Guest Blogger: Adrienne Garvin Dellwo

May 8, 2018 at 2:39 am (Links, writing) (, , , , , , )

I”m happy to host a fellow writer who delves into the realm of the superhero story.  She has a few things to share about character development:

Some characters come to life in just a few words while others remain as thin as the paper they’re printed on. What makes the difference?

You can analyze the writing and learn a lot about description, dialogue, etc., but a key element of creating great characters is something you don’t see on the page. It has to do with how well the author knows the character.

In my upcoming superhero novel, The Hero Academy, I had to create a lot of characters and find effective and efficient ways to communicate them to the reader. Going over notes from someone who read an early draft for me, I noticed she kept commenting on a particular character. She loved the way he talked, his mannerisms, his attitude. He wasn’t even one of the primary characters, just a classmate of the protagonist. I knew right away why he seemed so vivid to her—he’s based on my son. I’ve known that guy for 16 years.

That proves a point you hear authors make a lot: you have to know far more about what you’re writing than ends up in the book. Building a world? You may never talk about the economy, the history of a region, or the particular lilt of the local dialect, but if you don’t know those things yourself, the world will be less believable. The reader feels a writer’s lack of knowledge and enjoys the story less because of it.

No matter your approach to creating characters, before the manuscript is anywhere near ready for an audience, you’ve got to know who those people are. Some writers get in-depth with their main characters before they start writing, creating character profiles, building backstory, even creating inspiration boards. I don’t do any of that. It’s not wrong, it’s just not what works for me. I prefer to start out with a rough idea and then let the characters take shape as I write.

My method does lead to more work in the second draft, but it also gives me some flexibility. Some of my best characters start out incidental, such as Misty Michaels, an intern in The Hero Academy. I needed someone for the brilliant neuropsychologist to bounce ideas off of, and at the beginning, I believed the doctor was the important character.

Before long, though, I found Misty more interesting and realized she could play a significant role in the story’s climax. As important as she became, though, she’s still in relatively few scenes and I knew she was underdeveloped.

Then came a call for stories. A group I’m part of, the Pen & Cape Society, was putting out its fourth themed superhero anthology, The Good Fight 4: The Homefront. It didn’t take long for me to decide I wanted to write Misty’s backstory. I had a vague idea about some deep, dark secret in her past, and I wanted to know more about it and see how it played into who she became later on.

I wrote Misty’s story, “Impulses,” and it made it to publication before the book. Homefront, which explores the day-to-day life of superheroes, came out May 1. (It’s full of great stories—you want to read it!)

After “Impulses,” when I revisited Misty’s scenes in The Hero Academy, I found it easy to add all kinds of new depth to her character because I know her better. I know why she hid her powers. I know why she went into medicine. I know the struggles that shaped her. I even know why she always carries too much stuff, which leads to lots of jostling medical charts and spilling coffee. It’s not all in the book. It’s not all in “Impulses,” either, and it doesn’t need to be. I know her better, so the reader will understand and, I hope, relate to her better.

A full 90 percent of an iceberg is under water, and you don’t need to go scuba diving to appreciate the beauty of what you see above the surface. So when creating characters (or worlds, or whatever), remember that what you put on the page is the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Much more is beneath the surface, and that’s the foundation. Without all that down there as support, nothing floats.

Many thanks to Adrienne for sharing her wisdom.  You can find out more about Adrienne and her books at her website.

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Let’s Blitz Again – October 2016 #12

October 18, 2016 at 2:21 am (horror, writing) (, , , , , )

1009298_10152926988355032_1593732102_o-editedToday marked my first rejection for my submission blitz.  It’s a story I wrote for a specific call for submissions and while it got a “maybe” for that call, after making it through multiple rounds of readings, it ended up a “no” in the end.  It’s a strange story with a protagonist that leans a little toward the anti-hero side of the spectrum, so it’s not something that fits in with every call.  I usually send it to calls for the dark and unusual.  It has been described as “very interesting” and “a high quality submission” but it never seems to be quite the right fit.  Considering the near misses, I’m not about to give up on it – so it is back on the “available” roster for another submission.

And today’s submission, a horror short, has been rejected a few times before but I’m giving it another go, sent off to another new venue.

Back to writing until tomorrow.

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Let’s Blitz Again – October 2016 #6

October 9, 2016 at 12:01 am (writing) (, , , , , , )

1277052_10153171332605032_768076155_o-editedI skipped a post because I spent last night cleaning vegetables I had harvested from the garden, but I dd get submissions off for yesterday and today and organized my “What I have available for submission” list.  Yesterday’s submission went out to a writing competition and today’s was another new venue for me, semi-pro pay looking for weird tales.

I’m still sitting at two responses so far, both positive, and I’m contemplating some ideas for flash fiction.  I also have a rewrite I’m looking at based on feedback from the last two rejections I got for that particular story.  They suggested my protagonist comes across as cruel, so I have to change it up so it’s clear the character was acting out of panic and not being intentionally negligent or just plain selfish.  Self-preservation can be a strong instinct – strong enough to override any sense of duty or loyalty – and one that can be hard to ignore.

I finished up the latest book I’ve been reading and need to write up a review.  I loved the final battle scene, with lots of action and great twists and turns.

Tomorrow’s busy, so we’ll see what I can squeeze in.  For now, the search for the next submission call continues.

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The Blurb on Other People’s Words – Hanna

July 8, 2013 at 11:46 pm (fantasy, Reviews, writing) (, , , , , , )

I usually reserve my reviews…or should I say “recommendations” because I don’t review things I don’t at least like in some way…for books. But movies have words too – otherwise they wouldn’t need screenwriters – so I’m going to offer up my thoughts on the movie Hanna today.

I just saw this movie, and in addition to some pretty fabulous cinematography, it was one of those stories where as a writer you grit your teeth and wish you had written it yourself while you enjoy every minute of it. It included so many of the themes that inspire me in my writing. It had powerful female characters, some beautiful scenes filmed in Finland involving reindeer and wolves, a bucket-load of fairy tale references paying homage to the Brothers Grimm, some delightful scenes set in Morocco and Spain, and a science fiction element involving children, experiments and genetic manipulation (most of you know how interested I am in those things). Oh, and there was oodles of action in just the right places to maintain excellent pacing for the story. As I watched it I was wallowing in cinematic bliss.

The protagonist was fascinating. She was skilled in many ways, exceptionally so for her age, well-learned with just the right mix of social awkwardness and curiosity to make her both interesting and a touch imperfect. She was intrigued by music, fearless, and had a freedom of spirit that some of the secondary characters admired or envied.

Now the niggler, watching with me, did have one or two mild objections regarding the action scenes. He hates the “head-twist-neck-break” manoeuvre common to many action movies that he says is “totally unrealistic” and he protested when one of the main characters did not grab a pipe as a weapon when he had the opportunity to do so (when the villain following behind him did). But otherwise, he mostly kept mum aside from agreeing with me that it was a great movie – and that says a lot.

I won’t offer up any spoilers. I’ll just finish by saying that this movie was heart-thumping exciting, mentally-stimulating, and artistically original – a rare breed in an industry that usually focuses on one of those things exclusively. It gets a big pair of thumbs up from me, and kudos especially to Seth Lochhead who wrote the story/script while in the Writing program at Vancouver Film School. This rates up there as one of my favourites.

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A Current Endeavor – Truth be Told?

June 23, 2013 at 12:38 am (horror, writing) (, , , , , , , , )

I just finished up chapter 8, so I’m still making progress, which is good. I’ve been following an internet debate as to whether or not a writer should offer up an explanation or background story of what exactly is the cause of the zombie apocalypse (if there happens to be one in their story.) The initiator of the thread suggested that the background story is not necessary and mainly exists as filler or the bane of the writer: the info dump.

I’m inclined to disagree.

I do think that an explanation for the apocalypse is not always necessary. It is dependent on the plot of the story, the characters involved, and even the length of the tale. I’m less prone to believe that a background story is required for a short story – there just may not be time to get into the details. A short story often captures a moment or a single event, so the kind of extraneous facts that belong in a novel just don’t fit there. But sometimes the story absolutely demands an explanation – it can be integral to the plot and based on the nature of the characters involved, they may not be satisfied until they have one.

There was more debate as to whether the cause is scientific or supernatural should impact the need for that background story, but I also believe that those things aren’t deciding factors. In either case the characters may never get the opportunity to discover the “why”. They may not have the knowledge base to allow for answers, and they may not have the time or the opportunity to go looking for them.

I also object to the notion that an explanation has to result in an info dump. There are plenty of ways to add details to a story without throwing it at the reader in one large, hard-to-digest lump. The characters can discover information bit by bit, digging for the details, or the plot can simply incorporate the cause, making it a part of the bigger picture. Personally, I try to avoid discussing any background stories unless I feel it’s important for the readers to have. In some cases, less is more.

I took a look at my published zombie stories and, my yet to be published zombie novel and the inclusion of an apocalypse explanation really does vary.

Palliative (short story) – no explanation. Time is limited and opportunity non-existent.

Just Another Day (short story) – brief explanation. Protagonist is not a scientist and her knowledge is limited to what she has heard/read in the news.

Waking the Dead (short story) – hypothesized explanation. Cause is integral to the plot and one of the characters is a know-it-all who insists on researching it as best she can

Deadline (short story) – brief explanation. Protagonist is not a scientist but works with them. She casually skims their research but is too disinterested to dig for more details.

Shear Terror (novelette) – no explanation. Protagonist is a pre-teen separated from civilization and technology.

What a Man’s Gotta Do (short story) – vague explanation. Protagonist is not an educated man and doesn’t really care much about the details. Knows what he has learned in passing about the cause, over time.

Escarg-0 (short story) – full explanation. Cause is integral to the plot and characters witness it firsthand.

Life and Undeath on the Chain Gang (short story) – no explanation. Story does suggest a supernatural root to the apocalypse, but no details given. Protagonist is a prisoner without any real exposure to the world-at-large.

Sleep Escapes Us (novel) – full explanation. Cause is absolutely integral to the plot and characters witness the events that lead to the apocalypse.

This should prove I don’t believe there’s a tried and true rule here. And in no case is there an info dump in any of these stories. The funny thing is, in one instance some of the readers thought there should have been one. That goes to show you that you can’t please everyone, because you’ll run into naysayers on either side of the debate.

I’m going to keep going with my gut on this one. I know I don’t like info dumps myself, they tend to read a little dry, but I’m a fairly curious person who wants to know the “why” if it is relevant.

Truth be told? Only if it should be.

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A Current Endeavor – The Importance of Failure

June 19, 2013 at 1:15 am (fantasy, Fervor, Sam, writing) (, , , , , , , , , )

I’m reading an interesting book at the moment that discusses the growing need for innovative thinking in our world. It points out that not only do innovators have to be creative and willing to use divergent thinking, constantly asking questions rather than just looking for the one right answer, they also have to be willing to try new things with an awareness that they are risking failure. A good innovator will fail, and often. The thing that makes a person a great innovator is the willingness to accept that failure and see it as merely another challenge – the opportunity for a new question…”How do we find a way around that next time?”

Failure can be a very important element to a story plotline as well. If the hero always succeeds, there usually isn’t much to the story. Failure builds character. Failure presents problems and creates conflict. Failure makes a protagonist someone we can relate to. Failure convinces us the story is real.

I was thinking about this because I work failure into my story threads on a regular basis. Sometimes my fallible characters are the cause of their own dilemmas, which is what happens to my protagonists in my upcoming Prisoners of Fate novel (Masters & Renegades #3). They are responsible for the accident that sets everything in motion, and forces them on to the path they follow to try to repair the damage they have caused.

Sometimes, like in my Fervor series, the failure is just the result of an unfortunate turn of events. In Providence, the latest novel in the series, the problems start to multiply for Sam and his cohorts. He tries to prevent things from escalating, but despite his earnest efforts, bad things still happen. With the spirit of a true innovator, he doesn’t give up or accept defeat, instead, he takes on the challenges as his own personal responsibility and he asks the difficult questions that eventually lead him to solutions.

But more often than not, what appear to be failure can turn out to be blessings in disguise. The protagonist in my “The Trading of Skin” novel, yet to be published, seems to fail at almost everything he tries. But when the truth comes out, many of these perceived failures are in truth just a matter of a differing nature, and not really failures at all – just a lack of understanding who he is. Once he comes to see his true strengths and weaknesses and knows from where they originate, he starts to view his achievements or lack thereof in a different light.

Failure is a part of exploration and creation, and both of these are necessary for tale-telling. They’re also a part of taking on the risks involved in trying to tell your stories to the world at large. You risk rejection, you risk criticism and you, will fail more than once. What matters is the willingness to try despite those risks, and the ability to pick yourself up and try again when failure comes your way – which will happen as you learn – with more resilience than you had when you started.

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A Current Endeavor – They Have to Grow Up?

June 13, 2013 at 10:40 pm (Fervor, Links, Sam, writing) (, , , , , , , , )

I never intended my Fervor series to be in any way YA typical. It wasn’t meant to be YA at all, with more of a “Lord of the Flies” vibe. But I also wrote it without any plans to write anything beyond the initial book, and by the end of Fervor #1 my protagonist, Sam, was thirteen. He hadn’t quite reached puberty, hovering on the edge. He had no interest in girls – yet, but that was about to change. I couldn’t ignore the fact that as I kept writing a second, third, fourth and now fifth book, and Sam went from thirteen to fourteen, now nearing fifteen, he would start having more mature responses. I have nine books planned in total, so there will be room for much more.

With Sam, however, things are much more complicated than with an ordinary teenager. Sam had never lived a conventional life. He is unnaturally intelligent, gifted in ways the average person would find hard to imagine. He had spent all of his life either being studied or on the run, and had a hard time identifying with anyone other than his direct peers. Throw telepathy into the mix and what will happen when his hormones and emotions start going a little crazy?

I did find a few ways of introducing some of the complications being Connected might create for a young adult into the Fervor series, without putting Sam through the works first. I guess I had to prepare myself for what would be coming. I also burdened him with a typical boyhood crush – choosing an older girl who would prove to be beyond his reach. Limit the availability of girls his age (who aren’t blood kin) and I could put things off a little more. But that wouldn’t last.

So now I have to let him tackle the real threat of romance, without sinking into the usual YA love triangles and melodrama (not that what he does have to deal with is in any way simple). I’m trying to ease him into it. He is clever and pragmatic and his mind is far more mature than his body or his psyche. That actually makes things more awkward and uncomfortable, not just for him, but for me.

As a parent I can tell you that watching your kids get to this stage in life is a real challenge, but apparently it can work that way for a writer and their characters too. Just like your kids, you can’t stop this from happening (aside from offing that fictional character altogether.) I guess I’m just going to have to grit my teeth and bear it. Hopefully I can nudge Sam toward making the best choices, whatever those will happen to be for him.

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The Blurb on Other People’s Words – Ghouls Just Wanna Have Fun

May 27, 2013 at 9:50 pm (horror, Reviews, writing) (, , , , , , , , )

That Ghoul Ava by T W Brown

T W Brown may be known for his horror but this book (along with his Dakota series) proves that he’s no one trick pony. Yes, it does have horror elements to it, but I wouldn’t describe it as a horror story at all. To me this was dark comedy mixed with action adventure, and the horror was just part of the decor, much the way it is with zomedies – only in this case the supernatural presents itself in the form of ghouls, psychics, revenants and vampires.

I did enjoy this story, although at times it read more YA than adult with the thirty-something protagonist behaving more like a teenager rather than acting her age. The youthful silliness did add to the humour, and I don’t think it was overdone. I would have like to have seen a little more interaction between Ava and her human sidekick and a little less bickering with her professional rival, but I suspect there might be a broadening of that relationship in later stories, once both Ava and her companion have adjusted more to their circumstance.

Overall, I have to give the story high marks for content. The narrative flowed smoothly, with clean editing and realistic dialogue. Best of all, the story was entertaining and demonstrated more originality then a lot of the typical zombie/vampire/werewolf books out there. “Fun” comes to mind as the best word to describe this book, so much so that I was disappointed when the story came to an end. I’m looking forward to reading its sequel.

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Love and Hawthorne – Dark and Dismal

February 21, 2013 at 1:27 am (dark fantasy, horror, writing) (, , , , , , , )

I started working on my post-apocalyptic crow novel (thanks to all those who sent suggestions – I’ll be announcing my contest winner at month’s end) and the dark and dismal theme reminded me of the stories that first drew me in to reading Hawthorne’s work and becoming a fan. The Scarlet Letter presents the concept of staying resilient in the face of adversity and persecution and becoming a better, stronger person for it, but it certainly is not a light and cheery tale, the protagonist enduring a great deal of suffering for the sake of love. The House of Seven Gables embodies a spirit of vengeance that will not end until love brings a conclusion to the curse. And several of his Twice-Told Tales have a gloomy plot that gives them a horror ambiance. I consider Hawthorne one of my darker classical influences and maybe that’s why I love his stories so much.

What you do find in his books, despite the dreary circumstances, is that the heroic characters in his stories show true perseverance, and there often seems to be an element of hope – a beacon shining somewhere in the darkness. I aim for that aspect as well in most of my darker tales. Despite the difficulties, despite the tragedy, I want to maintain some sense of hope – be it a distant saviour who is striving to reach my heroes if they can just hold on long enough, or a promise that tomorrow will be better if they can just make it through today.

The novel I’m working on now probably has one of the darkest storylines I’ve ever tackled and to make it even more difficult, I’m writing it from a first person perspective, something I’ve never attempted with a novel. It taps into many predicaments that worsen the protagonist’s circumstances. As a result of the devastation of the apocalypse, he faces illness, death from environmental factors, predators, starvation, bullying and a loss of almost everything he has known and understood. An underdog amongst his kind to begin with, he has to adapt to a new and incredibly hostile world and eventually finds himself separated from the only family and security he still has.

But it doesn’t end there, and once the character hits rock bottom without dying, the only direction he can go is up. Add a hearty dose of hope and some new allies after the character has refused to give in, and suddenly the story takes on a whole new spin. We’ll see how it goes once I get there and if I can get everything to come together the way I want it to.

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Adventures in NaNo-land – Dodging the Corner

November 17, 2012 at 2:28 am (fantasy, writing) (, , , , , , , , )

I faced an interesting challenge today. I discovered, much to my surprise, that a third of my current chapter involved an argument between my protagonist and a reindeer. It was one of those situations where I had the argument in my mind’s eye: a tense encounter where my protagonist, Oaván, was pushing for certain allowances, to ensure his love interest, Lieđđi’s, safety, but she was resisting rather resolutely (sorry – I love alliteration) because she did not fully trust him. The incident had to occur at night, because she had slipped away from the village while people were sleeping. But I forgot to consider one small detail. At night, this character trades her skin and exists as a reindeer – something that is particularly important in this circumstance.

So how do you address an argument between a man and a reindeer? – And I’m not talking a reindeer a la Disney who can magically speak her way around bunnies, skunks and the occasional owl (there is an owl in the chapter, but it’s only the protagonist who chats with the friendly hooter.) Obviously, it’s going to be fairly one-sided, but I found ways to make it work. It involves having the man talk to the reindeer as if he is speaking to the woman and not the beast. It requires having the animal make gestures appropriate to its kind, but somehow fitting to the situation, as if responding to what has just been said. And then, it demands that the man openly interprets the gestures as those specific responses, whether the reindeer actually intended to relay that or not. It was quite the enigma around which to wrap my brain, but I feel as if I came up with a reasonable solution.

I am a dedicated outliner, specifically because I like to know where I’m going with a story, but that still doesn’t avoid the unexpected altogether. My outlines are guidelines – they are fluid and organic and shift when the story demands it. Be it a result of failing to consider conflicting ideas, or having rebellious characters refuse to follow a certain path, I sometimes find myself at a bit of an impasse. Some writers would see this as writing themselves into a corner, but I like to see it as an opportunity to create an original way out. I won’t back-pedal and change things to make them more convenient. I find doing that degrades the story a little, offering an easy out. I could have changed circumstances and come up with an excuse why Lieđđi would have made her fugue during the day – instant solution, requiring a minor rewrite – but it would have completely changed the effect of a scene I had planned for the end of the chapter, where Oaván holds Lieđđi as she transforms back into a woman. The scene loses its impact if I’m forced to use the reverse, woman to reindeer, because I opted with the easy fix earlier on.

I hope to have this chapter complete and available on Scribd.com tomorrow.

Until then… J

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