Multiple character introduction makes me sad, and then, a surprise author visit on my Kindle! Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!

I opened my Kindle last night, and thought, “Maybe I’ll chew through that book some more that had the 12 new alien species introduced in 2 pages that was so durned hard to read.”  Note to writers: Introducing me to new characters is hard. I can meet about one a page, max, otherwise you’ve exceeded my name-retention-at-a-party buffer and I’ll be like, “whaaa? Who is this person again?”  When you mix that with making new aliens AND stick in a fantastic sequence where they’re all fighting, you are making me work really hard to read this book. I’m not a dummy, so I can get through it, it’s just that I’m going to have concentrate a great deal more to follow and I hope that the payoff down the road is worth it. There just a lot of clutter in the alien/character cavalcade. You feelin’ me here?

It’s the same effect if you have a bunch of new titles to learn in a made-up royalty, for instance. Just use Baron Earl whatever, and get it right, and it’s fine. Your fantasy titles make my head hurt.  I’m lookin at you, Edgar Rice Burroughs. (Who names their child “Rice”?) Kadar, Odwar, Padwar. Oh, I get it, you add a prefix to -war and get a rank. Tricky, tricky, John Carter series.

Anyways, then I see there’s a new book. Hey! There’s a new book! It’s from Leo Champion. Direct email to Kindle, for the win!

I started reading it, and of course the poor main character has a bad start (ship blows up) and it goes to worse within a few pages. I love how Leo puts his characters in a tree and then throws rocks at them. Big rocks.

So I read Leo’s book instead of the 12 Alien Book.  It was a win-win all the way around.

Character Creation Writing: Hidden Negative Traits

I was reminded by another author’s comment about the Negative Trait Thesaurus that one help for your characters is to demonstrate subtlety. All characters have negative traits. This does not mean that they demonstrate that trait all the time, or even under normal conditions. The trait may be lost amidst a sea of goopy nice traits and only come out on full moons or when the character is stressed or pushed. You can therefore have a character who is boring and dull and predictable during the initial scenes who suddenly displays their negative trait when bad things start happening, which it will if you’re being properly mean to your characters.

For an example, take nice little old ladies who have a streak of nasty racism. One moment they’re making pies and talking about “bless your heart!” and “don’t that beat all?” and the next moment they’re muttering about how them n—–s should never have been allowed to drink out of white fountains and sit at the front of the bus. Granny doesn’t go off until she sees the people for whom she bears this enmity.

This, in turn, can trigger other negative traits in other characters, in a domino effect. A character who preaches tolerance may express hatred for the racist granny, thus demonstrating the negative trait hypocrisy. We may never know these traits exist but for granny triggering it with her racist rant.

The subtlety comes by toning things down. If granny does nasty things without ever putting a reason behind it, that leads to confusion, though in her consistency, the other characters and the reader will be able to do the math and figure out that granny is a closet racist.

Maybe making granny conflicted lends credence to the racism, so that most of the time she’s sweet and trying to do the right thing, but it turns out she’s got some history where she was dating a guy of the race she hates so much. They broke up, it was her fault, and now she hates everyone. This sort of illogic makes stunning sense, because most people don’t want to face up and of course, unrelenting racism rarely seems to stem out of circumstances such as these, but that baggage can make her more interesting if we can ever get that information out of her.

Many of the negative traits are best leavened in the loaf sprinkled in an easy way. Too much salt ruins the bread. Consider the first few traits listed:


Some of these, done to the extreme, will overwhelm the story. A character who is absent-minded to an extreme is crippled and will weigh down the story with that aspect. It becomes the central part of the story when you watch something like Flubber. [Unfortunately, I cannot unwatch that movie. So sad.] In Flubber, the scientist is brilliant but extremely absent-minded. He is able to create new life and a substance in which the laws of physics do not function. In any other character, they would use the discovery to win acclaim and accolades and funding. With our absent-minded professor, he uses his discovery to help the college basketball team win a game so he can win back his ex-fiance.

Absent-mindedness is a public aspect which becomes apparent with little exposure to the person, whereas the addictive person may be able to conceal their addiction well, and it would take more penetration into the character layers to see the patterns of addiction affecting their decisions and their life.

I think the take-away here is that the negative traits you assign to some of your characters may not ever be known by the reader. You, as the author, while making your careful character studies in which you lay out the facts and intangibles of each, will know the trait and know that it’s there, waiting, like uranium ore under the basement, making the people sick without them knowing the cause. The negative trait may even be the driving force behind the character Goal.

Characterization Part X of Y

I’m currently reading Ackerman and Puglisi’s Negative Trait Thesaurus.  There is a wealth of data in there on the negative traits, and the book starts with a long wordy explanation of how those traits come about and how they fit with the positive traits.

I found me in there.

Yes, the Pontius Cominius Achilles heel. I found my major positive trait, and I found my negative downfall. Reading my negative trait, I was squirming and saying, “Yep, they got me.”

The big takeaway here is that I can see where you put combos together and get a tricky human. A nice, not-cardboard person who has drives, desires, wants, loves, hatreds, flaws, virtues, and is so inherently messy that the reader resonates by either squirming and saying, “that’s me,” or they identify with the positive characteristic and say “that’s ME!”  By messy, I mean that I can see where each one is being driven by their circumstances, their history, their natural inclinations.

I’m jumping between the characterization books and the Write Great Fiction by Bell. I like Bell because  he says you can learn to write and he can give you the basics. I read somewhere this weekend, wish I could remember where, that this whole endeavor was 5% talent and 95% determination.  How much grit do you have? I thus need to set some goals, and with my negative trait in mind–it really is my conflict– hold to a schedule and push hard.

This novel will be written. It will be fantastic. It will be richly characterized. It will have good structure, pacing, plot, and it will lead to a second, because you can’t market your writing with just one novel or readers have nothing to go buy after reading my first brilliant opus.  I will do complete characterization for my protagonist and three additional support characters by the end of this week.  I will finish reading Write by the end of this week.

Go ahead, comment. It won’t kill you.  And, um, it’s not because I’m desperate. Because I’m not. I’m NOT! Just comment. If you comment, I’ll be your best friend!  C’mon. I’ll give you a cookie! Yeah, I love the “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus” books, too.

XbyFri… Failure is NOT an option

Sorry, Apollo 13.  It is an option. It’s always an option.  Declaring this bold statement doesn’t eliminate failure, it just removes the mindset or drives it underground.

With that in mind, I have not delivered on my 10 pages by Friday deadline.  I am still knee deep in Write Great Fiction – Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell.  It’s been crystallizing how the structure is supposed to look, and I’ll be able to mate that with  The Positive Trait Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Attributes by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi (and the dark side, The Negative Trait Thesaurus by the same authors) to get a grip on the characters and their part in the structure of the novel, upon which I can hang the words.

The thing about XbyFri was that I was attempting to produce pages for Kristin Lamb to review and give me feedback.  While I value Kristin’s kind offer, I am not at a point to accept it. Any writing I give her would be stunted and lacking in the things I’m working on mentioned above, and that would waste her time looking at it.  I would rather use her time for valuable pursuits such as those who do have content to review who would benefit from her wisdom.

Give it a few weeks. I think that the understanding of plot structure will open up the whole thing immensely.

Go ahead, comment. It won’t kill you.  And, um, it’s not because I’m desperate. Because I’m not. I’m NOT! Just comment. If you comment, I’ll be your best friend!  C’mon. I’ll give you a cookie! Yeah, I love the “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus” books, too.

Infodumps and your personal opinions

I’m finding that I like to go back and do revisions on a piece as I go, rather than waiting for the End.

I look for tense problems, awkward working, MRUs, conversation that seems stilted or out of place, observations that do not contribute to flow of the narrative, infodumps (even microdumps) and the dreaded author’s opinion peeking out.

Using the cell phone standard which Dave Koster kindly tossed out at On Writing Dragons, the essence is that your reader needs to know only as much about the tech as an average ordinary person would know about, say, a cell phone.  We don’t know how they work, except you need a signal, there’s cell phone towers, and that’s about it.  Why explain more to your reader than necessary? An infodump or a pulpitdump both interrupt the narrative with non-flowing information or opinions which contribute zero to the process.

With that in mind, you wouldn’t write a story thus:

William looked at the phone in his hand. It’s amazing that this thing is a 4G phone and allows me to download so quickly! It was a difficult transition from 3G, but it’s really a great standard.

Yes, even in his thoughts, William is awkward. Some people think that way, but the average ordinary person might do this instead:

William looked at the phone in his hand. A text! He opened it. “I can’t wait to see you tonight, baby.”  This was unexpected. He didn’t know the picture or the name, but whoever she was, she was dynamite looking. Time to text back. “Where are we meeting?”  A moment later, the return chime signaled a response. “Who is this? William? I don’t no U. Don’t text me again.”

Raise your right hand and take the oath:

“I, state your name, solemnly swear I will not infodump if I can avoid it.  My text will only serve the purposes of the narrative. I will advance the narrative with only the information the reader needs. I will have my characters supply the information if I can, and it will not be awkward. So help me, God.”

You can put your hand down. Don’t you feel awesome?

Right, now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk about your politics and religion.

If you’re writing fiction, I should not be able to tell who you voted for in the last election. No special reason, although I don’t care comes in pretty handy for it. Your characters should not be you, and they should be written fairly. It’s no fair to put in a strawman and belittle the other side through your fictitious characters.  And there’s a fantastic reason why.  (“Why, Pontius, why!” you chant.)

Here it is. It is a disservice to the reader. I am not reading an opinion piece, it’s fiction. If you write your character beautifully, I may connect emotionally and maybe I’ll agree with their sentiments. That’s the beauty of it.  If you’re writing the book Pol Pot Goes to Hogwarts, then make me see through Pol Pot’s eyes and understand that even though he’s a vicious mass-murdering muggle, he still had a reason and a drive to wipe out thousands of his countrymen and then attend the premier wizarding institution in Britain. It isn’t writing a character that is easy to agree with that makes you shine, it’s the characters that are disagreeable and nasty and mean and immoral and who aren’t you who show your talent.

You can use a character as a mouthpiece, but we’re going to call you on it if you do. It’ll take your writing down a few notches and add it to the slush pile of average to barely adequate writing.  The narrow-minded villagers with pitchforks, a.k.a. Amazon laymen reviewers, will also come for your work with torches and burn it and you.

The next time you write and you start to pontificate, shut up.  Write substantively, eliminate the pontification, the moralization, and the opinions.  The only opinions I want to hear is your characters, and that done honestly. If the politics of the world you show are so messed up, let me draw the conclusions for why through the thoughts, speech, and actions of your characters.  I’m not stupid, and I will do the work necessary to see the entire canvas you’re painting without you drawing on it in black paint saying “see this part? Their politics suck.”