via On the radio by Karen Vaughan. Presenting the funny and fabulous, Karen Vaughan!
Developing a character people will love or love to hate~
My character Laura in my series can be said to have “balls” but she has a tender side towards people who become important to her and will kick the butt of any bad-ass who gets in the way. Laura had an average childhood as a tomboy in her family much to her mothers chagrin. There is tension between mother and daughter as Mrs. Hamilton hated her singularity after her divorce and the fact that she lives in a less than upstanding neighborhood. Laura doesn’t take much guff from mom but shows up for dinner on Sundays.
Laura’s first marriage was less than stellar. Even though she married her high-school sweetheart, Lou the wheels fell off after a miscarriage and then she found out he was gay when he advertised this publically.
This is all backstory but it gives a character a three-dimensional look and the reader will have empathy and are more apt to root for the protagonist in matters of the heart and ass-kicking.
Give your characters either good or bad a sense of humor. The wise crackers make great protagonists or villains and breaks tension in a suspenseful situation.
I have given some of my villains some redeemable qualities as well so they’re not totally hateful. But when they’re bad; they’re very bad and it works.
TINY TODD CRAWFORD IN DEAD ON ARRIVAL was a little person embroiled in criminal activity but had a soft spot for Laura. Unfortunately taking her and the decoy cop hostage was not a great way to win her heart.
LEENA DUBOIS-BROWN/JULIE WRIGHT IN OVER HER DEAD BODY –is the daughter of a wealthy gangster and is used to getting what she wants and that includes knocking off the competition to her elderly husbands heart and bank account.
KILLER T. FORD MY UP AND COMING DAYTONA DEAD is a egomaniacal NASCAR racer with a bad case of road rage—fellow racers call him a whining prima Dona but don’t piss him off.
DAVE MEECHAM IS A LESSER VILLAIN THE SAME BOOK AS FORD—He unlike Ford has a few redeeming qualities which are revealed in a huge epiphany thus making him a not-so bad ass.
Every character needs a straight man—Laura’s is her fiancé Gerry or the homicide detective Gibbons –they ground Laura when she gets herself in a pickle. They are the ones she feeds off and turns to when things get tense.
Stories are either character driven or plot driven. Some writers will argue that there can be a bit of both.
This is good when there are rich characters and a good plot to carry them. My plots are usually quirky and most people who have read my books will know they are humorous but we have covered that already.
I have had plots where victims have been dropped on living room floors, face down in a bowl of cereal after being beaten over the head and in Daytona dead a car is the weapon of choice.
A good plot can be picked from either the headlines or ones imagination. I haven’t pulled one out of the headlines yet as most of them have been done by others or it’s just a subject I won’t touch with a ten foot pole.
I prefer to write things using people in my life as models or some experience I have had. I also take requests. For example my gay character Lou (Laura’s ex) had the same name as a friend’s ex-husband. At the time of her impending divorce she requested that I kill her hubby in a book but I didn’t want to have a second Lou so I just knocked off the gay man. I revisited the premise of using a car as an instrument of death since Stephen Kings Christine. The time had come for the plot to be revisited.
I love revenge plots where some ones karmic mac truck is set to kick butt and justice is served but in DEAD COMIC STANDING some very funny people die before the killer gets what is coming to him.
So the next time you are looking for a good plot for a story think outside the box.
To pantz or not to pantz
That is the question.
Whether it is nobler to suffer
The pains of outlining
Or fly by the seat of your pants
And write whats in your head
I have tried to outline stories that I write but I usually abandon the effort as it causes extreme anxiety.
I basically just go with what the characters say they want. If that sounds schitzy then I am in the company of many authors who choose to go with the flow.
There is always the great debate between writers who will argue for organization and outlining or just letting it fly off the top of ones head.
I am arguing on the pantzing side of the argument.
I sat down to write DEAD ON ARRIVAL seven years ago. It was based on a warped dream I had. How do you outline a dream? You can’t, not really. Sure you can write down ideas based on the dream to flesh it out.
I find outlining makes me a slave to a rigid story. It doesn’t allow the characters to speak if the writer is not open minded in the plotting of the story.
I don’t get stuck if I let the characters drive the bus. They know what they want.
I also ask people who have read my series to let me use them or aspects of their personalities or I ask them for ideas for plots too.
I started as a pantser and I will end as one. I plot as I go and create and change as I go.
In Daytona Dead I changed one character from a bad-ass crooked cop who was totally unlikeable to someone who suddenly grew a spine and a conscience at the same time.
This wasn’t planned. The character basically stood up and told me he didn’t want to be a jerk anymore so I listened to him.
I am still trying to work my way around this subject. I am kind of antsy about going overboard in my love scenes so I err on the side of caution as my significant other squirms at smut in my books. Sex sells right? How much is too much? Is it the degree of description that makes a scene border on pornography or is it the frequency of sex in a book that may turn people off?
If you’re writing romance or romantic suspense, the intensity of sex can be higher than a straight mystery. People are expecting steam and the more the better. I love a good romance and scenes that will send the reader to a cold shower but when they start talking really dirty and describing a lot using graphic language the writer might have gone too far if it sounds like it belongs in Penthouse or Hustler.
Sometimes its better to err on the side of caution and submit something tame. The publisher will tell you if you need to ramp it up a bit or take it down a notch depending on the genre. Your readers will let you know what they want as well as I was told my stories could be steamier for their tastes.
I find it easier to write funny over something serious. I have always been a smart-ass and it comes across in my LAURA AND GERRY series as well as my stand alone DEAD COMIC STANDING. Both my protagonists and my villains have wicked senses of what’s funny so it is interesting to see them face off.
Take the Kangaroo court scene between Leena and Laura:
“If I may address the court, your Honor; My co defendant and I choose to plead not guilty. However, as we know you to be my co defendant’s sister we request that you excuse yourself from the trial.
“And why would that be?” Julie was looking every bit the diva in her designer duds and four-inch heels.
“Fair trial in front of a jury of our peers, but what we are lacking is an unbiased judge; not exactly what you would call an even playing field is it?”
“I never said it was going to be fair. You’re guilty of sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong. Your co-defendant is charged with being a traitor, turning against her own sister and daddy like that, all out of jealousy of course. Delroy found out the hard way that you don’t mess with family like that. Jackie is taking a lot longer to get the point. She will, as will you and dear Sandy.”
“Yes dear Sandy,” I interrupted. “His only crime was falling for someone of his own age group. You’re just pissed that you’re out of the loop.”
“His crime is alienation of affection and adultery. He was schlepping the old bag while married to me!”
“You had an open marriage! He gave you money to spend as you please, free reign to do whatever and whomever you pleased, which in the real world gave him free reign to follow his own interests. If he happened to find a kindred spirit as he put it, it’s not your place to say who he spent time with. That old bag as you so ineloquently put it was a sweet eighty-four year old who loved the shopping channel, playing canasta and lawn bowling. She cross-stitched samplers for her friends. She and Sandy were involved with several philanthropic projects to help the poor and infirm in the city. They didn’t have the time to fool around as you so gracelessly implied. You wouldn’t know this because you were too busy spending your husband’s money on expensive bling, when there are so many people in Toronto don’t have food on the table or a roof over their heads. What you did was totally reprehensible!”
Judge Julie laughed at me here. “Since when is shopping a crime?”
“No, not shopping per se; your crime was hiring a man to do the job for you. You didn’t have the proverbial stones to kill Mrs. Peterson, woman to woman. No, you got a man to go beat a defenseless woman while she ate her cereal. Yes, members of the jury, the deceased was found face down in a bowl of wheat squares!” A collective gasp was uttered from the gallery. I had the jury eating out of my hands.
“Someone want to bring the court back to order and kindly shut the defendant up?”
Jackie was right beside me. “You go girl.”
My abductor stood up, ready to put me in my place. I turned on him. “Want another can of whoop ass friend?” I raised my knee to show him I was ready for round two. He backed off somewhat quickly.
I have so much fun writing funny stuff that I sometimes get carried away. I have to ask myself. How much is too much humor? Is there a balance between comic relief in a tense situation or can writers get away with non-stop humor if the story calls for it?
People always say write what you know. I should write my account of my mental health situation but there would still be a lot of humor. If it weren’t for sarcasm and attitude I would need therapy and bail money.
So a friend asks you for some feedback on a WORK IN PROGRESS. You want to give a clear and concise critique. Having been on the wrong end of a scathing review of my work, I came up with a few guidelines I use to give them. First I ask the following questions to the writer.
- Do you want me to comment on content only?
- Should I edit for grammar and spelling?
- Ask for the genre and age group it is targeted for—if YA you’ll know to watch for inappropriate subject for that age. Eg too much explicit sex.
If he/she gives the okay to edit you are free to have at it but be NICE! Always start with what you liked about the work so far. Feel free to ask for clarification about words or phrases you aren’t sure about. If you feel that there is something uncomfortable about it and can’t continue with it say so up front. Example you may not like the genre or the subject matter tell the writer so he can get some one else to read it. i.e you can’t handle horror or say abuse of women, children, or animals and excessive violence. Use humor when possible –Like “you had a lot of foul language and violence buddy, did someone crap in your Wheaties that morning?” The fact that you didn’t like the language or violence will come out but if he/she can laugh at the comment. Be sure to comment on:
- Setting—time frame
Alternate good and bad points –a former boss calls it a McMaster sandwich—start with positive, state negative and end on a positive note. Tact is important you don’t want to make the person wonder if he/she should give up writing. Most people know how to give feed back but my co-member in a writing group needs serious sensitivity training. Above all be encouraging. Even if the story is full of technical errors and holes in the plot assure the writer that with a bit of tweaking there is a great story to be told. Your relationship will be safe and he/she will feel like they can build a better mouse trap.