Sometimes You Write a Book. Again.

Sometimes you write a book...and then you revise a book...and rewrite a book...and rewrite it again. And hope, that in the end, it turns out to be something fantastic.
I said that in this post back in July, and guys, I had NO IDEA what I was getting into.

It's funny. You think you have it all figured out. You know what your story is and where it needs to go and how to tell it. You have a plan for the days, weeks, months it will take to get an agent and sell and have all the things you've been too scared to dream about at your fingertips.

But what you don't account for?

Sometimes it takes longer. Sometimes you have to stop, to re-evaluate your novel, to get to know your characters, to be vulnerable and say that maybe--just maybe--you don't know what needs to happen next. You need to ask for help and listen to it. You need to trust.

Sometimes, too, you don't account that this book will take you an incredible amount of time. And...well....seven rewrites.

That's where I've been.

It's crazy. Seven rewrites?! Like, change the structure or the motivation or the plot thread that ties the whole book together rewrites. Major things. You never think that could happen, but then it does. And in the midst of it, I found myself feeling like I would never get it where it needed to be. I wondered WHY I kept trying to tell this story. Why I couldn't figure it out. Why I cared so much.

But that's the thing. We have to care. We have to want to tell the story. Otherwise, why are we trying this? Anyone can slap a mediocre, cliche-filled, commercial story on pages and call it a book. But to tell the story we want to tell, we have to care about it.

Some days, I felt like I cared too much. Other days, not enough.

I wanted to quit. To stamp it done anyway because I couldn't anymore.

But I never did.

I kept telling the story. I kept fixing it. I kept loving it and caring and analyzing and admitting when I was stuck or scared or frustrated. I'd take breaks, like a few months ago in November/December where all I did was watch TV. But I did it. I wrote.

And seven drafts later, I can look back on that post I wrote in July and know I was right.
Sometimes you write a book...and then you revise a book...and rewrite a book...and rewrite it again. And hope, that in the end, it turns out to be something fantastic.
 Because lovelies, it is. I've never been this proud of anything I've written. I love this story and the journey we've been on together. Perseverance? It's a good thing.


On 'Shameless', On Writing

The best acting [comes when] you do it as if this is the last scene. There is no scene that follows. I've always thought that notion of 'You need to know where you're going' is a misnomer. I think better to not know where where you're going, and television is the perfect grounds for that. Just do this scene and then see where it goes. See where they write you next.
Can I say how much I love this quote? I mean, seriously. William H. Macy is so insightful and I don't think he means to be.

In this interview, he's talking about his new show Shameless. (Season 2 has just started so this is an older interview.) Shameless is a show that my friend Marianna introduced me to--and I love it. It's about the dysfunctional family of Frank Gallagher, a single father of six children. While he spends his days drunk, his kids learn to take care of themselves. It's full of intense, unsuspecting, wonderfully developed characters and a story that you can't really predict. Honestly, I don't really want to.

Anyway, in cast interviews all the actors speak of the writing. Of how they don't FULLY know their characters because as they go along more things are revealed. Justin Chatwin (Steve) even says in one interview that he acted the character one way for a reason and then learned the REAL reason and had to figure out how to connect the two things. Because he wasn't who he expected to be.

This is great writing.

Why? Because we're telling someone else's story when we write. Even if you know a character, how much do you really know? Do you know every single detail of his or her life? Do you? Because I don't think I do. I know what he or she wants to me know. I know what I need to know in order to tell the story. My characters rarely tell me everything. They like to surprise me in the best ways possible.

That's why I like William H. Macy's quote. Let's just tweak it so it applies to WRITING someone's story, instead of acting.
The best writing [comes when] you do it as if this is the last scene. There is no scene that follows. I've always thought that notion of 'You need to know where you're going' is a misnomer. I think better to not know where where you're going, and each chapter is the perfect grounds for that. Just do this scene and then see where it goes. See where the characters write you next.
Even if I didn't change those words, I still think this is solid advice. Since I am more of a pantser, it's just affirmation that you CAN write as you go and tell a remarkable story. You can know the basics of a character or a story and that can lead you. Sometimes it's overwhelming because the reasons you think a character did something may end up not being the real reason--and then you have to figure out what to tweak and move and how to explain away the first reaction. However, this is the thing that makes our characters more relateable: We don't always know the REAL reason for our actions. I believe our characters are the same.

I'm currently on this "I want great characters" kick in my television. Shameless is another prime example of a show that does characters--as well as story!--really well. I'm invested in all of them. It's a great study for a writer to figure out how and why characters work. And if you're like me and love TV, then it's even better. I think TV shows have some of the best developed characters.

If you're in the mood for a gritty, oddly humorous show with great actors, characters and writing--and you don't mind a little rated-R ness in your show--then you should check out Shameless. (I should add that it does contain issues of addiction and sex, so it's not for everyone. You should consult ratings, etc if you're someone who doesn't like that stuff before you watch it.)

Whether you watch it or not, remember what William H. Macy says. "Just do this scene and then see where it goes." Characters are leading, and we're all just following along. Mostly.

What are some characters that you love? Can you tell me why??


Secondary Characters: What makes them?

Top of your head....someone says, "Make a list of "great" secondary characters" who do you think of? (You really can make a list. I did.) Here's a few from my list, which includes TV and books.

Hagrid (Harry Potter)
Finnick (Hunger Games)
Bobby (Supernatural)
Alice (Twilight)
Mickey Smith (Doctor Who)
Matt (The Vampire Diaries)
Magnus Bane (Mortal Instruments/Infernal Devices)
Ethel (Downton Abbey)

Each of these characters are very different, but they all serve the same purpose. Let's make a list of what some of those common threads are. (You could even, if you wanted, make an individual list for each character.) I'm only going to use a few here too.
  • Bring some sort of conflict to the story 
    • Maybe this "conflict" is personal within the character's own arc. Maybe it's in direct opposition of the protagonist. Maybe it's more that it's a past reflection of the protagonist. Perhaps this character knows something that the protagonist doesn't or knows how to get what's needed. Whatever the purpose, a secondary character usually brings conflict. My main thought on this that every character is a person with his or her own wants and desires, and since he/she is a person, he/she is flawed to some degree/has something to offer--be that good or bad.
  • Offer support for protagonist
    • How does a secondary character add conflict and support? Well, two ways. One, there can be just a character who is conflict (antagonist) and one who is support. BUT even an antagonist needs all these things I'm listing. Plus, whatever is happening, it's happening in support of the protagonist's story line. What does that mean? Well, if I used Voldemort as a great secondary character, he would still fall under all these points I'm listing here. He's clearly the antagonist, but he's adding conflict--which ultimately builds Harry's story. Without Voldemort, we wouldn't care about Harry Potter. Thus, he's offering support for the protagonist.
  • Have complexity
    • Can you always predict/understand what a secondary character is going to do? Like...take Finnick or Mickey Smith. Can anyone say they new (insert Finnick spoiler here) when he did it in Catching Fire? Or can anyone say they new Mickey was going to show up when he does and do what he does/how he does it? I don't think so. I think our characters should be complex enough to surprise us.
  • Have motivation beyond the main character's goals
    • Again, this ties into above where he/she is her own person. This can add to the subplots and conflict and push the story in new directions, but I think it all needs to be very clear.
  • Have their own story arc
    •  This is the most important piece of all this. Every character must have a story arc. If all the things before this point are reached, then the arc builds itself. But if there is no arc for a character, then why does the character exist? What's the purpose? Does he/she need to be in your story? Because if they're not adding anything to move the story along (which is what arc does) then why are they there?
One of penultimate examples in TV. Each one: story arc.
This is not, in any way, all encompassing. And honestly, I know I'm not the only person who talks about this. In fact, check out these three posts about secondary characters: 1) how they add depth to protagonist 2) how they add to a story and 3) 3 questions to ask a secondary character. Characters are something I'm learning more about while I'm watching all the TV and revising a novel.

Characters matter. Everyone from Harry Potter to Voldemort to Bellatrix to Mrs. Norris (the cat). Make sure you're using them effectively.

Did you make a list? Who are some other secondary characters you've come up with? Do they (or the ones that you're writing) follow these "guidelines"? What are some other things that make great secondary characters?


What Makes a GREAT Character?

Like I've said before, I've been watching a lot of TV shows lately. Whole multiple shows/seasons just devoured since Thanksgiving. When I talk to people about the shows (mostly, Jenn who's watching them all too) I find myself saying things like: "The show is well-casted" or "The characters are so developed and intriguing." After saying that about five times in a week, it got me thinking.

What is about these characters that make me love the show? And how can I take these principles and apply them to MY characters? 

Everyone has an opinion on what makes a good character. I have opinions too--but is there some kind of over-arching thing that makes a character (or cast of characters) stronger than others? Are there things we should look for in our characters? And how do you discover the things that make a character stick out in your mind?
From DOWNTON ABBEY. Some of the best characters EVER.

Well, I googled. I wanted to find out what other people thought about characters. I also asked some friends, put out a twitter poll, and googled some more. I made a list of some characters that sprung to mind from shows, and found that my favorites share consist similarities:
  • They have more going on that you know at first sight. 
  • They have to fight for something. 
  • Are passionate.
  • Are layered with hidden desires, passions and secrets.
  • They have to step out of the thing they know and search for something they love.
  • They surprise you.
  • They have this edge to them. (Sometimes it's humor, violence, sarcasm, smarts...depends on the character.)
  • It's easy to root for them, to be disappointed or to be angry. Whatever the emotion, it's easy and it's all acceptable. 
Those are just a few things I noticed. And in my googling, I found this utterly fantastic list on this blog. You should check it out for further information. I really liked the 13 points it makes about creating compelling characters.
  1. Make a character exceptional at something. 
  2. Make the character care about someone other than herself. 
  3. Make your good characters do bad things and bad characters do good things. 
  4. Give your character a unique voice. 
  5. Give your character a life that bleeds beyond the page. 
  6. Give your character a passion. 
  7. Give your character an obsession.
  8. Know your character’s psychic wound. 
  9. Give your character an attitude. Understand how your character relates to other people. 
  10. Know what your character wants the most. 
  11. Know what your character fears the most. 
  12. Think about how your character’s appearance impacts his/her life and personality. 
  13. Give your character some ‘blind spots’
I found interesting that I tried to answer all these questions for some of the characters I know in shows that I watch. It was a lot easier to answer them based on TV characters rather than novel characters. I'm not sure why that it is.

I've recently starting trying to write out an answer for each of these for all my major characters. For my minor and secondary characters, I think there are less things to answer, though equally important, and I will post some thoughts on that tomorrow.

What do you guys think: What makes a great character? Are there similiarities in the characters you like?

If you're a reader: what do you look for?

If you're a writer: Do you agree to this list and would you add to it? Can you answer these for your own character?


Fictional Reality: The Things We Love Connect Us

I'm an obsessive person. I can read a book in a 3-4 hours if I sit and don't move. I can also watch a whole season of a show in 2 days. I've done it before. Once, I even watched 5 seasons of a show in a week. I know. I have issues. But I do it with books too. I can't handle the not knowing!

I love escaping.

I love living life too, that should be said.

But there's something about jumping into another world and another person's life--which is never how mine will be, good or bad, supernatural or not--and escaping. The characters, their dramas, battles, friends, problems, worlds. I love it all, whether in book form or in video form.

These stories give us a way to connect. And I don't mean with the fictional; I mean with real life.

When you read a book and meet someone else who's read that book, the door opens for conversation and recommendations of other great books. That's why we have book blogs--so we can talk about books we love. To start conversations. To build friendships with people who have common interests. TV shows do the same thing! You meet someone else who likes Doctor Who or Supernatural or The Vampire Diaries and you're connected. The things we love bring us together. This fictional reality offers us something else--something real--to stand on in our day-to-day lives.

I can't begin to tell you how many people I have become friends with because of books or television. I also can't tell you how many times I've read or seen something that completely destroyed me because I connected to it. (Examples: The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney and the movie Remember Me. Still can't watch that one again.) I think people underestimate the power of fictional reality.

There were studies done when I was a teenager about the effect that certain shows, songs, video games had on us. Did killing people in games make us more violent? Do shows we watch change our attitudes? Do I think watching lots of True Blood non-stop makes me say the F-word a lot more than normal? Yes, I do. The fictional reality of books, tv, etc. do effect us. That effect can be good or bad--depending on how we use it.

Me? I'm obsessive. I love books. I love TV--I could stay up all night watching shows. I have before. I love my friends. I love Tumblr where I get to re-live my favorite fandom moments.I love meeting people who like what I like. I like escaping for hours at a time. I think it's good to have a way to do that. Right now, for me, that's been TV. I've watched so much of it since November. So much. I can't tell you out of shame. Likewise, I have not read many books. (Addendum: I just read The Fault in Our Stars on Saturday. Brilliance.)

Why am I telling you this?

The things we love connect us. To each other. To new people. To new ideas. And even, to other things we love. I've learned A LOT about writing from watching shows. Seriously. It's incredible how much you can learn from a well-crafted show.

I've been thinking about what I want Frenzy to be now that I'm shifting focus from book reviews. The answer for that is still: I have no idea. But I know that I'm going to talk about shows. I want to talk about what writers can learn from watching shows. About characters and plot and voice. Whenever I get an idea, I will share it. Because the things we love connect us to other things we love.

And honestly, in everything we do, we should be looking for a lesson. Especially if you're a writer. Especially if you love fictional reality as much as I do. I need some reason to justify all the things I watch. Seriously. Two weeks ago, (it was a 3 day weekend) I watched all of Nikita (and loved it!) and Shameless (US version...but only a few episodes at the time), two episodes of Sherlock and watched part one of Neverland, which was released by SyFy last month. (A LOT of TV. And that's only a three-day weekend's worth. Heh.) Right now, I'm trying to read more. Hopefully that goes well---but man, I love television.

What are some things you've been watching (or reading)? Have any recommendations for me?

*PS: I may have made up the term 'fictional reality' so I'm not sure it makes sense. But I hope so!*


Multi-character Interview: Bittersweet from Sarah Ockler

Sarah Ockler has a new book coming out TODAY. I'm a fan of Sarah's work and enjoyed her first two books (check out my review for Fixing Delilah from earlier this year). Her new novel is called Bittersweet and I can't wait to read it. Check out this description from Sarah's website:

Once upon a time, Hudson knew exactly what her future looked like. Then a betrayal changed her life, and knocked her dreams to the ground. Now she’s a girl who doesn’t believe in second chances… a girl who stays under the radar by baking cupcakes at her mom’s diner and obsessing over what might have been. 

So when things start looking up and she has another shot at her dreams, Hudson is equal parts hopeful and terrified. Of course, this is also the moment a cute, sweet guy walks into her life…and starts serving up some seriously mixed signals. She’s got a lot on her plate, and for a girl who’s been burned before, risking it all is easier said than done. 

It’s time for Hudson to ask herself what she really wants, and how much she’s willing to sacrifice to get it. Because in a place where opportunities are fleeting, she knows this chance may very well be her last….

What's not to love? I mean, it's got hot hockey boys...and cupcakes! Anyway, I got to ask some questions to her characters--and a bunch of them took turns answering them.

If you were stranded on a deserted island, what three things would you want to make sure you had with you?    
Dani, Hudson’s BFF, says: 

1) My best friend Hudson, for sure. Ah, assuming I can tear her away from her hot little hockey boys. 2) My Nikon, just in case Hudson decides to bring any of her hot little hockey boys on our desert island adventure. 3) An unlimited supply of Trick’s corned beef hash. Party? I think so!

What's your favorite kind of cupcake? 
Earl, the Hurley’s diner regular says: 
Cupcakes? What’s the point of cupcakes? Can’t dunk ‘em in my coffee. Can’t eat ‘em straight ‘cause they stick to my dentures. But that Hudson sure looks like she knows her way around a frosting gun, so try a few yourself and let me know what you think.

How do you take your coffee---black and bitter or sugary sweet?
Hudson says:
I like my coffee like I like my hockey boys. Hot, strong, and just a little sweet. ;-)

Do you remember the first time you were on the ice? Can you tell us about it? 
Octogenarian and Olympic Gold medaling figure skating coach Lola Capriani says: 
Hey greenblades, did you drag my ass outta bed this morning to jaw-jack, or do you wanna learn something over here? Stop flappin’ those gums and start movin’ those skates! Show me that triple flip, or I’ll give you somethin’ to cry about!

What's one thing you've always wanted to do and why? Do you think you ever will?
Mr. Napkins the hamster says: 
I’ve always wanted to try Match.com. Don’t get me wrong… me and Bug? We got a pretty good thing goin’ over here. But sometimes I can’t help but daydream about special hamster lady, settling down, having a few hundred kids. But… sigh. Match.com is a pipe dream. My arms aren’t long enough to reach the keyboard. Genetics. What can you do? Hey, you gonna eat that bacon?

What are you most afraid of?
Shelvis, the female Elvis impersonator who has somehow achieved “soul mate” status with Hudson’s father, says: 
Wardrobe malfunction at the Flamingo. These babies don’t stay tucked in on their own, know what I mean? Uh, thank you. Thank you very much.
Describe your perfect day.  
Bug, Hudson’s little brother, says: 
First I’d invent a time machine. Then, I go back to the 1800s to observe the Civil War, skipping around to catch all the battles, and I’d take lots of pictures and videos and stuff, from all the best angles. Then I’d come back to Watonka. Eat some breakfast with Mrs. Ferris. Change out Mr. Napkins’ water bottle. Sneak one of my sister’s leftover cupcakes. Then I’d review my notes and finish my Civil War model, and it will be the best model ever, because I was totally there. Then I destroy the time machine so no one finds out how I got the war stuff to look so authentic. Then my sister would come home from work and she’d be so amazed that she’d let me stay up late with her and eat even more cupcakes and we wouldn’t tell my mom. Holy cannoli, you guys. That would be the best day ever!

Anything else you want to tell us about you?
Trick, the Hurley’s diner cook, says: 
Dani’s a smart girl, and I do make a pretty mean corned beef hash.
BITTERSWEET comes out today!! Get it online at Amazon or B&N or stop by your local indie store and pick up a copy.