Blog Archives

Character Comforts

It’s funny, what comforts a person.

For instance, Big Bopper loves napping on the couch to the sounds of cartoons.

Bottled Lightning loves silence.

BoyWonder likes to sit around the dining room table with his family and talk, after a big meal.

Freckles McYoungest loves a stormy afternoon, curled up with a book.

I like wind…

An unremitting sea breeze on the beach.

warp-dogThe relentless gale that whips through a car speeding down the highway with all the windows down.

i always want to say "and my other brother daryl". anyone else do that?

i always want to say “and my other brother daryl”. anyone else do that?

An afternoon gust that cools the porch and blasts away the mosquitoes on a summer evening.

catfanA floor fan, pointed just right, that puffs up your t-shirt and makes tendrils of hair dance around your face.

I wonder if it’s because the first house I lived in, situated in a coastal town, had no air conditioning. But every room had windows designed to catch a cross-breeze.

Or, could be I’m just weird.

As writers, though, it’s interesting to think about what would comfort the characters we invent. For instance, there are times that I get a whiff of stale oil and hot engine parts, and maybe a little pee, which reminds me of the Paris Metro. Would that be a comforting smell to someone raised there? Maybe a character loves raking leaves because it reminds him of New England and maple syrup and red flannel shirts—and home?

I dunno. I ponder these things, when I write characters.

Hope I’m not weird.


Outlining VS Pantsing, Again

I once heard a talk by a lovely Kansas SCBWI member—whose name I wish I could remember—about Walter Dean Myer’s process. It involved lengthy and detailed outlines.

At that moment, I wondered if I’d ever be a good writer.

Trouble is, I didn’t want to give up the freedom of pantsing. The interesting discoveries you make when you just let ‘er rip.

I’m starting a new story and this time, I’m making the effort to get the bones in place, first. With the caveat that I’m still free to run wild and crazy when belching out my first draft.

Two memes for the price of one.

Two memes for the price of one.

I hope the extra time spent pre-loading the manuscript makes me write faster. And still gives me room for those Aha! moments.


Because that’s what makes it fun.

not another writer’s new year resolutions post

Geez Louise, I despise New Year’s resolutions. I never keep them, and don’t even remember what I resolved past January 3rd. Usually, along about October I find the notebook I was supposed to write in every morning, stuffed under the car seat or kicked under the washing machine.

Then I despair.

no more writer resolutions

Not this year, bucko!


I don’t want to generate failure anymore. No more promises to work on habits and goals that I don’t really want, no matter how many Good Writers recommend them. Instead, whatever interests me, I’m just gonna do it.

And when it doesn’t float my boat anymore, I will stop.

Maybe I’ll end up making the same changes in my life that a New Year’s Resolver does, but I won’t feel like I’m being punished, and I sure won’t feel guilty if my self-improvement ideas don’t work out.


characters make or break a story

I’ve been watching the TV series Supernatural for the last couple of months on Netflix.

Purely so I can talk to you about character.  *cough*

Supernatural is short on plot, shorter on logic. Shortest of all on production values. In my next life, I want to be the guy who stands around on the Supernatural set with a bucket of blood to throw on a wall right before the commercial.


And yet, Supernatural is highly entertaining. It’s in its eighth season, for crying out loud.

What’s the secret?

The main characters.


Dean and Sam Winchester are two orphaned brothers who hunt supernatural creatures. Sounds ridiculous, I know. And it is. But the interplay between the two brothers is fun, fascinating, heartbreaking and universal. One episode might portray the theme of forgiveness, something we all have to do at some point in a relationship. Then the next episode might play up the silly rivalry-banter brothers indulge in. And the next week the Winchesters might team up to stop the Apocalypse. Like I said, thin plots.


But the relationship between the main characters peaks and dips, becomes complicated and gets repaired. We care about these guys. Bunches.

That’s how to make your reader stick with your novel. Create characters who they feel attached to, and want to keep company with to the end of the story.


dragging revisions

Oh, I am the easily amused type.

I will play with the snow on WordPress All. Day Long. Move my cursor back and forth to watch the flake flow change as if buffeted by breezes unseen.

That’s enough alliteration for one day.

I love the annual WordPress Snowfall so much I changed by background to a dark spacey thing to make it show better. Sure, it takes forever to load, but it’s just until January. HUMOR ME.

I am still in the revising doldrums, very soon done. And that’s my testimony about revising today:


I’ve been three chapters away from finishing this revision for about, oh, six chapters now. How does this happen? Am I futzing around, going in circles because I don’t know how to end the dang book?


Am I fooling around because I have a fear of finishing?



Here’s what has happened: layers.

I’ve discovered several more layers to my main character, which twisted the plot a bit. Which is ramping up the tension as I near the end, and of course, will make the climax sing like an opera.

I admit I’m a little impatient to be finished with this draft so I can be on to something else while it simmers a bit, then start fresh on the third draft. (I do love my own work. *cough*) But I’ve read an awful lot of books with hurried endings. It’s an easy trap to fall into, assuming the reader is as ready to be done with the story as you are.


You may have been working on your novel for a year by the time you get to the end, but your reader has been working on reading it a considerably shorter time.

You’ve got to maintain the same enthusiasm for the story you want the reader to have.



listen to your characters

Yes, I am still on my second draft.

No, I’m not stuck. I’m churning out pages like a house a-fire.

My plot has evolved and a lot of my revising has turned into rewriting. In fact today a COOL HUGE TYING-TOGETHER-TWIST has come to me.

How did this miracle happen?

I spent time with my characters.

Character and plot are inseparable–after all, who drives the plot? Your characters BETTER drive the plot. If they don’t, if they are simply victims of an outside force, it’s not a book, it’s a puppet show.

Plot is not a series of occurrences, it’s a story that happens to a particular group of characters because of who they are, where they’ve come from and the choices they make.

Let your characters guide you. They know the way.


draft two

So I have the revised outline as my story will be.

My first draft, printed out.

My story bible.

Time to Boogie.

My next step is:

Read through the first draft with my outline as my story will be ,making revision notes. I write directly on the manuscript, add post-it notes where I think I might miss my notes, add those little tabs where I want to point to a specific line. I move chapters, add chapters, mark out chapters. I BREAK MY HEART.

This revision pass, I concentrate on PLOT, and to a lesser degree, pacing. Of course I will fix anything else that sticks out at me as I come across it: dialogue, voice, setting, etc., but my main thrusts at this point are plot and pacing. I want to get the story straight so I have a firm foundation of STORY for my characters to act and react in.

However, character and plot can’t really be separated. So keep in mind as you revise that your plot choices will be informed by your characters’ personalities and values.

Choices. You haz them.

now is the time when we revise

Dance, revise, it’s all the same.

It’s finding the rhythm, weaving the patterns. Making art out of good ideas.

Haven’t been around much because of some legitimate reasons and some lazy reasons, but I’m here now, kids. And we’re going taking a ride on the revision train. Let me punch your ticket.


My tracks might be a little bumpy, but no catastrophic failures are allowed.

I’m going to loosely keep you up to date on what I’m doing, not because I’m such an expert, but because what I do might spark something that tweaks your own process for the better. We’re all learning.

I write in chapters. Not everyone does. I have a couple of critique partners who don’t. (One has a BIG DEAL AGENT NOW.) I need the structure of chapters to keep my plot chunks straight. I also like the ZINGO of dramatic chapter endings that make the reader either turn the page as fast as he can or put the book down and go, “whoa”.

So most of my manuscript has not been printed out. Oh, it’s been backed up on the external hard drive, baby. If you don’t have a big-deal terabyte external hard drive bought for your birthday by your darling children, you should be backing up on a thumb drive or in Dropbox or Google docs or some Cloud of some sort. You can even email your chapters to yourself, the old fashioned way.

As I print out my chapters I remember that–oh yeah–I rewrote some of them, and have three chapter sixes, four chapter twelves…and I curse myself for saving them as, “chap6bob.doc, chap6toobob.doc, chap6imeanitbob.doc”.


At least I saved them all in the same folder. THE SAME FOLDER.

So today I will find the most recently revised rendition of each chapter, print and collate them all together in a physical file.

Because my next step is to go through every chapter and write on an index card what happens in that chapter.


%d bloggers like this: