Friday, January 30, 2015

Searching for a Name

I hate naming characters. Probably because I'm so bad at it. I either make up names that have never existed or I end up with names like "Bob". Very creative. By the time I'm ready to publish, usually someone has suggested appropriate names, but I'm trying a whole new approach as I wander into the realm of science fiction. I'm trying to actually give people real names.

Starting with my main character. I spent a great deal of time on this guy, so I know everything but his name. I do know it begins with a 'W'. Why? It just does. So...a good 'W' name. Not William. Seriously not William. I eventually had to choose between 'Wyatt' and 'Wesley'. As much as I like Wyatt as a name, I eventually went with Wesley. I'd like to say that the name just came to me, but actually I was watching The Princess Bride. So Wesley it is.

I can't write a science fiction political thriller with just one character, so I need some others. After checking my plot-tree, I realize I need names for Wesley's parents. I drew a total blank, so I asked my son (who is eight years old right now). He likes the name Diane for the mother. Good. And Greg for the father. I don't really like the name Greg, so my son decided Gregor was okay. Fine. We have names.

But still not enough, especially since the parents aren't really in the story much.  Must have more names. I hate names. Maybe I should roll a dice. Or totally make them up. Nope, can't do that. Must have REAL names. I hate names.

I need a name for a little girl. Random little girl who ends up not being quite as random as Wesley thought she was. Since I really had no idea, I turned on the TV, flipped channels, and watched random TV shows until a name appealed to me. Leisha. There we go.

Leisha needs a father. Everybody Loves Raymond just came on. His name is officially Raymond. And Raymond's brother is Royce just because if I use Robert again I'm going to lose my mind. Raymond needs a wife. My father is currently yelling at his phone, so the wife's name is Siri. Raymond also needs a girlfriend (hey, it's crucial to the plot), and her name is...Melinda. Because my sister's friend Mel just called. Creative, no?

Melinda needs daughters (courtesy of Raymond, of course). Now I'm all stuck on the letter 'M' so I ended up with Mia, Mairy, and Maiya. And Melinda has another daughter (not courtesy of Raymond), but I was out of 'M' names. My son suggested Maige, and it sounded silly enough to suit the story (bear in mind, Melinda is a little nutty).

Okay, I now have enough characters to get started. Now to have everyone do something.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Twists and Turns: The Ever-Shifting Plot

I've been writing fantasy, and only fantasy, for several years now. But after completing The Imperial Series I've been longing for something a little different. Not too different, mind you, because I absolutely love speculative fiction. So I've been playing around with different genres, but eventually ended up with the biggie--science fiction.

Never having written science fiction before, I then had to spend two months doing my research. Lucky I love research, because there's a lot to read and organize. So two months of reading, basically. And somewhere along the way my interest in politics, which I had thought had taken a long nap, decided to wake up. Now I wanted to write a political novel. No, a science fiction novel. Or maybe a political science fiction novel.

Now that sounded interesting. More research was needed. And a new journal to jot down ideas and such. So I read more books and popped in every political movie I could find on my shelf. There weren't that many of them, truth be told. I'm more into books that movies.

Three months had now passed and I'd done little more than read. It was time to actually get something down on paper. I'm not much of a plotter, but I needed some basics to get me started. Especially as my new novel now had a decidedly political bent. Okay then...

What was my plot? Never mind that. I need some characters. Right. Characters. At least one. Let's start with a young woman. No, a man. Young man? Let's run with that. He needs a name. What movie is on right now? The Princess Bride? Fine. His name is Wesley. Or maybe, definitely Wesley. I'll probably change it later, so let's just call him W.

Where is my story set? No idea. When? 1032 years in the future. Why 1032 years? That was the number randomly banged out by my youngest son. You'd be surprised how many times I decide things in that just way.

Good, then. I have a person and I have a time period. After only four months I'm semi-ready to write this thing. What was my plot? It's definitely not the same as it was when I started researching. Or when I finished researching, for that matter. Am I finished researching? Irrelevant. Did I just sidetrack myself?

Back to the point (though I'm not sure I remember what the point way). After prepping since before Halloween, I'm finally ready to let pen hit paper. My plot changes once more as pen hits page, but this is a good thing. It means my lot is refining itself, and I realize my plot has been boiling away in my brain the entire time.

Science fiction, here I come. Eventually.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Practice Writing: The Power of Descriptive Writing

Descriptive writing is the backbone of fiction. Think about it. If you don't describe anything at all in any way at all, you've really got nothing to work with. But describing anything is based almost entirely on a certain point of view. How I would describe a woman and how my main character would describe that same woman would inevitably be different (unless I am my main character, which I'm not). Not only do our own personal filters determine how we describe a character, but what he or she is doing will also make a difference. To understand this, try the exercise below.

Start by describing a woman. She's not doing anything, not moving, just standing there. Describe her, then read what you wrote. Because she's not doing anything, you probably focused exclusively on her physical characteristics. If she's not doing anything, there's not much else to describe.

Now take that same woman and describe her tending her garden. She looks exactly the same and she's wearing the same clothing, but now she's actually doing something. Describe her, then read what you wrote. This time you probably described what she was doing and how she was doing it. There will probably still be some physical description, but now that the woman is in action, there's a great deal more to focus on.

Time to throw emotion into the mix. Take the same woman doing the same thing (tending her garden), but this time you know how she feels. She's happy. Describe her tending her garden while she's happy. Notice how your description differs once again.

Finally, describe this same woman tending her garden while she is happy and you are feeling sad. Notice how your own emotions color your character descriptions. This is important to note because most of the time, at least if you're writing mainstream fiction, the author shouldn't really be all that present. Unless you are a part of the story, readers don't need to know that you're sad, angry, happy, or anything else.

So why is the above exercise important? Well, it helps you see how what your characters are doing and feeling have a great impact on how you present your characters to your readers. Developing your characters is a complex process, one that takes time and focus. Practice makes perfect, so work at it until you get it right.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Writing a Novel: Bringing Your Characters to Life

When we talk about bringing a character to life, voice, dialogue, and description all come immediately to mind, but these aren't the only ways to breathe life into the page. And here's where I whip out the old "show, don't tell" phrase that writers either love or hate. It's a little vague when stated just that way, but it's still worth thinking about.

Showing a character in action is not only a great characterization technique, but sometimes it's the only one available. There seems to be a tendency in fiction to have characters that spend way too much time in their own heads. Too much of the "action" is thinking. And while there are people who spent all of their time in their own heads, there are just as many people who don't think a lot, don't speak a lot, and can only be characterized by what they actually do.

So forget inner monologue, improbably conversations, and physical descriptions for a moment. They have their place, but if you focus on them you'll miss out on other techniques. So if you like description, try describing things instead of people. Focus on the character's car, for example. A lot of us is defined by what we own, so you can use objects that are present (or absent) to help give your character more life.

And don't forget to make sure of the reactions of others. In my first novel, Arianna's Tale, I use this extensively with one of my main characters. Damuk is a guy with many different facets, but at first we only see him through Arianna's eyes. As the story unfolds, however, we get to see how others treat him, how they respond to his actions, and we get and entirely different picture. Slowly we realize that he's not actually who Arianna thinks he is, and we learn this because of the behavior of others.

Another great technique is to mislead your readers entirely. Nothing is more fun, as a writer, than playing the role of the totally unreliable narrator. This ploy allows you to give the reader a version of events (and even people) that is either a little off or just totally untrue. And how exactly do you use this technique to reveal character? Typically by the arrival of a character who knows something contrary to the narrative you've set up. And then fun ensues, but this this technique cautiously. As much fun as it is, it can actually annoy your readers if not done right.

A well-developed character transcends genres and makes your book memorable. Use every technique available to you to make sure your characters shine.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Excerpt From "Son's Betrayal", Book 5 of the Imperial Series, by LA Quill

Just released in November of 2014, Son's Betrayal is the fifth and final novel in the fantasy-based Imperial Series. Follow the misadventures of Emperor Damuk's youngest child, Rowan. What starts out as a harmless boyhood crush quickly turns into something much more dangerous. Son's Betrayal is available in trade paperback and as an ebook (in most formats, including Kindle, Kobo, and Nook).

Read on for an excerpt from the book:


Hearing his mother’s voice echoing through the garden, Rowan moved further into the bush. It was dark under the foliage, but enough sun made its way through the leaves to allow him to read well enough. He had to squint, but he could read. He lowered himself further, laying on his belly and bringing his nose closer to the open book. He could hide and read at the same time.


He glanced over his shoulder at his feet, making sure his boots wouldn’t be visible from the garden path. Under normal circumstances, he didn’t mind being caught reading, but these weren’t normal circumstances. He was supposed to be studying for his history exam. And since the book in front of him wasn’t his history text, his mother wouldn’t be at all pleased.

“Rowan! Come here this instant!”

She was right on top of him. Taking a deep breath, he hunched a little more, hoping she wouldn’t look in the bushes. Just in case she did, he slid the book under his chest. He wasn’t supposed to have this particular book, and not just because it wasn’t his history text.

He could hear his mother moving about, could even see her bright blond hair through the leaves. He said a quick prayer and blessed his own raven locks. He’d blend right in with the dark undergrowth and would hopefully pass unnoticed. Hopefully…

But then she turned toward him and he knew it wasn’t to be.

“Rowan, come out of that bush right now.”

She didn’t sound happy. Knowing he was well and truly caught, he crept out of the bush, leaving the book behind. He did not want her to see that book.

“What were you doing in there?” his mother asked, arms folded over her chest.

Rowan frowned. Never in all his fourteen years had he had to think so fast. What could he possibly be doing in a bush that didn’t involve reading forbidden books?

“Well?” Her green eyes flashed, revealing her rapidly-retreating patience.

“Nothing.” Swallowing hard, Rowan prayed she would believe him.

She clearly didn’t. “Nothing? You were hiding in a bush, ignoring me for a quarter candlemark, all the while doing absolutely nothing?”

Rowan flushed and looked at his boots. It wasn’t easy, lying to his mother. Even his father couldn’t do it successfully. He swallowed hard.

With a disgusted sigh, his mother dropped to her knees. Rowan went to stop her, but was halted by a slender finger pointed straight at him.

“Don’t,” was all she said.

When he had backed up a step, she reached into the bush and withdrew an ancient and weathered book. A look of horror spread across her face as she turned its pages.

“Where did you get this?” she whispered.

Knowing better than to answer that question, Rowan kept his mouth shut. Neither lie nor truth would help him now. His eyes stayed on his boots and he kept his feet planted. All the while he was searching for a way out of his current predicament and trying to escape the feeling of impending doom that had settled in the pit of his stomach.

His mother scrambled to her feet, book clutched to her chest.

“Myron,” she called. “Myron!”

Rowan turned to see Admiral Myron pause, then head toward them.

“Your Majesty.” He gave her a low bow. “Your Highness.” A smaller bow was given to young Prince Rowan.

“Take my son to his bedchamber and make sure he stays there.” She clutched the book to her chest. “I have to find my husband.”


“No.” That finger came out again, halting the words he would have spoken in his own defense. “I don’t want to hear it. I’m going to discuss this with your father. Until then, you will stay where Myron puts you.”

Anger raced up his spine and he had to resist the urge to snap something rude and unflattering at the woman who had given him life. Straightening his back, Rowan stomped away, smacking a bush and kicking a few pebbles along the way.

Myron followed at a brisk pace.


Empress Arianna watched as her very-angry youngest son stormed off in the general direction of the palace. She trusted Myron to do as she’d asked, but she still kept a wary eye on Rowan until he was beyond her view. When he was gone, she turned away, green eyes sparkling with frightened tears.

Since she did not want to encounter her son while he was on his way to his bedchamber, she moved through the gardens and around the stables. From there she cut through a small wooded area, emerging onto a marble walk. Turning right, she spotted just the young man she was looking for.

“Payton,” she called, raising her voice so he could hear her.

Payton turned, saw who was calling him, and moved straight toward her.

“Majesty,” he greeted with a low bow. He also took her hand and laid a gentle kiss upon it. Only a few guards enjoyed such a privilege, and he was one of them.

Arianna waved a nervous hand and clutched the book harder. “Where is my husband?”

“In the throne room.” At her startled look, he chuckled and shrugged his shoulders. “I know, I know. He hates it in there just as much as you do. But he’s receiving those elven envoys this morning. Can’t do that in the study. Not properly, anyway, and we do want to impress the elves.”

Nodding her understanding, she let out a frustrated sigh. “Can you quietly inform him that I need to see him at his earliest possible convenience? I don’t want you to interrupt, but get the message to him.”

Her tone set off an alarm in Payton’s head. “His earliest convenient or as soon as possible?” He was her eldest son’s best friend. He knew her too well to be fooled by her attempt at serenity. She was scared and he knew it.

She clutched at the book again, unsure of how to answer Payton’s deliberate question. How urgent was it? Enough to pull her husband away from official business? She’d only rarely interrupted him while he was working, but she’d only rarely been this upset.

Seeing the Empress freeze in indecision, Payton took the liberty of placing one hand at the small of her back. He guided her up the wide marble steps and into the palace. Ignoring the inquiries of a nearby guard, he kept walking, moving directly to the Emperor’s study. He kept his hand on the Empress’s back while he opened the door and ushered her inside.

Closing the door softly behind them, he led her to the long couch against the wall. When she was seated, he walked straight to the sideboard and poured her a glass of sherry.

“Here,” he murmured as he pressed the glass into her hand. “Do you want me to send for Tristan? I don’t think he’s doing anything all that important.” And her eldest son might be of some use right now.

But she shook her head. “Just my husband.”

Payton nodded and left the room.

Left alone, Arianna sipped her sherry in silence. It calmed her nerves but did nothing to assuage her worries. The book in her hand burned, urging her to throw it to the floor, but she clung to it stubbornly. She watched the timing candle on her husband’s desk, silently begging him to appear with each flicker of the flame.

A quarter candlemark had passed before the door swung inward and Damuk, Emperor of the Abital Empire, sailed into the room. He saw his wife’s pale face and tense expression, but that wasn’t what worried him. It was the fear coursing across the bond they shared that raised the hairs on the back of his neck.

“What is it?” he demanded as he settled himself beside her and took her into his arms.

By way of an answer, Arianna released her death grip on the book. He caught it before it hit the floor, opened it, and let out a healthy stream of curses.

“Where did you find this?” he growled as he flipped a few pages.

His ire was already aroused, so she didn’t want to answer him right away. “It’s one of yours. It’s marked.”

Damuk checked the inside front cover and saw his seal. It was indeed one of his own books from his own private collection. Again he cursed, this time louder and more fluently.

“This was taken from the cabinet in our chambers.” He let out a sigh as his hands turned the yellowed pages. “From the locked cabinet protected by one of my own spells.”

“Have you lent any out?” Arianna asked, hoping Rowan had come by the tome by honest means. Perhaps he’d found it in the library or in his father’s study.

“Some, mostly to Calinda, but not this one.” Damuk showed her one of the pages. “This one details blood magick. Everything from how to efficiently gut sacrifices to how to weave death spells powerful enough to destroy an army. I only have it because my father had it, and he only had it because it once belonged to his sister.”

Arianna trembled at her memories of Cybil, but she quickly refocused on the problem at hand. “You’re sure this one never left the cabinet?”

“Not in years. And even then it was only to show Tristan what true blood mages are capable of.” He shook his head. “Should have destroyed the damned thing.”

He was so sure that Arianna had no choice but to believe him. Rowan had not found the book lying around the palace or carelessly left out on his father’s desk.

“Where did you find this?” he repeated.

A great sadness filled her. “I caught Rowan with it. He was in the gardens, hiding from me and hoping I wouldn’t notice he was reading one of the few books forbidden to the children.”

Damuk himself was rarely sad; anger was his default emotion. He defaulted to it now.

"Where is he?”

Cuddling closer, she ignored his rising tension. “I had Myron escort him to his bedchamber. And gave him orders to keep our dear youngest son from running off.” She grinned up at him. “I think he gets that from me.”

Clearly not amused, Damuk frowned at her.

She only blinked at him. “You do know that forbidding scowl has no effect on me?”

He shoved a hand through his hair. “What happened to…” There was no point in that particular conversation. “Never mind that. Are you sure Rowan will stay put?”

“If he knows what’s good for him.” She stroked a finger over the forbidden book. “How did he get it?”

Not having an answer quite yet, Damuk rose and took her hand. “Come.”

Arianna walked beside her husband, thoughts consumed by the book he carried. That book detailed magicks only the foulest of blood mages would dare touch. The very idea that her youngest son might have some interest in such things tore at her heart. The only blood magick she’d ever known had been wielded by her husband’s aunt, and that woman had tried to kill her. Oh, first she’d have used her as an incubator, but Cybil had wanted her dead. And now her own youngest son…

“Stop thinking about it,” Damuk whispered.

“How do you know what I’m thinking?” she snapped back. “Are you invading my thoughts?” As a mage, he was fully capable of doing so.

He’d have been offended if her arm hadn’t been shaking. “I would never,” he replied evenly. “But after thirty years, I think I know you well enough to guess at your thoughts.”

“And what are my thoughts?”

He dropped a kissed on her temple as he opened the door that led to their chambers. “You’re thinking about Cybil, about those things that still give you nightmares.”

Not wanting to talk about it, she strode into the outer chamber and moved to sit before the expansive fireplace nearest the windows. It was unlit, but since it was still warm in the chamber, she was grateful. Crown City was always too warm during the day. Kicking off her slippers, she waited for her husband to join her.

Damuk glanced from his trembling wife to the cabinet behind the large desk that graced one end of the outer chamber. Eventually he tossed the book on the desk, pulled a blanket from a nearby chair, and went to sit by his wife. She was stressed, and it wasn’t just about the book or the trouble they’d been having with Rowan. Their daughter-in-law was pregnant with her fourth child, their daughter was pregnant with her seventh, and neither one was having an easy time of it. As a skilled healer, his wife had been caring for them both. She was justifiably tired.

She was so tired that when he sat beside her, she curled up against him, closed her eyes, and promptly fell asleep. When he was sure she wouldn’t wake, he lifted her in his arms, kicked open the door to their comfortable bedchamber, and laid her on the bed with the greatest care. She turned on her side and he took the opportunity to loosen the laces of her gown. When she didn’t move, he realized she wouldn’t wake until at least evening. It was possible she would sleep until morning. He drew a blanket over her and dropped a kiss on her cheek.

Chuckling to himself, Damuk moved back to the outer chamber, closing the door softly behind him. He was sixty years old and he was still carrying his wife to bed. At least she was willing now. That thought made him laugh outright.

He spotted the book on the desk and all thoughts of laughter fled. He’d almost forgotten about it. He’d almost forgotten about Rowan and his most recent transgression. With a heavy sigh he moved toward the cabinet. In here was where he kept all the most forbidden material. Some of the more innocuous texts were kept in his study for any of his children to read, but the book his wife had brought him was far from innocuous. It belonged in the cabinet in his private chambers.

Calling a spark of magick to his hand, he touched the lock. He knew immediately it had been tampered with, and that it was Rowan who had done the tampering. Impressed, Damuk ran his hands over the locks. Rowan was a mage, but not a powerful one. For him to get past Damuk’s simple protection spell… he shook his head at the direction his thoughts had taken. He should be furious, not impressed.

He flung the cabinet doors wide and ran his fingers over the books within, studying the titles and counting tomes. Only Advanced Blood Magick was missing, and that one was lying on his desk at the moment. When he was sure all the other books were exactly where he’d left them, he exerted his magick once again. There was a hidden drawer he just had to inspect, so he magicked it into its open position. He slid the drawer out and reached inside.

It was immediately apparent that a few things were missing. The most obvious was his aunt’s ritual dagger. It had been used for more sacrifices than he cared to count. For many years, he had thought she didn’t have a dagger, but eventually her spells had faded. Most spells faded with the caster’s death, and hers were no exception. When hers had gone, he’d found the dagger hidden in a wall. As soon as he’d found it, he’d placed it in this drawer and there it had remained. Until now.

There were other items missing as well. A few candles. An amulet. Three charms he probably should have destroyed. A deck of cards that weren’t actually magickal but his wife swore were cursed. The only other thing missing was a piece of rock Damuk had found attached to his youngest daughter’s shift four years ago. Why would Rowan take that? He didn’t know of its existence. His daughter Calinda didn’t know about it. Even his wife didn’t know about it.

Frowning heavily, Damuk closed the drawer, shut the cabinet, and took a seat at his desk.

He picked up the book and started to turn the pages. He examined each page, trying to determine which pages Rowan might have been reading. Knowing where Rowan’s interest had been focused would tell him how to react when he eventually confronted his youngest child.

A knock on the door interrupted him.

‘Father?’ came his eldest son’s respectful mind voice.

‘Come,’ Damuk responded, trying not to sound annoyed.

The door eased open and Tristan stuck his head in. “Am I interrupting?”

Damuk shook his head and waved his son forward. When Tristan was nearly at the desk, Damuk kicked out the chair nearest him, indicating that Tristan should sit beside him instead of across from him. Tristan obliged.

“Where’s Mother?” he asked, leaning back in his chair.

“Asleep.” Damuk scowled at his son. “Leave her be. Between Marella and Jewel, she’s exhausted.”

“Jewel’s really not feeling well,” Tristan complained. “She really could use Mother’s help.”

The book shut with an audible snap. “Why don’t you try looking after your wife yourself for an afternoon? And tell William to do the same.”

Tristan shrugged. “I’m not very nurturing. And William just stands there wringing his hands.”

“Can neither of you take care of your women?”

“Talk to him.” Tristan was more than a little defensive. “He’s the one with four daughters he can’t control.”

Damuk raised a dark eyebrow. “And yet it was your daughter who broke three lamps and a mirror in my study just the other day.”

Tristan laughed. “Yeah, but she can get away with it.”

“She does look remarkably like your mother.” Which explained why he hadn’t cared about the mirror. He couldn’t stay angry with Ally any more than he could stay angry with his wife. “Still, you’d be well advised to marry her off as soon as possible.”

“She’s five.”

Shrugging, Damuk fingered the book. His mind immediately turned back to Rowan.

Tristan studied his father for a moment before leaning forward. “What is it?” When his father only looked at him, Tristan frowned and ran a hand through his raven hair. “Something is bothering you, and I don’t think it’s Ally and the broken mirror.”

Without another word, Damuk pushed the book toward his son. He watched Tristan’s green eyes widen as he flipped through the ancient tome. Finally, Tristan looked up.

“Did you just take this out?”

Damuk shook his head. “Your mother caught Rowan with it. He was hiding in the gardens.”

Green eyes blinked at him. “He took it from the cabinet?”

“I was just as surprised. He shouldn’t have been able to get around my enchantments.” The idea that his son might already be practicing blood magick was a chilling one.

Tristan put the book back on the desk and wiped his hands on his breeches as if he felt unclean. “I will say this. If any one of us would turn to blood magick, it would be Rowan.”

The Emperor’s blue eyes flashed. “I would have thought Calinda.”

But Tristan shook his head. “Callie only used blood magick to save herself, and she never spilled the blood of another. She might be attracted to blood magick, but her conscience wouldn’t allow her to actually hurt someone.”

“And Rowan?” Damuk knew his eldest son could be amazingly insightful when it came to his siblings.

“Rowan is a worry.” He tried to put his feelings into words that made sense. “Rowan is the jealous type. He resents the fact that he’s not as powerful as Callie or even me. He wants power, and his morals are a little questionable right now.”

“Because he’s an adolescent.” Damuk sighed and leaned back. “And adolescents want what they want, and they want it now.”

Tristan nodded. “And right now, he wants power. Blood magick might be the only solution he can see.”

None of that made Damuk feel any better. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Writing a Novel: Voice and Character

The term 'voice' is used in a few different ways when it comes to literature. Often it is used to describe the author's voice, the style that makes his or her writing truly unique. This kind of voice tends to be consistent between stories, even when it shouldn't be. But there is another kind of voice, the kind that doesn't travel from story to story. This is the voice of your character, or characters, and is highly dependent on the story itself. Character voice is inescapable, and it is vital to a quality story, novel or otherwise.

Character voice is a powerful tool for writers, and it is especially important when it comes to characterization. The voice, or tone, of a particular piece of writing gives the reader further insight into the characters the writer creates. You can't escape voice, even if you want to, because all stories are told by someone. There may not be a clear narrator (as is the case with many third person narratives), but there is always a voice, and that voice should be consistent throughout the piece.

Even though every story has a voice, it is easier to note when the story is told through the first person narrative. When a story is written from the first person point of view, you are reading the narrative of the character just as if you were listening to the character's thoughts. In first person stories, voice is usually easy to identify.

Third person narration, however, has far more variations, sometimes making it more difficult to notice the voice of the story. In some forms, third person narrative is just another form of first person, simply replacing I with he or she. Sometimes third person involves a neutral voice, one where the narrator is above the character, not inside the character's head. Third person can also mean dropping into the head of any character at any time. In many third person narratives, the voice of the novel is not consistent with any particular character, or may change to reflect essence of different characters throughout the piece, but that doesn't mean these narratives lack voice.

As a writer, you get to develop the overall voice of your novel. It is totally within your control. As such, it becomes a powerful tool in developing your characters, both major and minor. Too many authors overlook voice as it relates to character development, but it really is very simple. Start by checking yourself frequently. The story is not about you (unless it's an autobiography or a memoir). It's about the characters themselves, and the voice of your story should reflect that. Try to take yourself out of the writing and focus on the characters.

When you're writing, think about the characters who is closest to your point of view. If your point of view is first person, the character is obvious. Third person takes a little more thinking, but you are almost always closer to one character than any others. The focus character may shift if you're writing in third person omniscient, so pay attention to these shifts. A shift in focus character means a shift in voice.

Once you know who your focus character is, address the language you're using. Newer up in flowery language or lengthy words, but this isn't always appropriate for your focus character. The language you use should be consistent with the character in question. If your character doesn't even know what 'loquacious' means, he or she certainly wouldn't say or even think that particular word. Choose something more in keeping with the character you're developing.

This might seem like it applies only to dialogue, but that's not true at all. Your descriptions, your dialogue tags, and everything else should use the same grammar and vocabulary your focus character would use. To an extent, anyway. If your character speaks in gibberish, please clean it up. And don't make spelling errors even if your character would. The point is there shouldn't be a word your character doesn't know or couldn't pronounce, but your writing should still make sense.  Let the tone of the story reflect your characters, but don't use that as an excuse for poor writing or horrible grammar.

As a writer, you best serve your story by taking yourself out of the equation. In most cases, the novel shouldn't sound like you're narrating it at all. Your voice, the author's voice, should disappear in favor of your characters. This is a simple concept, but it can be hard to accomplish. You'll have to review every sentence, look at them with unbiased eyes. I don't pretend this is easy, but your story will be better for it.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Writing a Novel: Detail and Character

Most things in a novel are communicated using details. In many cases, the quality of fiction is equal to the quality of the conveyed details. Note that I said QUALITY. Not quantity. The details you choose to convey will determine how successfully the reader is able to put themselves into the story. Too few details and your readers won't have enough information to get involved. Too much and the story gets bogged down. It's a delicate balance.

This is also true of the details used to describe the characters in your novel. It is possible to go on and on for pages without imparting anything of any value, especially when discussing your characters. Think about the last time you asked someone to describe a person you'd never met. You'll get responses like, "He has brown hair," "He's five foot nine," or maybe, "He's got wide shoulders." None of that tells you anything important (and certainly doesn't help you pick him out of a crowd), so you ask what he is like. You'll likely hear the familiar refrain, "He's nice." Or maybe the opposite, "He's annoying." Again, this tells you nothing. Five minutes of your life you'll never get back.

Most people are really awful at describing someone in useful terms. Most descriptions are just too general, and generalizations are completely useless in fiction. Almost everyone could be described as nice in some situations, but annoying in others. These are not individual traits, and the art of characterization (at least in fiction) deals with the individual. So your job as an author is to make sure the reader understands how this character is different from all other people.

To accomplish this, you have to provide details that are specific enough that the reader can begin to construct that character in their own minds. If you do your job correctly, they should almost be able to see the character your describe. Every detail doesn't have to be completely unique to that character (let's face it, more than one person has blond hair, and many people shout when angry), but the combination of details should add up to construct a character who is immediately recognizable.

So how do you do this? First, choose the right details to convey character. Being scattered about it just doesn't work, and irrelevant details bog down your story. Don't describe the birthmark on a character's foot unless it has something to do with your story. Do they use the birthmark to identify the body? It is used in the plot in any way at all? No, then leave it out. A detail with no purpose becomes ridiculous. Make sure the plot is motivating you to reveal that detail.

Now that you've determined what details are important, you have to decide how to reveal them. Don't do it all at once because it will come off as a list. No one lists the specific details of anyone unless they've been asked to (which only rarely happens, by the way). Is a character's hair getting in her eyes? This might be a good time to casually mention her hair and eye color. Does she have pale skin? Or dark skin? Is there a casual way to reveal this (hint: Yes, there is)? You can always have another character notice physical details (as long as your using third person point-of-view), but again, only mention then if they're important to the story in some way.

When it comes to a character's personality, which is the most important part of characterization, the only good way to do it is to demonstrate personality. Use dialogue effectively to show how your character reacts to given situations. And if you've got any internal dialogue at all, make sure it reflects your character's personality. To do all this, you have to know your characters as well as you know yourself, so take some time to get to know them. Then you can impart the pertinent details to your reader.

There is a delicate balance when it comes to the details you'll need to create an effective and interesting character. Choose your details carefully, and remember that a detail is only as good as the reader who recognizes it and understands what it means. So be clear, be concise, and don't be afraid to hit 'delete' and start again.