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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Thumper said in another post "I am really uncomfortable with too much self promotion, but a place to connect with other writers, where anyone can lurk whether they write or not, that would be awesome."

That thread turned ugly, but this concept never really took root...

Such as:

My character is taking over my book.  I'm writing the sequel to Painting the Roses Red and Rianna doesn't want to do anything I ask her to do.  Now, I'm not this kind of writer.  I don't have characters that boss me around.  I'm the writer.  They do what I say... until now... until Rianna... if I let her keep this up, I'm afraid I won't have a plot at the end of the book?

Trish
 

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Trish:

My characters, once they come to life are allowed to assist in their destiny. I find that if I chatise them or restrict them too much, they fix my wagon and make the book a monstrous failure. It is for that reason I never work with an outline and write from a scattering of notes. Also most of my writing his a head trip. When I call a meeting of the charcters (every time I sit down to write), they usually win out. That's because writing is a collaboration between me, my universe, my characters and . . . mostly, my readers.

Edward C. Patterson
 

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I usually start out thinking I know exactly how a book is going to end, what's going to happen; the characters drive the story, though, and nearly every time I've had to change my own expectations. And the characters are usually right, and they end things much better than according to my original intentions.

My current work in progress has taken turns I didn't quite expect; I do know there are certain things that have to happen, but I've been surprised a few times how those things have taken shape. I'll just let things happen, and fix mistakes in subsequent drafts.
 

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--Rianna doesn't want to do anything I ask her to do--

You created her. Without you she's nothing. Be firm.

Ultimately, the characters answer to the plot, since the plot is their world. Now and again they can shape it, but not much. The creator--you, me, any writer--is the whole of the law.

I don't push my characters around, but they all have destinies to fulfill.

Writerly regards,

CK

 

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I use a "sort of" outline. Basically, that means I start out with an idea and enough plot to get me through 50 or so pages. After that, things sometimes take on a life of their own.

I now only outline 3 or 4 chapters in advance of what I'm writing. That allows me to strive for something, even if I can't see the end clearly.

When I get an idea, I jot things down very quickly. I have nothing... I have nothing... then suddenly 10 chapters worth of material springs to being.

Before, when I always saw the end, things ended up muddled. It almost feels more organic to let the characters have a little control. If they want to go left instead of right, it almost makes them seem more alive and real.
 

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I usually create iconic pillars — scenes or situations that I feel will most engage the reader and challenge the characters. I see them in my mind and often talk them out months in advance of writing. Working on Epic fantasy novels seeped in sinology needs a long settling time in the mind. I even speak the dialog many times before going to paper. I sometimes (in my shorter works) write a play first. However, it never fails, about a third of the material never winds up in print, and that which does is highly diluted (as it should be), and if it isn't, I catch it in the 3rd or 4th revision, when it's crunch time. To me outlining is like trying to capture the sea in a bottle and expect it to hold water. Instead we capture the reader in a bottle, put a lid on it and hope to hatch butterflies. 'Twere a goal to strive toward, methinks mayhap.

Edward C. Patterson
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
This is all great insight.  I don't mind so much when a character tells me how they're going to react to something -- that I consider natural.  But Rianna?  She's just gone too far.  She wants to change the plot.  I figure it's my job to create her world and the situation and it's her job to tell me how she's going to deal with it.  We all have our own styles of dealing with it.

So... I found this great little thread where everyone is listing 25 random things about them.  It's a wonderful little thread.  There are 18 pages of random little things about real people that make for great fodder for filling out walk-in characters.  I've done a lot of things to give life to the little characters that are not the main ones.  I've rolled up D&D characters.  I've heard of one author who just jotted them down whenever and kept a file of them. 

What do you folks do to flesh out those characters who only walk into the book for a page or two?
 

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Trish:

I take a page from Dickens. Whenever I have an action needed by an "incidental" character, I try to recycle that action to an already existing character. Of course, it adds to the existing character's chops and will inevitably change the direction of some time continuum. I don;t believe in plot. I believe that a story is the sum of characterization, description and tone. Rather than form a "plotline" I prefer to suggest a pathway for the read to take a journey, one that is slightly different for each reader. Now back to your question. If you have a "walk-on" character, have them truly blend into the environment. Describe them as part of the furniture, or in terms of the carpeting. It makes them more memorable and contributes to the universal weave of the work.

Edward C. Patterson
 

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Besides being a deep reader of the human heart and an incomparable stylist, Dickens was an exceptional plotter, and his ability to pull together diverse threads and gather them in a smooth, close knot at the end is consummate craftsmanship. Bleak House is one of my favorite books of all time.

Nothing taught me more about writing for profit than my participation in the first Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award competition. Unlike this year's contest, it was peer-reviewed at the outset, and most readers (my Publishers Weekly reviewer in particular) demanded storyline above all, wanting to be hooked from the jump. My own entry (contemporary fiction, not fantasy) made it to the semifinals and garnered terrific reviews for characterization and style, but the contest's winner was a readily marketable noir thriller with a protagonist very much on a mission.

Schooled for the rewrite,

CK

Regarding 'walk-on' characters, mine serve as foils to the main players and/or provide catalysts for key events. They're usually colorful and fun.

 

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vwkitten said:
What do you folks do to flesh out those characters who only walk into the book for a page or two?
I try to make sure I know a lot about each character, major or minor, before they make an appearance; once in a while that minor walk-in/walk-out character turns out to be critical to the story, and knowing as much about them as you can ahead of time makes it easier to expand their role.

Like Edward, though, if the character is truly incidental I try to plop the action onto an established character; sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, and when it doesn't there's a lot of me sitting there seething and grumbling about having to rewrite huge chunks of manuscript.

For the most part, though, I develop character biographies--everything from birth date and personal descriptions to whether or not they're lactose intolerant--so that I can stay as true to them as possible. In my work-in-progress I have a character who will only be there for 3-4 pages, but I know enough about him to understand why he's arrogant, why he seems lazy, and why he walks off the page without a fight; he's necessary because he highlights a potentially unlikeable trait in a main character, and the reader will think he's a jerk, but deep down *I* know he's a wounded soul and simply terribly confused. If I know that, then perhaps I'll be able to write for him in a way that makes him seem real, and not the prop he could be.
 

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You created her. Without you she's nothing. Be firm.

Ultimately, the characters answer to the plot, since the plot is their world. Now and again they can shape it, but not much. The creator--you, me, any writer--is the whole of the law.

I don't push my characters around, but they all have destinies to fulfill.
In your case, plot is very important (or so it seems anyway). Just by looking at your cover, I'm guessing you're involved in a fantasy series. That kind of work does need to be plotted, because you're right, characters DO have certain destinies. The prince has to marry the virgin off-worlder to beget the son that never should have been so that drama and crisis can ensue.

But in a lot of other books, characters have a way of nudging the author to go down different corridors. My story-writing mind hates when that happens, and usually that extra stuff gets edited out. My genre is thrillers, so normally I have to stick tightly to a plot as well. But sometimes the journey is special and leads to new horizons.

It depends.
 

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I'm one of those silly old fashioned authors (like Dickens) that believe that "a plot" is the result of the character, events and story arc, and (like themes - which are best grafted on) is as much the result of accident in the first draft than of design. Otherwise the story is plot-driven, and that, in my humble opinion, is a weight that is sometimes insurmountable. I know that some "genres" call for "more" plot than others, but I strive to transcend "genre." One of my books, I label as a "mystery," and it is a whodunit, of sorts - but it turns out to be a character journey, a marriage of disparate parts into a harmonious whole, which in fact is my own view of novel craft. Write with your heart, edit with your mind, instill the work with poetry and humor, and the book will author itself.

Dickens sometimes over-plotted, and it was not a fault, because he was writing a species of novels that required contant plot twists - serial novels. My own main work started out as a serial novel (and first published that way). Dickens relies on coincidence quite often to conclude his story strands. He, like Tolkien, manage to tie up every one. (Stephen King in The Stand solved his runaway story strands by "blowing them all up," literally). However, Dickens was also a master of "hanging lanterns" on logical lapses. We only find them upon close scrutiny (and they abound), but such logic lapses should abound in all our works, and every author must master the art of "hanging the lantern on them."

Edward C. Patterson
 

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Many of Kurt Vonnegut's rules for short stories can be applied to novels, and I was following them long before I read his list:

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

4. Every sentence must do one of two things -- reveal character or advance the action.

5. Start as close to the end as possible.

6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them -- in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

*****

#3 is key, for me. #5 isn't easy, and some rules are meant to be broken. :D
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Carolyn Kephart said:
3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

4. Every sentence must do one of two things -- reveal character or advance the action.

6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them -- in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
Now That's what I'm talking about! Very yummy. I'm going to post some of these up so I can stay on track. As a writer, I think we know a lot of this intrinsically, but we lose sight of it through our own doubts or waffling. Well, you know what I mean.

I adore the pneumonia one! I hate being a sadist to my characters, but oh so very true. And I think a lot of authors need to paste #4 to the bottom of their monitors - it's so hard to remember.
 

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Carolyn:

Good set of rules - all meant to be broken. ;D I generally feed off my reader's response to validate the results of my style. I've been fortunate. I never went to school for writing (part of a Ph. D. in Sinology, but no Creative Writing course 1.1). I, instead, was nurtured by professionals who rejected me. (he he, sounds contradictory, but it's really ironic). My first publisher gave me a wealth of do's and dont's, and then her publishing house bellied up. My first editor once labeled my favorite Chapter in a book with "I have only one question about this chapter. Why?" I owe her a great deal as she was like a wicked step mother or a Nun with a ruler. My first rejection came with a wonderful letter saying (I paraphrase) - "You're talented but you need to address the following a) b) c). My first agent turned out to be a poor agent, but a wonderful editor and writer, who helped refine my style. And then I had a fleet of beta-readers, who embraced me and also heaped on criticism. And finally, Mundania Press almost accepted a work, but along the way gave me great feedback - so much so, that by the time I received their cordial rejection, I had already published 5 books Independently, had my land legs and readers. The readers said - "Let that Hoot Bird fly," and so I let it sail. I acknowledge Mundania and thank them for the rejection in the Acknowledgements of my books. O Fortuna. A contract, an editor from hell (a good hell), an angel agent, and 2 favorable rejections. It's called - breaking the rules.

BTW, speaking of rules, I assume that every author piping in here has read Stephen King's On Writing - IMHO, the best damned volume on the craft ever stroked.

For your convenience, if you haven't read it.


Edward C. Patterson
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
Dave Dykema said:
Just by looking at your cover, I'm guessing you're involved in a fantasy series.
Actually it's a paranormal romance series, and I don't post my book cover in my posts here anymore. I'm gun-shy of the advertising accusations. My personal picture is just some of my artwork. My book cover looks a lot better than that.

(--edit-- changed pic again to another little piece of artwork -- I'm still futzing with what I want to use)

Dave Dykema said:
But in a lot of other books, characters have a way of nudging the author to go down different corridors. My story-writing mind hates when that happens, and usually that extra stuff gets edited out. My genre is thrillers, so normally I have to stick tightly to a plot as well. But sometimes the journey is special and leads to new horizons.

It depends.
Again, that's why I wanted this thread. I want us to have a place to share our experiences like this without fear of offending someone with a reference to a current book. We're in the same boat, on the same team here. The more we share like this, the better we'll all be as authors.

Thrillers. I'm interested in your creative throught processes for plot... will you share more please?
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
Carolyn Kephart said:
Regarding 'walk-on' characters, mine serve as foils to the main players and/or provide catalysts for key events. They're usually colorful and fun.
AND

Thumper said:
...but I know enough about him to understand why he's arrogant, why he seems lazy, and why he walks off the page without a fight; he's necessary because he highlights a potentially unlikeable trait in a main character, and the reader will think he's a jerk, but deep down *I* know he's a wounded soul and simply terribly confused. If I know that, then perhaps I'll be able to write for him in a way that makes him seem real, and not the prop he could be.
I do that too. A walk-on character needs to reveal something important. I think it adds such depth to understand their characters as if they were full-fledged characters even if we never write all that we know about each one of them.

Trish
 

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Germaine to this conversation, I am the guest blogger on the Jerry Race M/M Blog. I'k reporting the blog content here. (No link for delicacy - it's a Men/Men site and has an adult button, but my content is PG. There's a slight gay slant, because the blogsite's audience are mostly gay).

Striving to Engage the Reader
by Edward C. Patterson


My approach to authoring books is not unique, but I believe it is lost in some quarters. Many times books are conceived as the author's self expression, disregarding the reader. Readers become outsiders looking in, fishing around for ephemeral meanings and significant themes. At other times, authors attempt to pander to reader's likes and dislikes, setting quotas on sex or violence, creating plot-driven sequences meant to fill-in rainy Tuesdays. There's nothing wrong with this approach. It's just not my approach.

I strive to engage the reader, challenging them to think. Not only should they put one word in front of the other to achieve an end, they should collaborate with me and complete my thoughts; escape to a world that we both share. I do not aim at a mass audience, or even a gay audience. Although all my books have gay characters and many have gay themes, I write for just one reader and don't care about their sexual orientation. I present that reader with living, breathing characters, who stick in their mind and lodge in their cares. Story is almost immaterial. The journey is the thing; a path that glues the reader to the page as they turn and turn and turn . . . An escape - a refuge.

Into this stew pot of authoring, I inject my experiences. I have degrees in Chinese History and have traveled extensively. As such, my longest works, The Jade Owl Legacy series is China-themed and The Academician is a tale of 12th Century China. I have an affinity for fantasy, so alternate realities play a role in my books. As a gay activist with many years in service to the cause, books like Turning Idolater, No Irish Need Apply and Cutting the Cheese are gay-dominant, although you might be surprised that these have been embraced by the non-gay community. I feel ambassadorial. Bobby's Trace spans both the gay-themed and the fantasy worlds; and, as a gay-veteran (1966-68), I have a military tale based on my experiences in the U.S. Army in 1967 (Surviving an American Gulag).

My latest work is the third installment of The Jade Owl Legacy series, called The Dragon's Pool. Like its two predecessors, it revels in the nexus of the modern and ancient world and continues the epic of a band of characters that have been well received by readers of the series.

I am currently working on two new works - the second installment of the Southern Swallow series, entitled The Nan Tu (The Southern Migration), an historical fantasy recounting the bifurcation of the Sung Dynasty during the early 12th Century. It will continue to explore the contours of human sexuality in medieval China. The other work is a romance in the time of AIDS, entitled Look Away Silence, a work that channels many of my own experiences as an AIDS service volunteer and takes a side-glance at the Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses (GALA).

My motto will continue to be - Write with your heart, edit with your mind, instill the work with poetry and humor, and the book will author itself. From my mind to your imagination . . .

An excerpt from The Dragon's Pool can be read at author's den:
http://www.authorsden.com/visit/viewwork.asp?id=33323.
A complete list of my novels can be viewed at my website, Dancaster Creative
http://www.dancaster/com

Edward C. Patterson
 
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