Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Time to Change my Ways

I’ll admit it. I’ve never been one of those writers who does character or story outlines. Most of the time, I have no idea what’s going to happen in my stories. I usually know how I want the story to end, but I have only a vague idea of what will take place along the way.

Lately, I’m finding that making it up as I go along is fine for the story, but it’s not always the best strategy for the characters. This is especially true when it comes to writing a series of books. When characters appear in multiple stories, it isn’t always easy to keep all of their details straight.

While the writer might forget certain details, savvy readers will not. If you think writers love their characters, that’s nothing compared to the love felt by devoted fans. Trust me when I say they will catch these minor slips and will often point them out, as they should.

In my last novel, I barely saved myself from making a character both the sister and ex-wife of another character. Something about the two characters was bothering me, but I couldn’t put my finger on it until I reread the story.

Guess what? Oops, I almost did it again! This time, I almost changed the age of one of my characters. This character had a minor role in the first book but takes on a more prominent one in the third and fourth books. Early on, he was easily forgotten. I happened to catch this slip when I went back to the first book in search of an answer for a different question.

Using the earlier books as a reference guide is often how I’ve operated. It’s been helpful and has now saved me from making two major blunders in this series, but what if I hadn’t needed to go back to the first book? I wouldn’t have stumbled across this mistake.

Considering this is something that’s bitten me more than once, you would think I’d learned my lesson. I’m here to tell you I have. It’s time to take my craft more seriously. My books are a product and it’s my responsibility to give my readers a polished product.

From now on, I’m going to draft outlines for all of my characters before I sit down to write their stories. Not only will it give me a point of reference should questions arise throughout the story, but it might help me to retain some of the things I tend to forget as the story gets further along. It might be a little more work, and it might delay the start of the story, but it can only help in the long run. I owe it to my readers to change my ways.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

You Named him What? Crafting Character Names

Not too long ago, I had the pleasure of reading a savvy blog post listing the do's and don’ts for the romance writer. The blog was serious but presented in a tongue in cheek manner. It had me busting a gut with laughter because I’d seen those very things done in the romance novels I read.

There was one thing missing from this list that not only needs to be brought to light but needs to be put at an end. Authors, can we please, for the love of all that you believe in, stop coming up with outrageous names for your characters? In most instances, the names are annoying but a few days ago I stumbled across two male character names that were so off putting I set the book aside and haven’t resumed reading it.

Somewhere along the way, authors got the idea that every character needs an exotic or unique name. No doubt they picked this advice up from some writer’s assistance book or website that said giving characters outlandish names would make the readers remember them as well as the book and the author. Maybe it will, but is that a good thing?

I don’t recall the name of the book or the author where I recently saw such offensive character names, but the names are burned into my memory. For some reason, the author named her male lead Tox and his best friend, Coin. These men were firefighters living in California both of whom were born and raised in the United States. They weren’t from another planet or another country. They were intended to reflect men you might meet in real life.

What’s wrong with giving your characters normal names? I’d much rather read about Ben and Jessica caught up in the throes of passion than Tox and Luby. And no, the author who named Tox didn’t have a female named Luby in her books. Oddly enough, the women were given nice, normal names of Grace and Samantha, making me wonder why she felt the need to brand the men with such terrible monikers.

The only time I want to see characters with obscure names is when it fits the story. If the characters live on planet Zargon then I would expect them to have exotic names. If the strange name is key to the plot then by all means use it. For example, if the guy is named Coin because his grandfather was a coin collector and found a rare coin the day he was born and thought it was a good omen it would fit. If the story is set in the 1800’s Hunter and Tanner are not likely to be names popular during this time and should be avoided.

Naming the characters is up to the writer, but writers please do us all a favor. Stop worrying so much about giving your characters far out names and concentrate more on the plot and storytelling. As long as the story is well written and engaging, I’ll be fine with reading about plain old boring Joe Smith.

Anytime I stop reading a book to say, 'His name is what?', I'm likely to set that book aside in favor of another.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Serious Side of Self-Censorship

No matter where you live, it’s hard to miss hearing about the attack on the offices of French satirical magazine, Charlie Hedbo. Twelve people died in this tragedy, journalists and cartoonists among them.  The attack was perpetrated by two men, who apparently did not like the articles and cartoons published in the magazine. They were heard to be yelling "Allahu Akbar" (God Is Greatest) as they carried out this savage act.

As a human being, this saddens me. As a writer, it also frightens me a bit if I’m honest with you. The fact that a writer could be targeted for penning something that conflicts with another’s beliefs makes me think hard about what I want to write. In essence, I’m considering the possibility that I have to censor my work to protect my life or that of my loved ones.

Okay, I know. What have I possibly written that would move someone to murder? If you’re a longtime follower of my work, you know the easy answer. I’ll get to that in a moment. First, I submit to you that it doesn’t necessarily matter whether or not I think the work is offensive. What matters is the reaction of the reader.

Every book I’ve ever published, whether in print or online, has been read and reviewed by someone. A majority of those who read my work react favorably, but there are some who don’t. Not surprising when you consider that old adage about not being able to please all of the people all of the time.

Those negative reviews make me think though. What if the person who thought “This book is a waste of miney and it’s free” was angry enough about its content to do something about it? Oh, and that was a direct quote from a review of my young adult novel Like You Mean It.  At the time, the misspelling of the word money amused me. The reviewer had the nerve to take exception to my story and didn’t even do it well. Of late, it’s made me think.

For the most part I’m a romance writer, including young adult romance, contemporary romance and erotic romance. Other than people taking exception to the copious and sometimes gratuitous sex scenes in some of my novels, there’s not much to make me the target of a terrorist attack.

There is one exception. For a moment, I considered not naming it, but that’s pointless. The novels, my Unholy Trinity trilogy, are already online, available for anyone to read. The tagline for the first book is “What happens when the daughter of a mass murderer falls for the son of Satan?” I can most certainly tell you there are some who take exception to my trilogy and remind me that I’m going to burn in Hell for writing such a terrible story. In the past the warning made me laugh, especially when a large number of readers jumped to my defense. Now, I wonder.

Is it time to take those stories down? Is it time to be a little more prudent with what I publish, particularly in the social media age that makes it easy to find people?

I’ve been thinking about this for a while and even still as I write this article and I’ve come to one conclusion. I will not fold and I will not self-censor. Not when the editors of Charlie Hedbo have bravely pressed forward to release their latest issue without wavering from what’s made them so popular. I will follow their humble lesson and keep them in my thoughts.