A to Z Challenge 2013

Friday, April 19, 2013


One thing that makes a character memorable is a great personality.  In the dating scene, that might mean you attract others.  In writing however, a great personality has to do with how easily the reader can see our character and match that up with the words they use, the actions they take, and who they are.  Being an evil person doesn't necessarily mean the character doesn't have personality; they just have a particular type of personality that hopefully is in line with who they are supposed to be.

As I work on improving my own writing, one tool that has really helped me get a better idea about my characters are biographies.  I have only recently started doing this type of thing, but I've found it so much easier to choose the words a given character might use in conversation or describe the clothes they wear.  I can more easily see the mannerisms my main character has that makes his love interest laugh.  For example, the way his clothes always look like an unmade bed even though his hair has to be combed just so.  These little imperfections help describe the personality that makes these people unique.

One other factor is how personality might change over the life of the story.  Writers talk about character growth, and changes in personality are an example of this.  Where there was once a completely insecure young man might later be a more confident hero everyone is cheering for.  That shy personality just won't work later in the story because everyone expects this change.  And the hero hopefully comes to an understanding about themselves, figuring out that this improvement isn't a bad thing.

How do you capture the personality of your characters on the written page?

Thursday, April 18, 2013


Okay, so odors may be an odd word choice when discussing writing, but it actually is something we need to think about.  I'm not trying to say that we need to describe how stinky the antagonist is;  rather I am saying that writing descriptive passages full of sensory imagery is a great way to fully immerse the reader in our worlds.

The sense of smell is often ignored, which is tragic.  Even if you don't have a strong sense of smell (I don't), there are certain universal smells that can be conveyed with just a few choice phrases.  Consider a passage describing the smell of burning popcorn.  There are very few people who don't know just how bad that smells.  And telling someone about it in detail creates an instantaneous reaction.  While this particular smell is usually something people would prefer to avoid, there is no doubt they could imagine standing there with that aroma and feeling repulsed.

How about a huge flowerbed full of roses?  A passage describing the aroma as a slight breeze flies across these fragrant stems is sure to evoke any number of emotions for the reader.  Whether they like the smell of roses or not, they'll see these flowers as realistically as if they were actually standing among them.  And then they're captivated by our world, eager to see what else unfolds.

When was the last time you described the smells in your world?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


If you're not aware, November is one of the most significant months of the year for any writer.   It doesn't even matter where you are in your writing journey because there's something that occurs every November to inspire and invigorate any writer - NaNoWriMo.

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, and it is an event held annually during the month of November.  Basically the idea is to write every day for 30 days with a goal of hitting 50,000 words (or potentially more).  And just about every writer on the planet has heard of it or volunteered for the challenge.

To be fair, I have yet to finish NaNoWriMo (something I hope to change this year).  I attempted NaNoWriMo back in 2009, but I had to stop as the pressure of finishing my Bachelor's degree became too much.  I made the decision to graduate (which I don't regret), but I did write about 37K words before I stopped.  I consider that to be a decent attempt and I learned just how much I could accomplish in such a relatively short time.

Since November is usually a cold month (here in the U.S. anyway), there's a great reason to huddle inside with your writing implements, frantically getting those words down every day.  And NaNoWriMo means not having to write perfectly - just write.  Sure you'll have to go back later and edit, but that's a given no matter how you choose to write.  Just make sure you write.

What will you be doing this November?

Monday, April 15, 2013


Maniacs might seem an odd word choice for a post on writing, but I'll explain a bit and things will become clearer.  When I'm writing, my favorite character to create is a maniac.  A truly diabolical, loathsome person that makes your skin crawl.  Call it my darker side, but it's completely true.

I enjoy the shiver that goes down my spine when a character freaks me out completely.  I like the uneasy feeling that goes along with the "what if" questions; what if this person really did exist?  If I can say the thought of that chills my blood, I've written something really worthwhile.

I can see many of you virtually backing away, bringing up the phone to dial 911.  Let me be clear in that I do not admire real maniacs.   I'm not some closet killer waiting on the right opportunity.  I just enjoy writing dark characters and I like the challenge of creating a maniacal persona that readers will remember long after putting the story down.  They may not want to sit next to the person on a bus, but they can enjoy the uneasy feeling such a character evokes.

How do you feel about truly evil characters?  What's your favorite fictional maniac?

Sunday, April 14, 2013


When it comes to L, it's obvious to me that this post has to be about language.  This is what we writers live for - our love of language and what we can do with it.  Okay, so we're storytellers and creative artists who paint with words.  But language is the core tool we utilize to get the job done.

I've always been fascinated by languages.  Ever since I was little, I've always been interested in words, languages, and morphology.  I was a Russian linguist in the military, I studied Japanese in college, and I am always thinking about words and their origins.  I find it fascinating to identify where words originated or examine the meanings behind names.  While it's not necessarily important in American culture, other cultures around the world sometimes choose a particular name because of what it means.

When I first began my Bachelor's degree, I chose an odd mix.  I was majoring in Network Administration but my minor was in Linguistics.  These may seem to be an odd pairing, but they represented two paths in my life at the time;  the former was for my professional life, the latter for my personal life.  While I have an affinity for language, I've never considered a career in that realm.

To bring this back to writing, my interest in languages often fuels research projects for my WiPs.  If I'm having difficulty figuring out a name for a character for example, I may start looking for a name that has subtle meanings about that character.  If I'm creating a fictional world with fictional people, I don't necessarily want to just make up words that sound cool.  I want there to be a reason why I am choosing to use a particular phrasing if it's something the reader isn't used to.  Profanity in fictional cultures is a prime example of this.  I don't want to just use slang from our culture to fill in the gaps.  I'd rather come up with a framework that fits the society I'm building.   In any event, language is and always will be a big part of my writing.

How important is language for your writing projects?  Do you consider the uses of language in your character's culture or background?

Saturday, April 13, 2013


I'm a firm believe in the idea of "what comes around, goes around".  It might have something to do with my Dad saying it all the time, but that's not the only reason.  I've seen too many examples of people getting what they deserve and I've also seen (in my own life) examples of good deeds eventually being rewarded.

Now you can call it whatever you like but karma seems to fit.  I can hear the unasked question - what does this have to do with writing?  Well, since I see examples of karma all around me, I also see the use of karma in my writing as essential.  And if I write it effectively, the reader might be hoping and praying that the story will swing a certain way.  If I am able to take them to that event (without dragging it out too much), I can provide my readers with a satisfying experience.

Take for example, that bad guy who seems to get away with his crimes over and over.  You're reading along and you are really starting to hate this guy.  When he finally does get caught, you're almost cheering.  If the way in which he is caught (or dealt with) matches the depth of his evil, you as a reader really feel satisfied.  Call it justice or call it karma; either way, it's an essential part of restoring some sense of balance to the story.

Do you think about karma (or some equivalent) as you write your stories?

Friday, April 12, 2013


I wracked my brains all day trying to come up with something in writing that starts with J.  Finally, I decided to just talk about one of my favorite J words - Juxtaposition.  In case you're unfamiliar with this word, it means:

"The act or an instance of placing two or more things side by side."

First off, I just really like the sound of this word.  I don't know why.  Maybe it's because it sounds fancy or intelligent to use it?  Or maybe I just like the odd quality of how it's spelled and how it's pronounced.  Whatever it is, this word is one of those words that I would love to put in a story and have it sound appropriate.

It's interesting looking up who has used this word in what books.  What I found is that many writers use examples of juxtaposition, from Shakespeare to Dostoevsky to so many more.  But it is actually difficult to find a use of the actual word (or even juxtapose).  Maybe I didn't search long enough, but I have decided that if I ever am able to use this word effortlessly, I'll be a truly good writer.  Or something like that.

What is one of your favorite J words?

Thursday, April 11, 2013


Ideas are where a writer's stories begin.  For example, I can be taking a shower, waking up from a vivid dream, or just letting my mind wander at my day job.  Wait, that last one doesn't really happen.  I promise.

One of the interesting things about writers is the fact that we can find ideas from just about anything or anywhere.  The guy buying a coffee at Starbucks who coughs a lot.  Is he fighting a deadly disease?  Why does he like caramel in his latte (I actually have no idea if they put caramel in latte, forgive me all you coffee lovers)?  These are the types of questions we may ask ourselves as we watch the people around us.

From these potential characters we build a story, each new idea fueling the creation of more ideas.  We see an abandoned warehouse and suddenly our characters are hiding out from the law, watching as the flashing blues and reds slide across the back wall through grimy windows.  Now we have a main character, a potentially compelling location, and the start of a good story.

Our creativity allows us to use ideas, but it also allows us to come up with ideas where others may see nothing interesting.   One could almost say we're positive thinkers, seeing possibilities in just about any situation.  Bet you never thought about it that way, huh?  It's true though; for all the times we are overly critical of our own writing, that initial belief in the potential of a story can be enough to carry us through to the end.

How often do you come up with new ideas?  Do you take notes of your ideas for future reference?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


One of the hardest things for most people to ask for is help.  It doesn't matter what we're doing.  For some reason, most people just won't ask for any assistance no matter how hard the road gets or how important it is that they succeed.   Writers are no different.

When I first started writing (back in high school), I made the mistake of not asking for help.  I soon found myself feeling like my writing was crap and that I would never make it as a writer.  So I put down the pen and gave it up.

Fast-forward more than a few years and I decided to have another go at it.  The difference has been that life has taught me how important it is to ask for help when you need it.  The really cool thing is that I've  found so many helpful writers that will go out of their way to help someone who really wants to learn.  Writers are (for the most part) some of the friendliest people on the planet.

My biggest problem is sometimes I feel like I'm bothering my fellow writers with what maybe should be questions I should answer on my own.  It's that old habit of not asking for help.  My blog is partly a way to deal with this bad habit.  I guess I have a small sliver of hope that something in my posts will help somebody - even if only in a small way.  And of course, I'm always ready to help my fellow writers in any way I can.  I may not be published yet (nor even considered an exceptional writer), but I will still do what I can when I can.  It helps me feel like I'm evening out those invisible scales weighing how much I help others against how much help is given to me.

When was the last time you asked for help?  And have you helped others lately?

Monday, April 8, 2013


One thing I'm thankful for is Google;  I cannot imagine being a writer without it.  Whether you need to search through names to find that perfect choice or research facts for your story, Google is a necessity.  And I can't imagine how hard it was before Google to do any of these things.

Just to be fair, research in person can be invaluable.  I actually took a trip up to the University of Northern Colorado a while back to talk to a scientist specializing in genetics.  But prior to going on the journey, I used Google to research genetics in general so I would at least know the basics.   And while I'm no expert, I would never have been able to learn all that I did (for free no less) without a great deal more work.  Or I would have looked like a complete noob to the scientist, who was nice enough to give me a bit of her time.

Research is a mandatory part of writing.  Even if you're creating a completely fictional world with nothing even slightly similar to reality, it's unlikely that any of us knows everything we need to.  Before Google, that might have meant calling around (or worse, driving around) and finding the right person to help you out.  Nowadays you can find the right person or the right information with just a few mouse clicks and keystrokes.

When was the last time you did research for a project?  Did you use Google to get it done?

Sunday, April 7, 2013


You might assume the title doesn't have anything to do with writing, but you'd be wrong.  Or maybe to be more accurate, it describes what we probably shouldn't be doing as writers.  What I have in mind is the tendency to see something wrong and scramble over to fix it.  I know I have a problem sometimes with fixating on things, so I assume I'm not the only one.

For example, if I allow my brain to get in the way, I get stuck on the first or second draft as I try to make everything perfect.   I scramble from one perceived problem in my writing to another - much like a firefighter running from blaze to blaze.  What I should probably be doing is calmly getting through the drafting process, not imagining fires where none exist.  This isn't to say that I don't create writing mistakes as I write.  But if I get the story down from beginning to end and don't concentrate on whether it's the perfect word, I'd likely only have small fires to put out as opposed to hot blazes.

Maybe it's just late and I am spouting nonsense.  But when I'm struggling to get the words to flow, this is exactly what I feel like I'm doing - jumping from fire to fire.  Unfortunately I feel that way in my day job as well, but that's a whole other Oprah.

So am I alone here?  Anyone else ever feel like their putting out fires in their writing?

Saturday, April 6, 2013


One aspect of writing I've always struggled with is ending the story.  One reason is because I used to write without a road map;  I just let myself write and let the story go wherever it wanted.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but all stories have to end.  And when you aren't sure where you're going with a story, you definitely can't decide where or how to appropriately end it.

These days I'm finding another way that plotting things out helps me.  I'm able to see where the ending should be and how it should go.  This also makes me think about why the story should end that way.  For example, sometimes I might want to leave the ending with the MC headed off to new frontiers.  It's not because I'm planning on a sequel, but sometimes the world they are living in is no longer where they want to be.  And what will happen after they leave is somewhere in the unforeseen future.  But it's part of a different story, which I may or may not tell later.  Sometimes it's okay to just let the "future story" go untold.

Another reason to pick an ending might be because for one moment the MC is feeling right with his world.  That one point in time has happened where the conflict is over, the MC can breathe a sigh of relief (literally or figuratively), and the story is over.  It's not to say they aren't going to keep on living, doing things;  it's just that this particular story of this part of their life is done.

As I said in the beginning however, endings can give me trouble.  I'm not sure why, except that while I'm in the middle I feel like I am either creating the story or maybe just telling it.  But when it comes to endings, sometimes I struggle with finding the "right" way to finish the tale.  Sometimes the story doesn't speak to me as loudly or the conclusion isn't obvious.  Difficult endings however, aren't necessarily a bad thing either.  They can just be difficult to write.

How do you deal with endings in your stories?

Friday, April 5, 2013


Today's topic is death.  No, I don't mean my own demise nor am I planning anyone else's.  Nope, I'm talking about the death of a character.  This can be a touchy subject for some writers because we invest a great deal of time in creating our these fictional people;  the thought of them dying sometimes makes our heart ache.  Or maybe that's just me.

The first time I ever killed off a character, it came as a complete surprise to me.  I hadn't planned for the story to go in that direction, but the next thing I knew it the character was lying on the floor no longer breathing.  And it was the right thing to do.  It was one of those moments where my writing actually gave me chills, and it wasn't because of the death itself;  it was because of how well I'd written that particular section.

Now that I'm trying to add a little more directed plot to my writing, I find myself thinking how to arrange for the demise of a character.  I mean, it's not like all of us have a classroom of former students begging to be killed off in our novel.  I'm not complaining, Beth;  You handled that with supreme excellence and left the rest of us green with envy.

To write the death of a character takes a great deal of careful planning and skill.  We don't want a cliche event that everyone can see coming, unless of course they have some disease or something that would make their death an obvious conclusion.  And even then, writing in a disease can be too cliche.  The most significant deaths are those you aren't really ready for.  It can make the reader gasp, and if you're lucky they get to imagine how they'd handle that same set of circumstances.  Heck, some readers get downright upset at their favorite character dying - but that doesn't mean they'll hate the writing or story.  Hopefully they'll come to understand why it was necessary.

How do you handle death in your writing?   Have you ever regretted killing off a character?

Thursday, April 4, 2013


Yes, I skipped Wednesday but it is actually on purpose.  Right now my Wednesdays are too hectic to manage a blog post, so I decided Wednesdays are my Sundays in the A to Z Challenge.  So for a small period of time each week, I'll be a day behind.  I'm weird, but no I'm not doing it just to be different.

On to today's topic - comics.  And what I mean is comic books, a form of literature that in my mind is not recognized enough for its excellence.  Comic books are and always have been more than just artists drawing on a page.  Particularly in the case of Marvel, the characters are realistic and have the same drama normal people have; they just have the drama alongside their respective powers, gadgets, etc.

One of the greatest tragedies is when these stories are brought to the big screen.  Too often writers for such films ignore what is already a well-written story and try to recreate their own version.  I could list the errors, but all of us with our geek badges know who screwed up what story.  What you end up with is the potential for a great comic book movie, ruined by a writer who obviously didn't grasp what made the comic book great.

For those who don't know, yes there are other comic book publishers besides DC and Marvel.  Those two are the biggies of course, but that doesn't mean there aren't other gems to be found outside the spotlight.  I don't know if I'm odd among geeks either, but I like some characters from DC and some from Marvel; I get the sense that some people are loyal either way.  To give some examples, I like Batman big time.  My all time favorite though is the Hulk.  The former is DC, the latter Marvel.  I will say that Superman is one of the most boring superheroes ever.  He's too perfect in most respects.   I'd rather root for lowly little Spiderman as I cackle at his battlefield remarks.

Anyone else hold comics in this high regard?  Anyone feel they're not worth the adoration?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013


Today's post is about biography, specifically writing one for your characters.  This entire post may be a shock to those who have followed me from way back.  I've been a pantster from the beginning, but I've found true merit in scribbling down some form of biography for my characters.  This is especially true of my main character.

I took a writing class some time ago and one thing that stuck in my mind was the fact that my fellow students/critique partners could not really envision my MC.  This was sort of a shock to me because I "knew" what my MC looked like, what he thought, etc.  Or did I?  As I found out, I had a very minimal view of my MC and did not do a really good job of bringing him to life.

Enter this phase of my writing life and I've embraced the idea of preparation before actual writing.   Character biographies are something I believe in now and I do one for my MC, his antagonist counterpart, and any other characters I think will have larger roles than just being a placeholder on the page.  Let's face it - if I can't verbally explain who my characters are, there's no way I can put it into words on a page.

The process of going through a biography should encompass more than just name, age, and height.  You should be able to explain where this person is coming from.  What past experiences have helped shape them?  What mannerisms might they have?  What are their goals and why (even if it's bound to change over the course of the story)?  While you may not use the exact words in your biography when writing the story, this process helps solidify the character in your mind.  You don't have to "decide" how a character would react to a given situation because you've already thought through this.  You are free to just write and let the story flow - at least that's the thought behind it anyway.

When was the last time you wrote a biography for your characters?

Monday, April 1, 2013

A to Z - Antagonist

Hello everyone and welcome back to another round of the A to Z Challenge.  I couldn't think of a better way to get back to regular blogging than being a part of this fun month-long exercise.  I just can't resist the challenge of coming up with a whole month's worth of posts based on the alphabet.

Today's post is about a story's antagonist.  This is the "bad guy", the opposition in a story.  It's what strives to keep the main character from accomplishing their goal.  And just like fleshing out our main character is important, making the antagonist as three dimensional and real as possible is also integral to a great story.

In my current WiP, this is something I've been giving a great deal of thought lately.  I've started my story over and as I work to improve it on this second go 'round, I realize that the first time I created my antagonist, I made him to simplistic;  I wrote him as the quintessential "bad guy".  As I am adding more depth to his character however, I've discovered that he isn't truly evil.  He believes what he is doing is right and the MC is getting in the way of that.  He believes in the purpose he fulfills within the society.  It's debatable of course whether what he is doing and how he's doing it is the right way, but he's not inherently or patently evil.

In the end, this type of dissection of my antagonist is going to make my story that much more believable.  For one thing, I am able to accurately portray reasons why the antagonist chooses to be the obstacle to all my MC's goals.  I'm able to personalize the story and let the reader truly see this living, breathing character.  I will also hopefully create a lasting impression on the reader that makes this antagonist memorable - whether they like or "hate" the character when all is said and done.

Just to be clear, an antagonist doesn't necessarily have to be a person.  Sometimes the thing that keeps your MC from making headway isn't one single person.  For example, if your story is about a climber scaling Mt. Everest, your antagonist could be the mountain itself.  If your MC is trying to break out of a societal norm and overcome, the antagonist could be the society itself (i.e. not one person in particular) that keeps blocking their advances.   Regardless of who or what the antagonist is however, we need to make sure we can identify that entity and bring it to life on the page.

Before I go, I want to give a huge thanks to everyone who contributes and is a part of organizing the A to Z Challenge.  It's a really cool thing you guys do every year and it helps drag individuals like myself back to our respective blogs.

How do you go about crafting and refining the antagonists in your story?