BonusParts A to Z: Character

I took a poll a few weeks ago about what this “C” post should be about. Since I didn’t give the option of Cookie, Character won out. (The other available options – Cursive and Color – I’ll touch on in other posts, since there were a few folks who showed interest in those.) But for now….

C is for Character

There are already a lot of books and articles out there focused on how to write great Characters, and it’s not my place to tell anyone else how to write their characters. Instead, I’ll tell you about how I write mine.

Beginning Concepts

Every one of my stories starts with a main character, and the main character’s conflict. This initial conflict can be very simple, like a young woman finding out she’s falling in love with her teenage rival, or quite complicated, such as a special forces bodyguard trying to help his assignment-turned-friend escape the government conspiracy rising up around them. From that conflict, a personality starts to emerge. Oftentimes, it takes the shape of a voice, a face, and a manner.

My characters have very distinct voices in my head. Some voices come in accents, such as Seven’s clipped Ukrainian enunciation. That character’s particularly precise way of speaking, without contractions, created a picture of a big man with a straight posture who walks and moves with an efficiency of effort. That became his manner and his form. The third basic part of Seven’s creation was his face. He had to be a good-looking man but also scarred by his past. I made that scar physical and on full display on his face, in contrast to its secrecy.

With those three basic building blocks in place, Seven was free to grow as I experimented with dialogue, situations, and relationships.

Telling Their Own Story

No character exists in a vacuum. Story beats and other characters, both major and minor, have an effect on them. As my characters’ voices become clearer and more distinct from each other in my head and on paper, they start to become more fully-realized people. And, I do think of most of my characters as people. They have lives before I pick them up, and they have lives that continue after I let them go. (The ones I don’t kill do, anyway.)

I’m a firm believer in letting characters run as free as they can. Of course, a story has to follow a plot, and a writer can’t let a plot get away from them. But there have definitely been times when a character’s voice has been so powerful that I’ve had to change the story to suit them. For example, in my Persona 4 story 1 More Chance!, Yukiko was originally going to marry Kou, as laid out at the start of the story. But as I began to write more of Yukiko, her own voice usurped my previously-laid plans, and she revolted against those plans. That led to a completely unexpected fourth arc of the story that I personally think works better than my original outline.

What Did We Learn?

My characters rarely start out as traditional archetypes. They may become that – or come closer to that – over their time in my stories, but I prefer to create not from a distinctive mold but from an amorphous and changeable possibility. To me, that’s what makes these characters people.

But what about you? How do you create your characters? Let me know in the comments or on social media!

 

[Pen Write] Darling Interlude

Free Writing Fun

A sex scene (sort of) incoming...

Conflicting schedules and

demanding responsibilities made their personal time precious, so when they did have the opportunity for lovemaking, they made the most of it. No fussing with witty foreplay or coy dancing around the subject. When he’d knocked on her door that evening, announcing his arrival with a subdued clearing of his throat, she’d yanked the door open in only her dressing gown, snatched him by his tie, and hauled him inside in one swift progression, silencing any potential protest with the press of her lips. He’d fumbled out of his suit like a clumsy schoolboy, matching her nakedness quickly if not gracefully.

Once in her bed, he was careful not to huff on top of her, worrying she’d think him a beast. Not that she was any waif or naif! She clutched his hand over her breast and knew how to angle her hips so his single-minded thrusting would hit the spot of her utmost pleasure. When he crested the ridge of his first coming, he wasn’t alone: she tensed and shuddered with him.

The second time, after compliments and cigarettes, she pushed him to his back so he could watch her writhe until the temptation of her rigid nipples became too much for his resolve, and he lunged up to latch his mouth to one and then the other while she squeezed her powerful thighs around him like a vise. They had to stop when their bucking threatened the bolts on the bedframe, leading to a paranoid pause that they soon broke with laughter. Their rolling began afresh then, and they found a gentler mutual rhythm that pushed them to that well-sought point of trembling, blinding joy.

Settling side-by-side, they traded whispered nothings to the ticking of the bedside clock. Tender kisses and dallying caresses conspired to bring them together for a third time, though this one was measured and slow despite the evaporating minutes.

 

She eased away, too soon,

leaving him with the expected explanation of needing to freshen up before work. He lingered in her bed, faintly drowsing to the smell of the sheets, sweat, and sex. Though, when the water to the shower cut off, he lurched up to get a few final moments with her.

She stood in front of the mirror in a simple white slip that fit her body like a lady’s opera glove, applying a sweet-smelling lotion to her face, neck, and chest. Her eyes flashed to his reflection. “You want to use the shower?”

“I’ll shower at home,”

he said as he came behind her.

She snickered. “Are you sure? You’re rank.”

“Well, you smell beautiful.” He wound his arms around her and pulled her close with a lascivious growl. “Just rub on me a bit.”

“Jim!” Her laugh became a clicking scold. “My shift starts in less than an hour.”

He held on and dipped his nose into her thick fall of hair, still loose and flowing from her crown. “Bugger your shift,” he mumbled there. “I haven’t seen you all week!”

Her willing humor dissipated with a blink. “That’s not fair. You could have come by earlier.”

“I couldn’t have, though!” he protested as she slipped free and away back into the bedroom, to collect her hairbrush. “Chief ordered us out to a round at The Ram’s Head, and I couldn’t well say no, now, could I?”

She stopped and gave him a blank stare. “He ordered?”

He adjusted his shoulders; that look of hers had a way of making him feel vulnerable. Doubly so since he was standing there without even his pants. “Well, maybe not ordered.”

She nodded and started brushing. “Ah hah.”

“It’s a political thing.”

“Since when are you so engaged in office politics?”

“Since the last time they passed me over for promotion for not playing their bloody game!”

“Don’t get angry at me for that,” she snapped with the head of her brush, then returned to grooming.

He clamped his mouth shut and

lowered his head. Drawing a cleansing breath, he followed her to the modest vanity set across from the bed and said, half-pleading, “I don’t want to be stuck a sergeant for the rest of my life. I’m good at this job! But I consistently go unrecognized because they think I’m too clever, or too keen, or too—”

“Or too much a sarcastic know-all?”

“You know what it’s like. You complain to me all the time about being kept on bedpan and sponge-bath duty.”

She whirled again, brandishing the brush in her hand like a schoolteacher’s pointer. “Yes, that is frustrating. But what I have to put up with is not at all the same as what you get yourself into by being a confrontational horse’s ass!” She resumed brushing again, firmly and mutely, her long black hair a stark contrast to the white of her slip.

He released a long breath and laid his hands on her shoulders. They looked almost as colorless against her flesh as did her slip.

“I’m sorry, Rose,” he murmured. “You’re right. I am a horse’s ass.”

The brushing slowed but she made no reply. After a pause, he dropped his head and blew a soft whinny against her crown. That, at least, elicited a chortle, and she told him, “You’re doing the wrong end.”

He smiled at her tolerance. “Make you coffee?”

She bobbed her head. “Yes, please.” As he shifted away, she slapped his buttock with the head of her brush. “And put your pants on.”

He sent her his cheekiest smirk over his shoulder and swaggered into her kitchen, leaving his clothes untouched.

Half an hour later, sitting rumpled but

relaxed in her car, he took the opportunity of a red light near the city centre to say, “Policeman’s ball is next month. Would you like to go with me?”

She turned to him with a cautiously curious look in her large brown eyes. “That’s an awfully important political event, isn’t it?”

“It’s also boring as hell. Or, it will be, without you.”

As she faced front to move through the green light, he caught the subtle crease of a dimple. “Will you dance with me?”

He kept watching her and smiled, too. “If you’re brave enough.”

She chuckled and let the car drift to a stop before the traffic circle that would take her on to the hospital. “I’ll wear boots.”

“I’ll try to practice. Thanks for the ride,” he said, and stretched over to press a quick kiss to her cheek.

“Get some sleep!” she told him before he’d finished sliding out from the car.

As if sleep would come to him with her scent still in his nostrils and the taste of her skin still on his tongue and the sensation of her smooth skin still tingling his fingers…! But as he clomped into his quiet, solitary flat, leaving his suit coat draped over the door handle and his keys on the kitchen counter, and made his way to the bed, he barely got his feet up before he fell into a fast and dreamless sleep.

Origins

I originally wrote this sort-of sex scene as a handwriting exercise, letting the words flow freely from my pen to the page during a commute trip. As the words kept coming, though, I sensed the beginnings of a larger story starting to develop. I was already semi-familiar with the characters of Jim and Rose, but this scene solidified them more clearly to me. Before, they were simply sketches. With this, they’re coming into their own. I’ve already written more for them, a continuation of their prospective larger story that looks at a larger cast, higher stakes, and maybe even a mystery or two.

If this little scene piqued your interest, let me know in the comments below! I’m curious to learn if others are as curious to tread farther into Jim and Rose’s world as I am.

Farewell, Pugsley

Farewell, Pugsley

On February 4, 2020, we said goodbye to our almost-18-year-old cat, Pugsley.

 

Saying Goodbye

Along with her sister Wednesday (who passed away a few years ago), Pugsley came to us as a kitten. She was a feisty but sweet little cat her whole life. Late last week, she started to signal to us that she was ready to leave all this earthly BS behind. Rather than let her deteriorate into a painful or frightening existence, we elected to let her go peacefully at home, among the people and things she loved most.

Thank you to the staff at The Cat Hospital of Media, especially Dr. Kersting, who gave her such compassionate care, and Dr. Peltz and Val, who were so gentle and patient with her in her final moments. It was a blessing to be able to keep her at home until the end.

 

The Little Princess

Love always

We’ll miss you, Puggles. You’re with your sis, now, over that rainbow bridge, running and jumping with the speed and grace that you had when you were a kitten, and keeping watch over us the same as you did when you were by our sides.

Feline Care

We recommend the Cat Hospital of Media for superior feline care.
https://www.thecathospitalofmedia.com/

BonusParts A to Z: Baddies

Baddies

 

BonusParts from A to Z

B: BADDIES

For this entry into the BonusParts A to Z, I’m looking at the Baddies: types, ones I’ve enjoyed, and a few specific examples to hopefully tease some interest.

What’s a Baddie?

Generally speaking, baddies are the bad guys (or gals, or nonbinary individuals) who create conflict within my stories. Not every baddie is evil, though. Sure, some are nefarious villains, but others are simply rivals or foils. They are characters of their own, meaning they can have their own backstory, their own moral code, even their own objective within the story.

The Baddie’s purpose is to offer a point of contrast to the Hero. They are an obstacle to a goal. This can range from a charming challenger for a love interest’s affections to a sadistic crazy person out to destroy all of humanity. It all depends on the story.

 

She recalled the mysterious stranger in the grimy duster. “Is he a bad guy?”

“‘Bad’ is relative,” the man told her.

“Well, what’s he like?”

“Traitorous, sadistic, egocentric.” He sniffed. “Atrocious table manners.”

A Baddie’s badness level often relates to the overall stakes of the story. Your average Romance probably won’t have a baddie who is a serial killer. By the same token, you wouldn’t expect a Thriller to have a baddie whose primary role was as a romantic rival. I’m not saying you can’t have a serial killer who isn’t also a romantic rival, but the stakes need to add up appropriately for the primary genre you’re writing in.

 

My Baddies and Me

 

For a long time, I argued against the necessity of baddies. I thought non-corporeal sources of conflict – societal discrimination, accidents, familial responsibilities – could be enough to propel a story forward. The problem is that conflict against something intangible like social mores or a car accident can only go so far. Instead, these kinds of intangibles initiate reactions in characters that then manifest as more personalized conflicts: the potential lovebirds facing prejudice due to their racial differences. The hero battling his demons of self-doubt. The heroine trying to reconcile her relationships with her traditional family and her nouveau riche boyfriend.

It wasn’t until I looked back on these stories (Sixes and Sevens, Fearless, and 1 More Chance!, respectively) that I realized that a story’s baddies could reside within my goodies. Totally valid, and lots of fun to write. But not as much fun as an actual Baddie.

A Rundown of Recent Baddies

I’m going to highlight some examples of baddies in my novella, Number Seven and the Life Left Behind, which anyone can read if they so choose. [Purchase link; opens in a new tab.] The story’s main protagonist, Number Seven, encounters a few different types of antagonists throughout his adventure:

  • Number Fourteen is an adversary to Seven. She does her job, but she does it with cruelty, and she’s got a pretty mean streak. She’s designed to be unlikable.
  • Number Twelve is a counterpoint to Seven. He’s a jaded professional who doesn’t really care about anything anymore. I created him to show that Seven’s working world is full of a lot of different people, and not everyone who disagrees with him has been corrupted. Some of them are just tired.
  • Number Nine is Seven’s rival, of sorts. She’s as good if not better an agent as he is, though she is portrayed as being more severe. She’s a foil to his endeavors. I wanted her to be a competent but frustrated woman fighting for respect in a predominantly man’s world. Seven doesn’t see her as an enemy except for the situation they’re in, and that’s what really makes her dangerous.
  • Number Two is the story’s straight-up villain. He’s Seven’s opposite in nearly every way. He’s vindictive, malicious, manipulative, and pompous, a man who will allow or do anything for sake of the grand plan, no matter who it hurts or how.

Not only did these characters serve separate purposes, they also offered diverse perspectives on the world in which the hero lives. And they were all a sheer delight to write. They are still baddies, though, and do not take the place of the hero. I’m not saying antagonists can’t have their own stories or their own motivations; some of the best are those whose points of view we can understand. But your story’s baddie is not the same as your story’s hero. Otherwise, it would be a different story.

Do you like writing Baddies? What kinds of Baddies do you prefer to write or to read? Let me know in the comments!

BonusParts A to Z: Alliteration

ALLITERATION

BonusParts from A to Z

A: Alliteration

Welcome to the first post in my BonusParts A to Z theme year! Every 2 weeks or so, I’ll take a letter from the alphabet and choose a word or phrase that begins with that letter and write about what that word or phrase means to me and my writing. This being the first post, I’m starting with the letter A.

When I initially sat down to write this post, I thought I’d look at character names that start with A, since I have so many of them. Just off the top of my head, there’s Aksel, Alana, Amber, Anan, and Aral. But each one of those characters means something uniquely special to me, and I couldn’t put my finger down on just one to write about. So, I turned to my style. One technique I use a lot is Alliteration.

What’s Alliteration?

Alliteration, for anyone out of the know, is when the same sound occurs at the beginning of adjacent or closely connected words. Many tongue twisters employ alliteration, such as the popular Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. That repetitive hard P sound is alliterative.

People in the past have accused me of being a bit too in love with words. I don’t deny that. Words can create sadness or horror just as easily as they can beauty and joy. One reason I love stories is for their malleable structure. Of course, too much of anything is not necessarily a good thing. That said, every edit requires a concentrated effort to rein in the more whimsical flourishes that flitter off in my first drafts. Here’s one from my current work in progress….

He lay like a pale, dreaming doll, blindfolded, ball-gagged, and bound by long sashes of shimmering satin to the four corners of the bed. He was shirtless, and his trousers had been pulled open to the very last teeth of his zip. Crouched atop him was a petite woman who was mostly naked herself, save for a set of scarlet lingerie cut daringly from silk and lace. She turned at the interruption of their entrance, flame-red hair tumbling around her shoulders. While beautiful, she moved with a coordination that could more accurately be described as ruthlessness rather than grace.

That opening alliterative phrase – blindfolded, ball-gagged, and bound – came to me as many phrases do, as I was on the edge of wakefulness (a topic for another time). Using that basic phrase as a core, I built it out into a more complete description of the moment. I added more embellishments because they’re fun, and I ended up with the paragraph above.

When to use alliteration

Alliteration, like other stylistic devices, can be tricky to use. Too much, and it becomes messy and distracting. Not enough, though, and prose runs the risk of being boring. An editor or beta reader may read this and tell me to pull it back a bit. I myself might even go back in a later revision and decide that it goes too far. But for right now, I like it. And isn’t that what really matters?

How do you fashion phrases? Do you like alliteration? What would you tell me about the example paragraph above? Let me know in the comments section below!