters represented the protagonist in each season.  As discussed last time the protagonist is the person with the most to lose in the story line. The one we, the audience, are expected to most identify with on an emotional level.   I’d like to also discuss who the antagonist is this time.

The antagonist isn’t just the villain, they can be anyone who impedes the protagonist from reaching their goal.  Their goal can be the same or the complete opposite.  They may not even be aware of the protagonist’s existence, yet they prevent them from easily getting what they want.  The antagonist doesn’t even have to be another person, it could be nature or the protagonist themself (man vs. nature; man vs. self).  As I said, anything that keeps the antagonist from potentially reaching their goal.

So who has which roles when we start season 6?

We start with Dean, having taken Sam‘s advice and given up the hunting life.  He is our protagonist.  He thinks he is acclimating well to his new life and family.  Yet he is going to be faced with the choice he once gave Sam and for him it, as it was for Sam, is really no choice at all.  He knows what he was truly meant to do and he leaves his pseudo-family to once again become a hunter. He remains a protagonist for the entirety of the season as they look for ways to get Sam’s soul back and keep one step ahead of Crowley.  Crowley is the main antagonist this season with Castiel once again a mirror protagonist to Dean.  Both are looking for more power and ways to get that power and both are played by Crowley.  At the end of Season 6 it seems as though Castiel has made the jump from protagonist to antagonist, having gained more power than he’s capable of safely wielding and declaring himself the New God.

Season 7 rolls around with our sexy New God in full on cleansing mode.  He is the new antagonist that Sam and Dean must find a way to stop.  It turns out that Castiel belatedly realizes he’s compromised himself and goes to them to set things right before he loses complete control.  Sam and Dean as the protagonists are forced to watch someone they care for and call family implode.  After this they must combat the real antagonists, the Leviathan that had been controlling Castiel.  They both remain the protagonists for the rest of the season as they each are proactive and aggressive in their hunting.  Once Castiel is returned to them he becomes a protagonist once again.  As Emmanuel he has to confront what he was and accepts what he did and tries to make amends.  Dean and Sam remain protagonists throughout the rest of the season.  Castiel for his part ceases to be a protagonist once he takes on Sam’s mental illness.  He is no longer proactive, but reactive, a victim as Sam had struggled with previously.  It’s not until the last two episodes that Castiel once again becomes a protagonist taking an active, if somewhat reluctant role in combating the Leviathan.

The next season is a bit more complicated.  We will break this season down a bit more thoroughly.

Dean is back from Purgatory and pissed as hell (pun intended). Sam is torn between helping his brother and wanting to continue his life with Amelia.  Both brothers are protagonists as they are each forced to confront truths about themselves and their relationships.  Both have left people they love behind. Sam leaving Amelia and Dean (believing) he left Castiel in Purgatory.  Both are trying to come back to an understanding with each other and at times act as each other’s antagonist.  We are also introduced to Kevin Tran who will be the primary protagonist in the first several episodes as he is forced to leave his old life behind and become a prophet.  He at first may seem like a victim, but his character quickly shows that he is too smart and resourceful to allow this to happen.  Crowley remains the main antagonist for the season.

Once Castiel does reappear he is not a protagonist, in fact due to Naomi’s interference he is delicately balanced between simply being a secondary supporting character and becoming an antagonist.   He is reactive and unable to make decisions for himself.  He goes from helping to hindering the brothers based on how Naomi wishes things to go in the interim.  However, from episode 17 on Castiel is once again a protagonist along with Sam, Dean and Kevin, Dean having helped break the mind control.  He is proactive and working to keep Dean, Sam and Kevin safe.  His decision to trust Metatron is based on Metatron’s status as an angel and the fact that Dean and Sam were prepared to trust him as well.

Sam is a clear protagonist in that he makes the decision to leave behind his life and complete the trials outlined on the Demon Tablet in an attempt to redeem himself for his past sins.  Dean remains a protagonist in that he must help Sam and keep him safe while at the same time dealing with what seems to be yet another betrayal by Castiel.  He is proactive, finding ways to help Sam complete the trials and also trying to figure out what is wrong with Castiel.

By the last two episodes it’s clear that all three have reached their individual ‘darkest hour’ in the season arc. Sam is dying from the effects of the trials. Castiel is betrayed and loses his most precious possession and Dean is faced with the prospect of losing the two most important people in his life.

So, who will be the protagonist come season 9?  It’s a pretty good bet that Castiel will once again join Dean and Sam as the  primary protagonists.  The changes wrought on him in the season 8 finale demand nothing less.  Dean and Sam will have their own major struggles and the new antagonist could be one of several characters.  I’m looking forward to seeing how it all works out.  Or doesn’t.  This show has a pretty good track record of breaking hearts and stomping on feelings.

Oh and in case you didn’t get the ‘gonist’ in the title:

Urban Dictionary: gonist

 1. one who thoroughly completes every task with the utmost confidence and aggressiveness.
Sounds a bit like Dean or maybe Castiel or could it be Crowley?  No, its Naomi or-or Abaddon.  Fuck it, I’m done.

Protagonist, Antagonist and just plain gonist.

Castiel (Supernatural)

Castiel (Supernatural) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Before I get started, I want to warn those who might not have watched Supernatural, this post is basically one big long spoiler.


As a writer I find Castiel‘s character fascinating and exceedingly complicated.  I know some people disagree, I have only to scroll through the 100s of tweets I got earlier this month for confirmation of this.  They feel he has no place in the narrative and should be removed as a character.

What they are refusing to see is actually taking away a huge chunk of the narrative.  It would be like reading The Hunger Games and ignoring Peeta, or watching Iron Man and ignoring Pepper, or playing Devil May Cry and ignoring Virgil.  His character is integral to the plot and has been since 4:1.

The wiki has a nice explanation of what a protagonist is, but I would like to expound on it a little bit more.

So first who is the protagonist?

Well it could be one person or several people depending on the story and plot.  Supernatural started with two main characters; Sam and Dean.  Sam was the clear protagonist because he was the one with the most to lose, his girlfriend, budding career, et cetera.  Dean was a catalyst, almost a foil for Sam to react against.  Dean was already set in his way.  The pilot episode showed Sam as the clear protagonist by taking away all he held dear and forcing him into a life he did not want.  The audience was meant to sympathize and identify with him where Dean was more the mentor role.  He was Gandalf to Sam’s Frodo, the one who showed up and once again altered his world.

Sam was the more emotionally accessible of the two which also helped the audience to relate.  During the second season their roles became more interchangeable, they each took turns being the protagonist and this helped to develop their characters.

By season three there wasn’t as much characterization happening because the two main characters were no longer the protagonists. They no longer fit the definition.  This left the writers scrambling to come up with season arc that would still have some sort of meaning.  The stakes had to be raised and one of the brothers had to be reinstated as the protagonist.  The opening of the Hell Gate put the world in danger but neither of the brothers had anything to lose at this point, Dean had already sold his soul.  Sam was resurrected, John was dead and Bobby was doing what he’d done for years.  Dean and Sam were main characters but not the protagonists at this point.  By this point the episodic guests have more to lose than either of the main characters and are more emotionally accessible.

Its not until the last few episodes of season 3 that Dean emerges as the protagonist.  His time is running out and they are beginning to realize that there is nothing they can do to stop him from being taken to Hell as Ruby warned them.  He has the most to lose at this point with Sam working to prevent it.

Season three ends with Dean in Hell and Sam allied with Ruby.

Seems like the end of the story at this point and it very nearly was, until someone came up with the idea to introduce a brand new set of characters.  Thus, a whole new dynamic was set up.

Season four opened with a huge shocker.  After months of being dead and suffering in hell Dean is resurrected in the most bizarre way. At least bizarre to him and his brother.  They and Bobby are at a complete loss as to how Dean is now alive. After a horrible seance where a dear friend is maimed for life trying to get the information all they have is a name. Castiel.

Now things start to get interesting.  We still have no clear protagonist except maybe Dean who has his newly restored life/body, or it could be Sam who has his brother back but has been sleeping with Ruby.  Sam has the potential to not just lose his brother, but lose his brother’s respect.  This still doesn’t make either of them the clear protagonist.  Remember the protagonist is the one with the most to lose in the given scenario, the one the audience is expected to connect with emotionally.  They are the one who must go through the most change for the sake of the plot.  Yet Dean and Sam have changed already.  Dean is alive, albeit changed from his time in hell. Sam managed to find a way to continue hunting without Dean, though it involves demon blood.  So where is the plot arc and the protagonist for this storyline?

I’m getting to that, keep your panties on, or take them off, I don’t care.

Season four episode one and we are introduced to Castiel. An honest to goodness angel.  Of the lord.  This is when Dean’s emotional arc is revealed.  He lacks faith and doesn’t feel he deserved to be saved due to what he did while in hell.  This can be seen as him being tapped as the protagonist, but he has a more reactionary than proactive role.  Sam on the other hand is desperate to hide his addiction, this also makes him reactionary instead of proactive.  The only proactive person is the angel and we quickly learn that he’s not any ordinary hammer of god.  This angel has doubts.  He is certain about his role in Dean’s life, but uncertain about the larger picture.  For the rest of the season, he will be the protagonist as he has the most to lose.

Castiel remains the protagonist through the end of the season.  He has the most to lose, his family, his position in heaven, even his status as an angel and his very life are risked to save Dean and Sam.  Unfortunately, we only see him through Dean and Sam’s eyes so a lot of his character development and narrative must be inferred from their interactions.  Sam and Dean for their parts are pawns of both Heaven and Hell.  Sam is used by Ruby to open Lucifer‘s cage which is where we end Season 4.

Season 5 opens with Sam and Dean mysteriously saved from meeting Lucifer face to face.  Sam decides he wants nothing more to do with the hunting life and leaves Dean to continue on his own.  Dean and Castiel will now be the two main protagonists. They are proactive trying to find a way to stop Lucifer and the Apocalypse.  Sam does eventually rejoin Dean while Castiel leaves to try and find God.  This is when the roles switch to some extent. Sam and Dean are finally back to being proactive protagonists. Cas is still a protagonist of his own story arc which is subordinate to and mirrors Sam and Dean’s overall arc.

In the next few seasons his character did create a catch-22 for the writers since he was so powerful and the only way to go was down, so they had to keep coming up with ways to strip him of his powers.

Next time I will discuss seasons 6-8 and how the roles of the various characters changed.


Without You

This week I was treated to a massive dose of sanity threatening emotional issues.  Some were happening in real life, the rest happened in two of my favorite fandoms.  I won’t bore you with my real life issues that involve being pregnant and having to move.  However, I was rather surprised by the strength of my reaction to two different story plots.  It led me to wonder what causes us readers to become so emotionally invested in characters that we weep over them as though they were real.

The first thing I realized was that each story line was excellently crafted, the characters expertly fleshed out and realistic.  The fact that both subplots that emotionally devastated me were romantic ones is nothing short of ironic.  I am not a romantic person.  Ask anyone who knows me personally.  Typical romances bore me to tears.

So how did these characters manage to drag me into the narrative and hold me there over months?  Lets look at them.

Let Your Light Shine

First I will discuss Green Lantern: The Animated Series since that was the first blow to hit last Saturday when the final episode aired. Just the fact it was cancelled after one season was harsh enough.  Then I had to deal with the tragedy that was affectionately referred to by fans as Razaya.

Razer and Aya

Over the course of the season we watched Razor grow and change and fall in love with the ship’s AI, Aya.  Both characters started out seemingly one dimensional but very quickly we were treated to various aspects of their personalities.  Razor grew from being the angry Red Lantern to a multidimensional, complex and conflicted individual.  Aya quickly went from the ship’s navigation computer to a full fledged member of the team.  Both made misjudgments  said things that were taken wrong and just generally where adorable together.  All you have to do is search Tumblr for the tag #Razaya to see how much the fans loved this pairing.

There was a lot to love about it.  It was realistically portrayed and organically developed over the length of the series.  Even the creators were surprised at how loved the two became.  So how did they achieve it?

More on that in a moment.  Now on to the second source of my woe.

Never Let You Go

As many of you know, I am a huge Transformers fan and have been reading the current IDW Publishing series Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye.    The past Wednesday the newest issue, #15, was released.  I had been dreading this issue.  Mostly because I knew the happy times were over and things were going to get bad.  People were going to die. And they did.  Horribly in some cases and horribly tragic in others.  (If you have not read the series, please go do so as from here on there will be major spoilers.  You can find the entire run on Comixology.)

One pairing I’ve spoken about before, Chromedome and Rewind pretty much took center stage this issue.  Mostly due to Chromdome’s involvement in the accidental release of the unstoppable and extremely deadly Overlord.  In a scant thirty minutes the entire crew of the Lost Light is subjected to his murderous rampage.  He is only slowed when Rhodimus utters a trip phrase that Chromedome had implanted in his subconscious.  Fortress Maximus, having been released from the brig by Rung, drags Overlord back to the temporal prison he’d escaped from.  It is at this time that Chromedome decides that having the Phase Sixer anywhere near them, even in a prison cell, is too close and goes to jettison the cell.  Except a sword is preventing the mechanism from closing.  Rewind, Chromedome’s life partner, sacrifices himself to get the doors closed and ends up trapped in the cell, floating in space with Overlord.

The phrase that will come back to haunt Chromedome forever.

It’s at this point that Chromedome realizes that Overlord is going to kill Rewind in the slowest and most painful way possible and does the only thing he can think of to spare his lover any more pain.

This panel still makes me tear up.  These two had a very long history together, had been by each other’s sides when they faced death, fought together, with each other and generally behaved like any other loving married couple.  The writer, James Roberts, skillfully wove their relationship into the narrative while developing their personalities and backstory.

Forever and Always

In both of these cases the writers took great pains to make sure the characters were realistic and relatable  None of the characters are human.  Yet we the reader/viewer find ways to identify with them.  Maybe it’s Razor’s rage and inability to control it or Aya’s need to be accepted as her own person.  Or it could be Chromedome’s desire to be useful.  Or even Rewind’s desperation to keep Chromedome safe and healthy when his line of work is so dangerous and mentally detrimental.  It could be all or none of these things.  Either way, most of us have faced something similar at some time in our life and it is by tapping into this that the writers help us to understand and sympathize with the characters.

They created people, not just characters.  Each of them had their own motivations, goals, dreams and flaws.  They each acted and reacted according to what happened around them, just as we all do.  They had emotional, sometimes visceral reactions that ended up leading them to make wrong and in two cases, deadly choices.

We as writers must always strive to give our reader as much emotional input as possible in our stories.  It would be a disservice to our readers to do other wise.  We owe it to them to help them not just empathize, but sympathize with our characters.  Too laugh and cry along with them.  In doing so we build not just an artificial world, but a reader who is capable of much greater sympathy out in the real world.

Beginnings Always End Something

Or why character backstory is vital to your story.

“History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.”
Maya Angelou

In preparation for NaNoWriMo, I read numerous blogs about plot and structure and how to do both.  What I’ve not seen many writers mention is the need for well thought out characters.  Plot is after all character driven.  Without meaningful characters there will be no plot.

So how do you go about creating a character that is compelling?

My advice; start at the beginning.  No wait, let me explain.  Start with where you see your character now.  Their beginning in your story.  Now go back.  What lead them up to this point?  What decisions did they make?  What people influenced them?  What outside actions took their toll?  How does their upbringing influence their current thinking and actions?

That’s a lot to think about.

Maybe you aren’t sure how your character’s history has influenced them, or maybe you aren’t convinced it matters.   Let’s explore a couple of examples to see how this could work.  (A note before we continue:  writing a character’s backstory is for your information, when writing the actual story you want to keep as much of it as possible hidden from the reader, only revealing what is absolutely necessary.  We’ll discuss why later in the post.)

Once Upon a Time . . .

There was a young gladiator.  He risked his life for the amusement of others on a regular basis.  He trained, he grew and became mighty, fearless and feared.  His ambitions did not stop at the arena walls.  He wanted to foment change, to start a revolution.

There was a young scholar.  He read, cataloged and reported on the goings on of the empire.  He learned and within him grew a sense of what is just, what is right and respect for the sanctity of life.  He dreamed of a world without corruption, without oppression of the weak and less fortunate.

And one day they met.

“From the greatest love comes the most vicious hate.”

This meeting took place quietly, no grand fanfare, no one really took much notice till later when events started to happen and the revolution was well under way.  They fought for the same ideals yet their methods were as different as night and day.  Understandably the gladiator turned to force, using his great charisma to sway the masses to his side, and using his sword when words failed.  The scholar knowing little to nothing of fighting opened the debate with their ruling council, using his intellect and many years of study to try and persuade them.  The gladiator was impatient and took matters into his own hands much to the horror of the scholar.  Their friendship shattered as the council bestowed the scholar with the most important title their civilization had to offer.  The gladiator, frustrated and feeling impotent now turned his attention from overthrowing the caste system to destroying his onetime friend.

In their current iteration we rarely hear anything about how these two met or why.  We only know that they were once friends and are now bitter enemies.  Yet their back story is critical to where they are now.

Some of you may recognize the characters I’m speaking of here.  I have not named them because I want the focus to be on their back story, not on who they are.

In my novel Sorrow’s Fall little is said of my protagonist’s upbringing outside of a few comments on his training and a random memory or two that is relevant to what is currently happening.  He does not dwell on it, yet is shapes his actions, defines him.  Without his past he would be a radically different person.

There are many times when a character seems to just appear out of a fog with no back history or explanation of why or how they came to where they are.  Sometimes the reader is willing to put aside this in favor of learning about the character.  Wolverine comes to mind.  He himself did not know his past and it haunted him.  His lack of a past drove him forward, dictated his actions and even his friendships and alliances.  He was unwilling to trust anyone.

Then there are characters who we are introduced to just as they reach a defining moment in their lives.  Peter Parker/Spider Man for example.

In each of these examples, the writer knows exactly where these characters are coming from.  Or should.  Knowing where your character has been makes determining where they are going much easier.  Why is that so?

We are the sum of our experiences.  Your character should be too.  This might take some in depth research and hard soul searching.  But, that is what writing is about, finding those hidden truths about ourselves that others can relate to, those hidden gems are what make outstanding characters.

Happily Ever After . . .

So even though pretty much 98% of your character’s back story won’t end up in your actual prose, it is still a huge part of the story.  Without it the characters have nowhere to go and no drive to get there.

Lets look back at my first example of the gladiator and the scholar.  Without their past they would have no reason to fight each other now.  There would be no sense of betrayal on either side.  No one but the two of them truly know the depth of their emotion over what happened, except their writer.  You should know these types of details about your character as well.  Knowing when to use them in your story is a different beast altogether.

The Battle is Joined

If you would like more help with creating a character check out these helpful books:

Kill Me Softly

This is how I remember first meeting Boba Fett.  He was mysterious, dangerous and didn’t back down from one of the meanest villains in any genre.  It was love at first sight.  Then came the prequels.  The utter horror and dismay on my part as one of my all time favorite characters was reduced to a mere clone has stuck with me for years now.  I used to collect anything and everything Fett.  No longer.  His image and his very essence had been tainted.  By the  man who created him.  And why?  To satisfy fans.

I’m a fan and I did not ask for this travesty.  Yet over and over I see characters get slaughtered by their own writers.   The comic book industry is rife with examples.  (Deadpool being one of the foremost, more on that in a few.) Literature doesn’t escape it either.  I recently finished the Hunger Games series.  I was severely disappointed by how Katniss changed over the three books.  She went from being a total badass to basically reinstating the very regime she’d fought to take down.  How is that character progression?  Is it meant to be an ironic statement by the author?

Then there is the Anita Blake series by Laurell K. Hamilton.  I loved the first book.  Anita was a total kick ass woman who knew who she was and who she didn’t want to be.  I was appalled and disgusted by the end of the series.   Anita was no longer kick ass and amazing, she was a whore.  She had gone from untouchable to just another bimbo sleeping with vampires.  Is it no wonder I rarely read books with a female protagonist?

So what happened?  Fans.  Fans happened.  Fans are awesome.  I wish I had fans.  But just like the electric kind they can be refreshing or they can blow shit all over the place.  Letting your character get caught by fans reduces them to a bloody splatter on the wall, unrecognizable as the person you brought into existence.  I’m a fan myself.  I’m a huge fan of certain series and characters as you’ve probably noticed.  I’m also a writer.  (Another fact that I hope hasn’t escaped your notice.)  As a writer watching another writer as they let fans dictate how a character evolves puzzles me.

I’m all for fan input, commentary, discussion and whathaveyou, but when it starts to affect how I view my own character it’s time to step back.  I know my characters more intimately than I probably know myself.  Does that mean I need to let you, my dear, dear reader know all those facts?  No.  Does that mean I don’t listen when people remark on certain attributes of my characters?  No.  Does that mean I write to please my readers?  No.  I write to please myself.  If you like it awesome, great, fantastic we’ve got something in common.  If not, no big.

So why do some writers get caught up in trying to please fans?  Maybe they are afraid of what people will say if they don’t.  Maybe they think that appealing to the lowest common denominator will gain them more sales.  Which, while sometimes true, I think betrays the core reason for writing.  Writers write to entertain, to educate and illuminate.  Few single works do all three.  Some can barely manage one.

It is my firm belief that writers have a duty to their story and their characters first, readers second.  If the story and characters are sound, well crafted and compelling the readers will come.  Being consistent when writing a character is paramount.  And that point brings me to Deadpool.

Sure there are other comic book characters who have been rewritten by various writers.  Each writer for a run has their own take on the character and the universe.  A lot like fanfiction really.  Look at Batman or Spider-Man.  Though they essentially stay the same type of character, their core personalities don’t change.  Deadpool aka Wade Wilson has no such luck.  In his first appearance nothing is known about him, his actions and his verbage speak for themselves.  We didn’t need to know his background at that point.  We got it.  He was a killer who enjoyed his job very much and also loved to talk.  He was quite menacing and very obviously a bad guy.

Deadpool’s first appearance in New Mutants #98 published Feb 1991.

After his first appearance he cropped up a few months later in X-Force #1 but only as a character profile.  Slowly but surely he built a fandom and starting getting more appearances.   Finally in 1993 he got to be a headliner in his own one-shot series Deadpool: The Circle Chase.   That series ended and he was back to making short appearances until 1997 when he got his own title.  This started off the Joe Kelly era of Deadpool which is considered by most fans to be the definitive version of the character.  Then we come down to 2008 and a new writer by the name of Daniel Way.  He’d worked on Wolverine: Origins and Ghost Rider, he’s legit.  So why has his take on Deadpool has seen the most virulent derision from the loyal fans who have followed Deadpool from the early 90’s?

Deadpool began as a wise cracking mercenary who shot first and never thought to ask questions and acted as if the fourth wall was merely a suggestion.  By the end of the Secret Invasion arc things are very clearly leaning in a different direction.   Then came Dark Reign and Monkey Business.  The wise cracking is still there but the wise is slipping.  Instead of real humor there are inane refrences to (then) current entertainment news/gossip.  And Deadpool has lost a whole bucket full of IQ points.  He seems to have traded in his quirky talent for being painfully obvious yet obscure for being painfully dimwitted and trite.  He’s still mouthy, but instead of being funny it comes across more as though a fourteen year old sat in his room dreaming up one liners and who then creates situations in which to use them.

The progression of Wade as a character has stalled.  There is no internal conflict that was present in the earlier series and all the external conflict feels contrived.  There is a fixation on being  a ‘hero,’ but no real motive for this fixation other than wanting to be liked and this isn’t even explored or exploited as well as it could be.  He tries to join the X-Men, of course that fails miserably, he’s not a ‘true’ mutant.  So he tries to follow Spider-Man around to learn how to be a hero.  He’s been a hero, multiple times in earlier incarnations, albeit never acknowledged by the Mavel Universe as one.  Current issues are episodic and have more of a sitcom feel to them with little or no character development.

Sure some issues are funny, most are juvenile and not suited to the more mature audience that Deadpool has garnered over the years.  While I am not a Way-nah-sayer, I do find his run to have been more puerile and much less fun than anticipated.

My main issue with him as the writer of Deadpool is that while he did introduce some interesting elements they were not used to their full advantage.  He chose flash over bang.  It looks like something happened but when the smoke clears, its just that.  Smoke.  Nothing really happened.

So what can we take from this example?  When writing a character, any character you have to fully understand where they come from and their motivations.  Once the action really gets going it can be easy to lose those motivations.  That’s why it helps to step back every now and then and look objectively at what you’ve written.  Is it really working?  Is your character staying true to themselves or are you dictating things to make the story work?  Author intrusion is going to be noticed by the reader and even those fans who have been begging for something to happen will know that you faked it.  Don’t be afraid to write your character as they truly are and definitely don’t listen to fans who blow shit.

Yes, my boy.  You are good.

Top 20 Ways to …

Top 20 Ways to Generate Plot Ideas


1.     The What-if Game
2.     Titles
3.     The List
4.     Issues
5.     See It
6.     Hear It
7.     Character First
8.     Stealing From the Best
9.     Flipping a Genre
10.   Predict a Trend
11.   Noodling the Newspaper
12.   Research
13.   “What I Really Want to Write About is . . .”
14.   Obsession
15.   Opening Lines
16.   Write a Prologue

17.   The Mind Map

18.   Socko Ending

19.   Occupations
20.   Desperation

Thought this list might come in handy when brainstorming.  Will be handing it out at the panels I host  ^^