realistic character development

Avoid the usual stereotypes

  • the doubtful Catholic priest
  • the tortured main character
  • the virgin heroine
  • the disbelieving police chief
  • the good/bad twin

Give your characters quirks

  • did he have an affair
  • use colloquialisms in speech
  • did they (she/he) give a baby up for adoption?
  • had a divorce
  • got married
  • sings off-key in the shower
  • first car
  • first love
  • first kiss
  • favorite food
  • childhood pets
  • what is your character passionate about? – politics, romance, the ocean, global warming, etc
  • 5 most wonderful moments of his life
  • 5 most painful moments of her life

The character is what you do when no one is watching.

How do you feel when someone disappoints you?

What scares you? What are you the most afraid of?

What would you do in this situation?

Read the obituaries. Real people have interesting histories.

Real characters have weaknesses and make mistakes. But if your character is going to do something stupid, give him a good reason for doing it!

Read a telephone book.

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metrics: thursday may 19

Midnight’s Heir [draft #5]

yearly words: 26,239

current music: (movie on in background)

opening line: Her knees knocked together despite her position on the sofa.

closing line: His ebony eyes narrowed into slits. “If I was home right now, I’d beat him up myself.”

reason for stopping: end of chapter

favorite phrase: She hadn’t known time could be so lethargic.

left to write: oh, so much to edit!

commentary: I don’t like the beginning of this story now. I’m going to do to it basically what I did to Midnight several years ago: chop off so much of the beginning and just start over from scratch.

metrics: friday, may 6

opening count: 10,495
daily count: 4,224

current music: singing birds

opening line: Adam said, “Yes, sir.”

closing line: As her blood flowed into his mouth, he groaned.

reason for stopping: I would have kept going, but I was wiped out – and it was midnight! way time for bed.

favorite phrase: “You don’t know what you’re asking me to do.”

oy vey phrase: The night of the party, he paced his bedroom floor.

left to write: until I’m finished. I just don’t know where this is going yet.

commentary: I don’t expect to write one of these every day. Mostly because I don’t expect to write every day, and I don’t want my blog / my website to become nothing but a long list of metrics that no one else but me is interested in.

I’m just happy to be writing again. Two years of piddling and nothing is entirely too long! I woke up yesterday morning, and it was like the dam that started in my head in mid-2009 had been broken wide open. I couldn’t wait to pick up my pen and get going.

It’s wonderful to get the words, any words, flowing and down on paper again. I’m never quite me when I’m not able to write. I missing my writing group last night after telling them, yes, that would be my first night back after a short absence. I warned a couple of members early in the day that I was writing and didn’t want to stop until I had to. Thankfully, they’re an understanding bunch.

At the time I’m writing this, I already have 4224 words for today (this post wraps up my yesterday). But I’m not finished, so I continue on!

organizing writing and research

This picture is an example of how I organize my writing and research files:

In the top directory, you’ll see a folder titled ‘FAQs’ – that is absent in the rest of the directories. That’s because I don’t use that folder any more. While Evernote was still in beta, I started using it, and now that’s where my writing/research notes go. Tremendous help – it allows the notes to be sorted/organized/tagged, and I don’t have to worry about losing anything if my computer decides to go belly up.

The “in progress” folders house each story by chapter. Because, as I’ve mentioned before, I don’t write in order. I write totally out of order. I write by scene, not necessarily by chapter. If a scene comes to mind, I write it down, or at least take notes. Everything gets pieced together much, much later. Some scenes get dumped into the ‘unused’ folder while others get reworked, redrafted, and added in where they belong – and sometimes are moved elsewhere in the story. Each story gets its own ‘unused’ bin until I get far enough along that I don’t need it any more – then those unused pieces go into the main ‘unused scenes’ folder.

‘News’ folders hold my templates – such as the notes I send out to readers, the contracts I use for permission to use my friends’ stuff, etc – reviews and notes from my readers, and anything related. ‘Pictures’ hold just that. Pictures. I have floorplans I’ve drawn, mock-ups of the new high school in Harlan County, maps and directions, etc. For Eventide, for example, I have a folder that includes pictures of downtown Harlan and Corbin from the 1930s to the 1960s as well as pictures of what homes would have been furnished with back then, what people wore, etc.

And that really is pretty much how I work. I used to work like this:

Then I got a laptop, and it started looking more like this:

That purple binder is my Harlan County Bible. (what’s a series bible?) That’s where I keep all of my working notes, timelines, calendars, Harlan brochures, the L&N Railroad passenger train schedule / menu I found, physical maps, and all that other stuff that won’t scan into Evernote. (I’m not going to take the time to scan a 3 foot by 3 foot map of downtown Harlan, for example; that would be suicide and counterproductive aside.) One thing I don’t have in that book are all the notes, etc, etc, from when I first started writing Midnight. I kept nothing. I tossed it all out. I regret that! All I have of that are the bits and pieces I did manage to save somehow.

I went psychotic last month and took my entire Devon Family Tree and plugged it into FamilyTree Maker. That was a chore. But now I can easily see who’s who and where and how everyone is related to everyone else – without having to scroll / flip through thirty pages of screen / paper. This proved a much saner way of dealing with it.

And I think that’s it, really. Questions? Answers? Beer?

family accents

[repost from Multiply blog from Nov ’05]

family accents
Nov 25, ’05 5:02 PM

Last night, I was heavy with the ink in reworking a crucial chapter in “Book Three” (still no clue what to call it – maybe one day it’ll tell me!). Yes, I’m writing this one out-of-sequence, as well; I learned my lesson with Midnight – I’ll never push myself to write “chronologically” again! When I finished, I handed Preston the pages to read, which he hates because he never knows what’s going to happen or what’s going to be said next, especially since that one crucial chapter in “Book Two” … He hates this particular chapter just as much, if not more, as the one in “Book Two”. (Honestly, I have to read both chapters with Kleenex in hand – and I wrote them!)

But he made some interesting comments that have my mind racing – I didn’t sleep much last night because my mind wouldn’t shut off (again; this is becoming more and more “normal” for me).

Anyway. He said something about one thing he liked about my books so far is how I have the Family organized, that the Family is very structured. He said that the organization of the Family has a White Wolf-ish city structure, but at the same time, the everyday terms and customs have a very “old Appalachian family” feel to them.

Yet another thing I did subconsciously, I think. I bleed words, you see, so I do things sometimes and don’t realize I’ve done them until someone reads my stories and points those things out to me. I’ve had a lot of “Oh, I see!” moments while rereading Midnight lately …

While I was putting “Book Two” together, I created the Harlan Vampire FAQ to help keep myself straight on terminology, abilities, structure, etc – the further I got along, I realized that the FAQ would be useful for readers of the series, so I posted it up on my website. I knew that the Family had to “be” a certain way. No group, no matter how large or small, thrives without a given structural ladder. A strong, long-lived Pagan-vampire Family requires clear-cut hierarchy and hard-and-fast rules. I guess I just have Anethdraeg [An-eth-dray-ehgg] worked out in my head more than I ever realized I did. (And perhaps it’s time to update that FAQ!)

Too, the bits about “old Appalachian family” … I guess it stands to reason since I grew up in Appalachia that my characters’ lives would be colored by that. Appalachian families tend to look after one another and are (usually) close-knit. (I say “usually” here because my own is anything but – but that’s an entry for my personal journal at another time! – and if you read there, you already know how it is, anyway.)

As well, Appalachian people have words and phrases that others don’t – and these vary from region to region, adding complication. I’ve done my best to weed out any “nobody from here would ever understand that” words and phrases, with the exception of one or two characters (Lynn, for example, from the prologue of Midnight; he speaks exactly like someone from my hometown would.) Preston has been a great help with this sort of thing. “Honey, I don’t think you want/need to say this here,” he’ll tell me. “Your characters sound like they’re from Harlan again.” (Which brings up a whole other issue – people in different parts of Harlan County have their own sayings, customs, and accents! Yes, even the accents are different!)

So, where am I going with any of this? I’m not quite sure right now. Just thinking out loud mostly!

how you know you’ve had too much midnight to drink

I’ve told some of you about how I’ve always had these dreams about someone(s) trying to kill me. Last night it took on a new spin, although going to sleep thinking about my writing is probably 98% or more to blame.

A bunch of us were in Corbin – and I have to assume that’s where we lived – and word got out that someone / a group of someones was after the Anethdraeg Family book of law. For some ungodly reason, everyone decided that I had to get to Harlan and give it to Michael who could take it to his bank and put it in his safety deposit box. It would be safe there, barring nuclear explosion or supernova.

This was a weird Corbin. It was more like Lexington downtown. But it was Corbin. And on Depot Street where the old L&N passenger depot was, there was a shiny Amtrak station. An honest to gods Amtrak station.

The idea was for me to Amtrak to Cincinnati, cab back down to Hebron, and fly to New York City or Boston. From there, I would fly to Chicago. Then Amtrak to New Orleans and on to Atlanta. From there, I would fly into Knoxville, then rent a car and drive the rest of the way in, on back roads, to Michael’s.

I hate to be cliché and say “it was dark and many people died”, but it’s the truth.

From three streets over, it took me and the woman who volunteered to go with me two hours to get from Poplar Street to Depot Street in Corbin. Much running, ducking, dodging bullets, and hiding. Then, just when we thought we were standing in the train station Scott-free, the whole place got shot up. We managed to dodge more bullets, someone threw us his keys, and we raced off in his car. I found the backest back roads I could find to get us to Cincinnati.

I have no idea if we ever made it. We stopped at one point at this farm somewhere on the other side of Georgetown, and there was a little dog there that someone had abandoned, and the woman I was with insisted we take it with us. All I wanted was a hot meal and some alcohol. I didn’t care about a dog. Wherever this was, the people were supposed to be friendly and give us whatever we needed and take care of us without question. The only problem was, when we got there, they weren’t home. I can’t remember if we dug around and found a key or ended up breaking in, but we did end up well fed, cleaned up, patched up, and back on the road.

The dream ended when we were somewhere just south of Hebron.

wrong impressions

Even after five years, it seems like some people are still confused by my vampires. So, I think it’s high time for a(nother) explanatory blog post. (See also, my bibliography page) For the record, the questions here pertain to Midnight.

I’m going to start with these questions:

  • What is the core of this story?
  • Who is the antagonist in this story?
  • What does Sami have to lose?
  • What does Sami have to learn?
  • The core of this story is Sami losing herself only to find herself and where she belongs. Learn, laugh, live – and remember that Darkness Doesn’t Have To Mean Evil.
  • Samantha Clark is her own antagonist. I know a lot of readers expect for some villain to rise out of the shadows. In this story, that isn’t necessary. As cliché as it is, Sami is her own worst enemy. She’s been abused and told she is neither wanted nor loved over the course of her lifetime. She comes into the story lost, depressed, and with little will and no direction. She believes her ultimate goal is to regain the life she had made for herself and had had ripped away from her in Richmond. If she can get back to Richmond, she can rebuild what she’s lost.Over the course of the story, Sami falls further into the darkness and comes close to losing sight of everything she ever was and ever had. She drowns herself in alcohol and marijuana to hide from the pain that awaits her in reality. That rope with the knot in it that she clung so tightly to? she feels she slipped off of the rope and lost sight of the knot months before, if not a year before, she ever came to Harlan County. How to get it back within sight and reach, she doesn’t know.
  • Sami has to learn that some things she thought were real aren’t and some things she thought weren’t real are. She had to learn that she does have a home, that she does belong, and that there are people in the world who do love her. Within the darkness, she must find herself and the source of her own personal power. Also there, she must come to terms with the life she ran away from and face her new beginnings.

Now this group of questions:

  • I like how “human” your vampires are. But I’d lik them to seem more dangerous.
  • Where’s the danger in these vampires?
  • Where’s their power?
  • Where’s their rage and conflict?
  • These questions make me scream, “You’re missing the point! at the top of my lungs until my voice cracks. But, like Sami, most people expect classical, Bram Stoker-like vampires. Mine just aren’t like that. And no matter how much people complain, my vampires never will be like that, either.Being human with human issues is the point. As I’ve stated before, my stories are more about ‘humans having a vampire problem’ than anything else. My point from the onset of the idea of Midnight was that my vampires had to be as human as possible. In my Harlan County, more danger lies in not awakening to the vampire within than lies in the actual becoming.

    From my own notes:

    In those who aren’t given the change to ‘become’, awakening may manifest in actual physical or psychological illness or even debilitation untraceable by the best of medical professionals to any one specific source. These people become empty due to their ‘illness’ without knowing or understanding as to how to fill those voids. Their bodies rebel, then, shutting down vital functions seemingly at random, filling the hollows with cancer, depression, or other maladies. These people sometimes turn to self-harm or even suicide.

  • As for their ‘power’, it isn’t the same as the run-of-the-mill, overused supernatural tropes. This is in part where the ‘paranormal‘ – not the same as supernatural – comes in.My vampires have their metaphysical skills tested during the earliest stages of their awakening. If they’re found not to be adept, not to have any Pagan leanings or magical skills, they are introduced to someone outside of the Anethdraeg (House of the Dragon) clan who will help them – unless they are found by the others first. If they’re found to be adept, then they are given some training, helped through the awakening process, and are adopted into the Family.

    Their power comes from their own metaphysical prowess, from what lies within their own chemistry, through their relationship(s) with their god(s), and from genetics. Some have more, some have less. Except for the Elder. He has his own basket of idiosyncrasies. As a whole Family, this balances out when they all have need to work together.

  • What rage and conflict they do have, if any, is what they bring with them over the process of being turned and through the course of the change. Anything they’re hard-convinced of, any vices they have, any deeply-held beliefs, they bring those with them into their ‘vampirehood’ (ha! I just made up that word!). And there’s what Stephen Young calls the ‘infamous vampire guilt’. Many vampires spend too much time wallowing in the regret of things they’ve done or left undone. Both Steve and his friend Michael Devon are infamous for their ‘brooding’. As for the rage? Well, some have that, but it more boils down to ‘genetic temper’ than vampireness.

Next, these questions:

  • Where are the compact discs, the Internet, and cellular telephones?
  • Why can’t Michael call a cab for those who are too inebriated to drive after a party?

These questions make me laugh until I ache.

  • On the very first page of the story, it says in clear letters and language: 1985 – September. Ergo people:CDs arrived in 1982, yes, but in the Kentucky mountains in 1985, we were still fairly clueless about CDs; we still had our LPs and .45rpms, didn’t have the hundreds of dollars required for a CD player, and were convinced vinyl would live for eternity.

    Cell phones. The first 1G (yes, 1G, we’ve come that far!) network in America came online in Chicago in 1983, and cell phones were gigantic and weighed ten pounds. I’m not certain when cell phones made it to Kentucky, but I bought my first cordless telephone in 1989 – they’ve been around since 1968 but became popular / more common in the mid to late 80s.

    The Internet. ARPANET came around in 1962. E-mail was born the same year as I was. Public access to either wouldn’t come until much later. While I took programming languages classes all through high school, I didn’t really know what a ‘net was until 1987 in college when I had my introduction to the VAX. Back then, it took webmail ten to fifteen minutes to go from my terminal to the one beside me; so while we waited, we would talk or do actual homework! We had our EKU-BBS, but even that took time. NSF released its sponsorship of the Internet in May 1995, four years after Al Gore ‘created’ the Internet.

  • This brings us to Michael calling a cab.I’ve also been asked about passenger rail service. First of all, passenger rail service died in Kentucky in the early 1960s – and it’s not the kind of rail service you’re probably thinking of, anyway. If we want to ride Amtrak, we have to go to Cincinnati, Louisville, Maysville – or gods forbid, Atlanta, Charlotte, or St Louis. So trains are straight out. The trains we’ve had in Kentucky for over forty years now are of the freight and coal variety. And there is no such thing as ‘light rail’ here.

    When I first saw the question about Michael calling a cab, I stared at it a few minutes, then I laughed. Out loud. You might even say I guffawed. Because only people who live in major metropolitan areas and / or who don’t understand how back of beyond rural eastern Kentucky is ask questions like this.

    Harlan downtown has a cab service, but if I remember correctly, it doesn’t do much service outside of Harlan, Baxter, Rosspoint, Loyall, Browning Acres, and all points in between. I don’t know their rates and can’t find them online (no surprise there), so I’m using Lexington rates as an example. Anybody who’s read Midnight knows Hensley Store is twenty-five miles from Loyall. Lexington cab fares start at $2.50, then it’s twenty-five cents every tenth of a mile thereafter. If the math was done right, that’s a $65 ride. I don’t know anybody in the real Harlan County who could ever consider such a ride, never mind not knowing anyone down there with that kind of available cash. The county is populated with people on welfare or Social Security (or some combination of both), and the majority who have jobs outside the coal mines work for minimum wage. $65 for a cab? Infeasible – even in my Harlan County. (See, I like to keep things as realistic as possible, and that’s not a crime. Yet.)

Now with that silly out of the way:

  • Is it possible to start the story with Sami meeting Michael at the party?

Absolutely not. That’s one thing I refuse to change. The story starts with Sami crashing into Loyall after a panicked three hour drive which started with her running away from her abusive boyfriend. This gives the reader Sami’s mind state along with other information that would be lost or too ridiculous to put in as asides or memories. I won’t cheapen my story or lessen Sami’s pain and experiences this way.

  • Why can’t there be more interaction between Michael, Steve, and Jeremy?

First of all, the story is set completely within Sami’s point of view. It’s called ‘limited narrator’. The reader perceives the story through Sami, and she’s unable to tell the reader anything she doesn’t know outside her own experience. If those three men have contact with each other and Sami isn’t there, then it’s impossible for her to relay those meetings to the reader – especially when she doesn’t have a clue they exist. The concept is very simple, and I have trouble grasping why it’s difficult for some readers to understand. I learned how to use this in seventh grade Language Arts class. If the narrator doesn’t know, the reader doesn’t know. “Limited omniscient allows the narrator to relate the thoughts and feelings of only one character”.* If Sami isn’t in the same room with Michael, Steve, or Jeremy, then she doesn’t know what they’re doing or what’s being said – or even if or when all three are together or not together. Therefore, it’s inconceivable that she could communicate that information to the reader.

  • Why is Shelly in the book?

Jeremy Bradford can’t spend all of his time at school, in band practice, or with Michael, can he? When he isn’t in scene with Sami, he doesn’t always run home to his mother or to The Market to Steve. Shelly is important to Jeremy, which is why he introduces Sami to her. The reader doesn’t see Shelly in the sequel, but she is mentioned and plays a critical part to Jeremy’s future. Between Midnight and the sequel, Shelly and Sami develop a strong, sisterly friendship.

The better question to ask might be, “Why is Angela in the story?” No, really. Why is Angela in the story? We meet her on the first page, and her name is mentioned in the narrative a whopping nineteen times. The reader never sees her outside of The Market – except that first night when she brings Sami’s car to Steve’s.

Shelly’s name is mentioned fifty-five times, and Sami has quite a bit of interaction with her as they build their friendship. Shelly is important to the story.

Angela is just a clerk in a corner convenience store. Someone has to mind the place when Steve can’t be there, right?

I think that wraps up this session. If anyone has any questions, please post them in the comments. I’ll compile them and create another post later.

* Basic English Revisited: A Student Handbook, 1985.