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characterization

Do You Really Know Your Characters?

A couple of years ago, I stumbled upon a character questionnaire, and I felt like I hit the lottery. I can’t remember where I found the first one, or how I came about using it, but since that fateful encounter, I have come to depend on them.

Within the Bad Girl ranks, we have several plotters, several pantsers, and several plotsters (is that what you’re calling yourselves? Idk idk idk). I am solidly in the former category, hardcore like. If I don’t plot out every detail—every chapter, every scene—I hit a brick wall. It’s inevitable.

I’ve attempted writing without my roadmap and, while I can do it, it generally takes me three to four times longer than if I’d just sat down and mapped it out in the first place.

See how his face is hidden behind that hood and you can’t really tell who he is? That’s why I put this here. Totally the only reason. *shifty eyes*

 

I know a lot of authors feel the first 10-20k words they write of a book could, potentially, be throw-away because they’re getting to know their characters in that time. A character questionnaire does the same thing for me, but I do it upfront and pre-story instead of within my writing. It shows me exactly who that character is who’s sort of foggy in my mind…allows me to flesh them out completely.

A quick search on google will turn up quite a few options for questionnaires. Over the years, I’ve amassed several, and because I was flying from one project to the next, I didn’t have time to really sit down and consolidate or figure out which questions are the most important and which questions are the ones my characters always skip over (thus the ones I don’t need).

Well, after a year of going gangbusters, I had a little break in December, and I set out to do this. I compiled all my questions, printed them out, then color coded them based on the type of questions they are. Then I went to good old Scrivener and created a section in my template sheets for character questionnaires. Instead of filling out question after question with no rhyme or reason (and thus having a hell of a time trying to find an answer when I’m on chapter 20 and need to know right now what that traumatic event was that happened when the character was five), I broke them up into twelve (yes, twelve!) sub categories, each containing multiple questions—as few as ten all the way up to 105). Some of you totally just groaned and rolled your eyes, while others had a mini orgasm, amirite?

Some of the sub-categories are:

  • Basic info (things like name, birthdate, hometown, etc)
    You’re probably not going to find out much useful information in this section, but it’s good to have for facts later on in the book.
  • Physical description (besides the standards here, there’s also questions asking about scars or tattoos, how the character feels about his/her body, if they have any nervous physical habits/gestures, etc)
    This is a surprisingly eye-opening set of questions. Sometimes something as simple as “How do you feel about your body?” can bring about something that shapes your character—say a history of an eating disorder, or maybe a parent who has one and has pushed his/her beliefs on their child.
  • Personality Traits (what’s their biggest fear, street smart or book smart, etc)
    This was really a catch-all for me, because so much of how we view things make up our personalities. This section has, I would say, the biggest opportunity for specifically helping with storyline.
  • Childhood/History (everything from what kind of childhood did they have, to how many siblings, to are they keeping any deep, dark secrets)
    This is another great section for digging deep and getting answers you might not have thought about otherwise.

That was a very minimal snapshot of what kinds of questions I answer before I start any project. In the end, I generally end up with roughly 10k words worth of questions and answers (in total from both characters). And I’ve never once done the questionnaire and had it be completely useless. There has always, always been something that’s been incorporated into the storyline based on something the character’s told me during the questionnaires.

I take some time before I sit down to plot my outline and fill these in for the two main characters, and I do so as if I were the character. If my character is a forty-year-old plumber named Bob, I answer those questions just as Bob would, so I’m already putting myself into the head of the character. It’s a great way to get a sense of what kind of personality your character has, what kind of sense of humor they have, and their general disposition.

One other thing to consider when filling these out: not only do you get great information from what your character answers, but you might also find you get insight on them from what they don’t answer, so pay attention to that, too!

Do I have any other plotters out there who love questionnaires like I do? Or maybe you’re not a plotter, but you do this anyway? Or maybe these make your left eye twitch… Tell me how you connect with your characters and figure out who they are!

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McGovy’s Favorite Hero

Deciding on my favorite hero above all others was a grueling task. Ha! Just kidding, it really wasn’t. The grueling part was not making this post a dissertation. 😀 It was an easy decision, although there is a distinguished list of front runners, not a few of which are played by Harrison Ford. What is up with that? Indiana Jones, Han Solo, Steve Rogers, Jack Ryan, Wolverine, Bucky Barnes (duh) – all of them make me seal clap, but there is no one in the galaxy like

James Tiberius Kirk

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This is where you act surprised at my choice, even more surprised that it involves Star Trek and Chris Pine. Go on. Be shocked. I’ll wait…

kirk in chair

MmmHmm. That’s right. You sit in that chair.

When I say Kirk is my fave, I’m referring to TOS Kirk (The Original Series for any neophytes) AND AOS (Alternate Original Series) Kirk. I love them both. The biggest difference between the two is reboot!Kirk is more openly conflicted, suffers from abandonment issues, is damaged and insecure. My complaints about the rebooted character have everything to do with the movie’s writing and nothing to do with the character itself. I’ll defend Jim Kirk to the end of the star system and save my fangirl rant for later.

Luckily, the character issues in the new movies are assuaged – for me at least – because he’s played by this guy:

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kirk

The only reason the man can get away with those eyebrows is because his eyes are like KAPOW! BAH-LUE!

Ok. Shake it off. NOW, on to the major points of…

Why James T. Kirk Is So Awesome

&

What You Think You Know About Captain Kirk, But Really It’s a Misconception Perpetrated by People Who Never Watched The Show and They’re Wrong

First, James T. Kirk is the awesomest of awesome heroes because:

  • He’s a leader who respects his position. He’s open minded, quick witted and compassionate. He does his best to help those who need it and is often the most patient senior officer on the Enterprise. He’s not just a leader; he’s a damn great one. He listens to those around him, heeds their input and learns from them. He’s not afraid to take chances, do the grunt work and give credit where it’s due. He’s considered one of the greatest captains in Starfleet’s history and there’s a reason. He kicks ass at his job!
  • He’s extraordinarily brave, sometimes brazen and always bold. Hello, the entire franchise is based on him and his crew boldly going, but if you really think about it, they are BOLDLY going. They take off into uncharted space, very little clue what they might find and all sorts of life forms out there. His thoughts on it? “You know the greatest danger facing us is ourselves, an irrational fear of the unknown. But there’s no such thing as the unknown– only things temporarily hidden, temporarily not understood.”
  • He’s smart. Scratch that, he’s a genius. He’s a driven, handsome, brilliant captain of a starship who believes in what he’s doing and believes in those around him. That is so hot and I’m not even sorry.

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  • He’s no stranger to adversity and the strength of will it takes to survive. Whether we’re talking about living through the genocide on Tarsus IV (TOS) or growing up in an abusive home (AOS), Jim Kirk is a survivor. He’s also a bonafide optimist and in this era of angry, resentful heroes, he’s like sunshine on a cold day. He’s not some molly-coddled male who’s had everything handed to him, nor is he holed up in a dark corner, bemoaning his past and succumbing to his man pain. Jim Kirk worked hard for everything he has and he strives every day to make sure he deserves to be called Captain.
  • He loves his crew. They are his friends and family and he wouldn’t be Captain Kirk without them. He knows he’s been saved from catastrophe because of Lt. Uhura. He’s alive because of Dr. McCoy. The Enterprise isn’t a pile of ashes because of Scotty and you really don’t want to get me started on Spock. Really. You don’t. His Starfleet family and the Enterprise mean everything to Kirk and, for them, he’s willing to risk his life. Like, all the damn time.

spacehusbands

 

What people get wrong about Captain Kirk and it drives me crazy:

  • Jim Kirk is NOT a womanizer. I don’t care what you think you’ve heard or seen, the man isn’t a skirt chaser. Don’t believe me? Watch the show. Sure, Kirk flirts a lot, but Kirk flirts with EVERYONE. He’s one of those people who can’t help but flirt as a way of communicating. Women, Men, Aliens, Flowers, Whatever. He grins, bats his lashes, gazes with starry eyes, teases, jokes, pouts and wears tight pants. I know a lot of this came from Shatner’s interpretation of the character, but now it’s canon.

Yes, Kirk kissed a lot of females on his five year mission, but a) it was only about 10 women in 5 years, most of which while he was possessed or drugged, a few others he kissed as a maneuver to gain intel or save his ship, and a select 2 or 3 were women he genuinely liked and kissed out of attraction. b) None of the women he willingly kissed were part of his crew. James T don’t play like that. Remember what I said about being a kick ass captain? Responsiblity of rank is part of that.

This is where the reboot went wrong. They took one of Kirk’s greatest attributes and screwed it up royal. In both reboot movies we see Kirk ogling fellow cadets and even a science officer in her undies. No. Just…NO. Jim Kirk would NEVER. There are entire blog posts out there about Kirk’s position as a feminist. If you doubt it, google it…or watch the show. He’s an officer and a gentleman and a feminist and Abrams et al should pay for the err of their ways and beg Starfleet Command for their forgiveness. (I’ll stop here or the fangirl fury will fly free. *deep breath*)

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  • Kirk is not some blow-hard, hot head who goes in, photons blazing, firing torpedoes first and asking questions later. I don’t even know where this Chuck Norris style stereotype came from. Maybe because he got into some fisticuffs? Because boy got swagger? True, Jim will throw down if some down needs to be thrown, and true, he seems to enjoy a good wrestle (some occasions more than others *cough* not gonna say it *cough*) and getting his shirt torn, but he’s not an inherently violent character. His enthusiasm seems to stem from too much energy; an exuberance like “Yes! There shall be physical activity!” versus actual angry fighting.

“Our missions are peaceful…not for conquest. When we do battle, it is only because we have no choice.”

“[War] is instinctive. But the instinct can be fought. We’re human beings with the blood of a million savage years on our hands. But we can stop it. We can admit that we’re killers…but we’re not going to kill today. That’s all it takes. Knowing that we’re not going to kill today.”

This seems like as good a place as any to stop because we all know I could keep going. I’ll wrap up by saying: Star Trek! There’s a reason it’s a cultural phenomenon. Live Long and Prosper, y’all!

jtk awesome1

jtk poster2

6 Comments

Sex and Violence

The other day, I was sitting around, thinking about Captain America: The Winter Soldier (you know, like you do). Specifically, I was thinking about the opening fight scene, and how smart it was.

captain-america-the-winter-soldier-scarlett-johansson-chris-evansFor those of you who haven’t seen the movie (what are you doing? Stop reading this! Go! Go see it now!), the scene involves Captain America, the Black Widow, and a legion of strike commandoes rescuing a ship from modern-day pirates who are holding it and its crew hostage, awaiting a hefty ransom. Before our heroes’ plane has even reached the drop zone, Captain America is jumping out of it without a parachute. He hits the water, climbs onto the ship, and proceeds to knock at least a dozen people on their asses by way of smacking them in the head with his shield, tossing them overboard, or a combination of the two.

Note. He hits them. He punches them. He knocks them into the water. Brutally efficient. And entirely non-lethal.

We cut to the Black Widow, who takes a slightly different approach. She goes in guns blazing and shoots, garrotes, or electrocutes everyone in her path without a moment’s pause.

There’s more that happens in the scene, but let me stop right there before I give  the whole game away. Ostensibly, this is an action movie. People are in that theatre because they want to see some good, bone-crunching violence.

But what the film’s writers, directors and actors handed us was more than just a bunch of people beating each other up. They gave us character development, and they gave it to us with a nice, easy-to-swallow action movie coating of panache. We’re ten minutes into the movie and we know that Cap will get the job done, but he’ll do it with the smaller possible number of casualties, whereas Widow will shoot first and ask questions later. If ever.

Simply put, they showed it to us instead of telling it to us, and the vehicle they used to show it to us with was violence.

Look closely and you’ll see: every action sequence of the movie fills some other purpose beyond satisfying the audience’s bloodlust. One establishes character. Another raises the stakes and reveals information about the enemy. Yet another is the backdrop of the biggest reveal of the movie, and the final fight scene? I won’t give too much away, but it packed a punch, and not just a literal one. It got me in the heart. It made me feel.

And that’s why the movie is so damn good.

As a romance writer, the guilty pleasure through which I ply my trade isn’t violence (though I occasionally manage to find an opportunity to work some of that into my books, too). It’s sex.

People expect sex in a typical romance novel. They enjoy it. Who wouldn’t? It’s quite conceivably the reason they bought the book in the first place.

But here’s the thing. To make your book memorable. To make it sizzle. To make it resonate. You have to use the sex scenes you write for way more than titillation.

They have to establish character. Or reveal something about the plot. Or raise the stakes for your hero or your heroine.  They’ve gotta punch your reader right in the feels.

rightinthefeels

Otherwise, they’re boring and gratuitous. Just like an action movie that drags on and on, with pointless fight scene after pointless fight scene. It might be pleasant. But it won’t stick with you, or inspire you to write long, rambling blog posts in which you recommend the movie to your readers and friends. 🙂

Because in the end, sex and violence might sound like all you need to make a story great. But in reality, they’re just the tools you use to tell your story with. The way you use them is what makes your story great.

8 Comments

Get ‘Em Where They Live

One of my favorite things about writing is creating people. It’s the chance to make someone up and live vicariously. As a child, I loved to “play pretend” and become someone else.

Oh who am I kidding? I still love to play pretend. I once donned a beret and spoke with a British accent for 48 hours just to see if people bought it. I was 22. 😀 Damn, that was a fun weekend.

For a lot of writers, the character comes first, but there are those characters – you know the ones – who give you way too much grief in their creation. They’re hard to grasp as fully formed, multi-dimensional people. In the past I’ve blogged about using zodiacs and other tools to help you flesh out your pretend people. Today I offer you:

Better Homes & Gardens for your Heroes and Heroines

Think about it. How and where does your character live? What do they call home? Are they contemporary or shabby chic? Minimalist or clutter collector? Full of frills or monitone man cave? This could define what you’re missing in your characters.

For example, my heroine Leah, lives in a small rental home not unlike this: 

Cottage-style-interior-design-1

Her furniture would be second hand at this point, but what does this room tell you about Leah? She has a decent amount of stuff. Plenty of knick knacks and collectibles, but they’re kept organized. Clean lines, lots of books, pictures, photo albums, and fresh cut flowers. She likes to keep things and she puts them all in a well thought out, proper place that’s asthetically pleasing. Might she be sentimental? Possibly a romantic? Who is she spying on with those binoculars? Or is she bird watching?

I have a hero in another book and his home looks a lot like this:

Modern-minimalist-gray-living-room-interior-design-rendering

Bright, neat and tidy. No clutter for this hero. Lots of thought and money spent on lighting, high end electronics, mainly uses neutrals, somewhat minimalist with some funky art pieces and deco area rug. Is that a bust of Beethoven? Bottle of red wine? Do you think this guy is haphazard? Often unprepared or detail oriented? Is he a little OCD or the kind of person who’d trample sand into the house and leave it there for weeks? Would you trust him to do all of your logistics and computer infiltration?

Tell me about the person who lives here:

midcentury modern den

I mean besides the fact that Syd and I would rob them of their lamps first chance we got. What else would you theorize about them?

What about the hero or heroine who finally gets the girl or guy and brings them back to this:Moroccan-designrulz-00997

What kind of lover would they be? Would they cook a meal for their significant other? Take their time and woo, appealing to all the senses? Would the sex be wham bam thank you ma’am or more likely to last an entire weekend with breaks in between for food and hydration?

You get where I’m going with this? What if your character doesn’t have a home? What does that mean for his or her conflicts and motivations?

Next time you’re stuck, be it with characterization or even plot – I swear this will help your plot too – consider the homes in your story. If home is where the heart is, you need to know where your characters live.

Write on,

McGovy

15 Comments

Sketching: The First Stage of Plotting

Confession time – I haven’t plotted a book in over 2 years.

Yes, that’s right.  I said 2 years.

For various reasons, which I won’t try to excuse myself for, my last manuscript took a very long time to complete.  I had good intentions, even started out pulling 1K a day, but things just didn’t work out the way I’d planned.  So here I am, 2 years later, finally querying that manuscript and starting to plot my next.  Yes, I have all those same good intentions, but this time I have one more book under my belt as well.  This means another book of good and bad, tackling dead ends and finding ways out of them, learning my writing strengths and building good habits.  Perhaps this one will go smoother?

But I digress.  This post is not meant as a pep talk or a kick in the ass.  This post is meant to get me moving, and hopefully someone else out there in the same time dimension that I am.  So today we’re talking sketches.

I got the idea of sketching from Karen S. Wiesner’s book First Draft in 30 Days.  If you’re new to writing, or are a pantser looking to turn plotter, this is a great place to start.  The book breaks down the forest into trees, so to speak, which is very important for people like me who think in pieces.  Though I don’t follow everything exactly the way Ms. Wiesner suggests, I found it very helpful in developing my own methods. One of which is sketching.

Sketching in plotting is just like sketching in art.  It’s your first glimpse into what your manuscript is going to look like, more specifically your characters, setting, and plot. Depending on what you write you may use one more than another.  I write character driven stories so my character sketches are pretty elaborate, while my setting sketches are fairly basic.  My plot sketches are almost always developed after I figure out who my characters are; sometimes I don’t have a clue what my plot is until after I define them.

Character Sketches

Character sketches are like a vault that stores all of the important information about your characters.  Mine usually open up with the physical traits:  name, hair color, eye color, height, weight, age etc…  Sometimes I may just list an actor or actress whom embodies that character.  Then I start getting into the social aspects, like their occupation, income level, family status, friends. Anything that gives me a basic image in my head.

Those are the easy things for me to come up with.

Next comes the personality stuff, which I intertwine with past and future.  How did this character become so closed off from the world?  Why does he/she need to change and how?  What conflicts do they face in getting there, both internal and external?  Remember, a person’s past usually defines who they are in the present and can certainly impede whom they want to become.  You need to be sure it all makes sense together.

You can put anything you want in your character sketch; there’s no right or wrong answer here.  Anything that helps you discover your characters.  I usually do sketches for any character with a POV, but some find it helpful to do them for ALL their characters.  I put them all in an excel spreadsheet because yes…I’m that dorky.  I would assume sticky notes work just as good.

Setting Sketches

Setting sketches are similar to character sketches, only — you guessed it — give an image of where your story is taking place.  Are you in a small town or a big city?  On a farm or in a high rise condo?  If the majority of your scenes take place at a farm, jot down what sort of crops are grown or animals are raised.  If it’s in a tiny apartment, make note of what floor they are on (do they hear footsteps constantly?)   These are all details that will help pull your reader into your setting, and shouldn’t be overlooked.

And don’t forget the timeframe and climate!  In my last manuscript, the season became very important to the plotline.  Knowing up front will save you a lot of edits down the line.

Plot Sketches 

And finally – plot sketches.  This is where the backbone of my story begins to take shape.  At this stage I give my story a beginning, turning points, a black moment, a climax, and its end.  This isn’t meant to detail every single second of my manuscript, but more to give me a general direction.  Once I have this defined, I can work on the in between scenes that get me there.  It could be as simple or as detailed as you want at this point.  Mine is usually very vague (as is my explanation), but if you tend to build your plot before your characters, yours could be very detailed.  Just do what works for you.

Between now and my next post, I plan to complete my sketches.  If you’re in the same place as me, give it a try!  If nothing else, you won’t have to hunt for that page where you mentioned your villain’s eye color to be sure of consistency — you can just glance at a file!

Happy Sketching!

Jenna P

8 Comments

I Need A Hero (with Bad Boy For A Day: Sam B. Morgan)

Everyone has their favorite heroes. I was recently asked about my favorite hero within the romance genre. It wasn’t easy to choose one, but after some thought, I cheated and settled on two. First:

Vishous of the Black Dagger Brotherhood.  V for short.vishous_by_morgaine1-d5eslvl

Image credit: http://morgaine1.deviantart.com/

My reason for this is four-fold. Allow me to explain and maybe it will get you thinking about your favorite romantic hero.

  • Vishous is tall, dark, dangerous, powerful, built like a brick house and hot as hell. He’s inked up, has jet black hair, a goatee, and ice blue eyes that can look like diamonds. He’s a Red Sox fan and a vampire.
  • Vishous is damaged goods. He’s a closed off demi-god with enough emotional baggage to fill double digit steamer trunks. A horrible childhood that included assault, physical mutilation and forced infliction of violence upon others – he could’ve been anything but heroic. Add to that the gift of foresight and feeling other people’s emotional turmoil and he’s uber dark hero material, that Vishous. He’s designed to be the perfect anti-hero, yet he’s not. Not really. He’s a valuable member of the BDB team and at times is the one who keeps them together. He’s loyal to his brothers, even while giving them hell. He serves his King, though he’d be the first to call him out on his bullshit. Sure he can be withdrawn at best, downright cold bastard at worst, but he is a true alpha hero. When the end of the world goes down, you want Vishous there to save your ass.
  • Vishous is off the charts intelligent. His best bud and soul mate brother Butch would say he’s “wicked smaahht.” The BDB’s resident techno wiz, linguist, and historian, V is a genius level brainiac with the body of a perfectly sculpted assassin.
  • Vishous is anything but vanilla in bed. While his style is predominantly Dom, his level and need to dominate has changed throughout the series. He’s even filled the role of submissive and done pretty much everything in between. If you can say he’s flexible in the D/s relationship, then he totally breaks the Kinsey scale. He’s not straight, he’s not gay, maybe he’s bi. I don’t know. All I know is Vishous wants what he wants, when he wants it, how he wants it. End of. He’s not the Brother to let something like social mores or the opinions of others guide his lifestyle either. More to the point, he doesn’t give a damn what you or anyone else thinks. Now that he’s mated to Jane, he’s completely Jane-sexual, but even Jane isn’t a traditional female. Ghost lovin’ anyone? Here’s an example of V hotness. If you’ve read the series, you know THE SINK scene:

Jane pulled back and got to her feet. “Fantasies don’t interest me. If you don’t want us to be together for real, then let’s not go there at all.”

He pulled part of the duvet over his hips, covering an erection that was straining against his flannels. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

She shot him a glare that was part sexual frustration, part Gertrude Stein. “I’m tougher than I look. And to be honest, the whole male-driven, I’m-looking-out-for-your-best-interests bullshit gives me the scratch.”

She turned away with her chin up, but then realized there was nowhere really to go. Way to make an exit.

Confronted with an utter lack of alternatives, she went into the bathroom. As she paced between the shower and the sink, she felt like a horse in a stall–

With no warning at all she was tackled from behind, pushed face-first into the wall and held in place by a rock-hard body twice the size of her own. Her gasp was first one of shock, then one of sex as she felt V grind into her ass.

“I tried to tell you no,” he growled as his hand buried itself in her hair and locked on, pulling her head back. As she cried out she ran wet between her legs. “Tried to be nice.”

“Oh…God–”

“Praying’s not going to help. Too late for that, Jane.” There was regret in his voice–as well as erotic inevitability. “I gave you a chance to have it on your terms. Now we’ll do this on mine.”

She wanted this. She wanted him. “Please–”

“Shh.” He cranked her head to the side with a twist of his wrist, exposing her throat. “When I want you to beg, I’ll tell you.” His tongue was warm and wet as it rode up her neck. “Now ask me what I’m going to do to you.”

All of this makes V a stand out hero. Maybe he’s my favorite because I’ve never read about anyone who is anything like him. 

My other favorite hero is one of mine: Zack from my book, SLOW BURN. Release date: Today!

Zack is the antithesis of Vishous, even if he does have some damage in his past. Zack is my athletic beach boy. My fun loving, laid back, floppy haired hero with the bright smile. Even with the emotional wreckage of his past, he’s pretty positive about life in general. That’s a good thing because when Zack meets the most belligerent patient of his PT career, Detective Douglas Brody, it will take every ounce of his cool not to throttle the man. Or kiss him. He wants to do both.

 What about you? Who are some of your favorite heroes from romance? Who do you love to love?

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Detective Douglas Brody has only ever known the life of a cop. Raised strict but fair by his police chief father, he joined the academy right out of school, climbed the ranks hard and fast, and now works homicide for the City of Charleston. The job is his entire life. For years it’s kept him happy enough to minimize the side of him that craves what he believes is wrong. An accident on the job puts him on medical leave and everything in Brody’s world changes. He has to prove himself once more to be best cop in the department, all while dealing with Zack – his persistent, sexy, and out of the closet physical therapist.

Zack is tan skin, big grins, floppy hair and tackles his job with the same full-blown enthusiasm he does everything else. When the “patient from hell” is thrown his way by another PT who can’t handle him, Zack is committed to achieving the impossible. His new patient is a head strong and hot as hell homicide detective, who oozes as much resentment as he does sex appeal. Any involvement with a patient, especially a man who is so deep in the closet he can’t see light, is something Zack swore he’d never do. But Brody slowly proves too much to resist…

You can find me at: @SamBMorgan on Twitter &  http://sambmorgan.com/

7 Comments

A Tribute to Fathers – Both Real and Fictitious

With this weekend being Father’s Day, I thought it only appropriate to devote my blog today to fathers – both real and fictitious.  Fathers inspire us and support us.  Fathers offer up funny anecdotes to weave into our stories.  Fathers are often our heroes, and unfortunately sometimes our villains.  Good or bad, fathers have helped shape our minds into the plot spinning mazes they are.

The Real

I was terrified to tell my dad that I was a writer.  After all, he’d paid to send me to school for an engineering degree and here I was trying to get published.  When I finally worked up the nerve he was completely supportive, of course.  And every time I talk to him now he asks how the writing is going.  I know it seems stupid, but just having that little bit of approval is always like a propeller for me.  I stopped worrying about what people would think and started concentrating on what really mattered – growing as writer.

Of course all this wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for the other important Daddy in my life – my husband.  I am very lucky to have a husband who offers to take the girls outside so I can have some writing time, and who understands the importance of writing conferences and monthly group meetings.  My husband isn’t afraid to do the typical mommy duties if it helps me out, and is always an open ear for reading a scene aloud.  As writer’s, we need that support from our husbands to live a healthy balanced life.

wedding-pic Me & DadIMG_1928

 

 

 

 

 My better half

 

The Fictitious

I heard an author once say that her heroines always had some sort of dysfunctional relationship with their mothers, and though the writing was literally right there in front of her she never realized the similarity this had to her relationship with her own mother.

You may already do this subconsciously but if you don’t, understanding the relationship your characters have with their fathers is a great way to add depth to them.  Is your heroine a high-maintenance Betty who needs to learn to stand on her own feet?  Is your hero a struggling single father determined not to leave his child?  Does your heroine spend her days alone because she’s afraid of rejection?

Maybe a good or bad father is at the heart of all this.  That high-maintenance heroine might’ve been a daddy’s girl.  That struggling hero might’ve grown up without a father.  And that lonely heroine might’ve only done wrong in her father’s eyes.  When you think about the motivation behind your character’s behavior, considering the root will not only make them more believable, but also relatable.  It’s much easier for a reader to forgive the bad parts of your protagonist if they understand where it came from.

say anything Godfather-fathermonstersball

So, how have the fathers in your life helped you as a writer?  Do you have any interesting plots that have spun from a father/daughter relationship?  What are your favorite father/son relationships in literature or movies?  Please share and help us salute them!

Happy Father’s Day!

Jenna P.

 

 

 

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Listen to Your Character…’s iPod

It may be cliché, but the first thing I do when I start a new writing project is make a playlist. Writing to music helps me in lots of little practical ways—it keeps me focused, and it drowns out some of whatever else is going on in my house that might otherwise be distracting. But more importantly, it helps me get into the mood of the piece I’m writing.

I have playlists for certain kinds of scenes. Thumping-bass alt-rock for action scenes, lilting love songs for happy moments, sultry numbers for…ahem…intimate encounters. I have playlists for certain characters, because my big strong alpha male certainly does not think to the same beat as my quirky heroine. Listening to these playlists immerses me in the scene and puts me in touch with the moods and feelings of the people I’m writing about.

But what I never really recognized until quite recently is that the act of making the playlist is an exercise is character-building, too.

I’m currently working on my first male/male romance in a while, and when I started, I assembled a collection of songs for my hard-working, by-the-book, too-school-for-cool hero. It was a mix of a bunch of different things, but a lot of it was earnest rock featuring male vocalists. Peter Gabriel, REM, Dire Straights, and Dispatch each showed up a few times. It was perfect, and it embodied the character I was writing. I was churning out the words.

And then it came time for a POV switch, and my typing-fingers stuttered to a halt.

I couldn’t write my disaffected, jaded jock to the same soundtrack. They would sound the same! I needed a way to help keep their voices distinct.

So I opened up a new playlist, and the half hour or so that ensued was not procrastination. It was really and truly an exercise in learning my character’s voice. As I selected songs, I had to think about whether or not each one fit this new guy’s vibe. They were also rocks songs performed by male vocalists, but they were different. Ben Folds, Frightened Rabbit, and Barenaked Ladies kept speaking to me. The more I thought about the common threads running through the songs, the more I picked up on notes of discontent, sarcasm, irreverence, and bone-deep hurt, pushed back and hidden beneath layers of chords and hipster chic.

Lightbulb moment

Just like that, I’d found my character. I’d found his voice and his heart. I took about two seconds to save that playlist, and then I was diving back into my document, head-first.

So the next time you’re not sure what your character sounds like, consider listening to him. And if that doesn’t work, try listening to his iPod instead. 🙂

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They’re Best When They’re Baddest

My last post I spoke about heroes, but the only thing I love as much as a damaged, strong yet vulnerable, and witty hero is a menacing with meaning villain. I looooooove bad guys! I don’t know why. Maybe because I’m a bad girl? I pull for the hero and want him/her to win, but I want a villain who makes me think and falter.

Okay…let’s get down to why we love to love baddies and why.

1. Baddies have no rules – except being bad. They can do whatever they want no matter how dangerous, self-serving, or crazy. They get away with it too, at least for awhile.

mystique

Mystique! The two movie versions are awesome, but nothing compares to the comic book bad ass. She serves her own purpose and stops at nothing to accomplish her goals. She may act as paid mercenary or work for a cause she believes in. In comic book canon, her loyalty remains questionable, but you can bet she’ll do whatever is in her best interest. Go girl!

2. You never know what a baddie is going to do. You may think you know and then Wham! they shock the sh*t out of you. OR you know exactly what they’re going to do, you just can’t believe it.

Shane-Walsh

I’ve argued before that Shane Walsh from AMC’s The Walking Dead is not unpredictable. Still, as a viewer, we didn’t want to accept that he’d actually do what we knew he was going to do. Otis? Poor Otis. But it was in no way surprising. Unlike Mystique, Shane has loyalty. If you’re Lori or Carl, you’re safe. Everyone else? Means to an end for survival. The awesome thing? Shane never tried to act like he was anything other than who he was. A selfish, surviving MFer. Gah I miss him!!!

3. Villains are powerful, successful, highly motivated, and driven. The best ones have a reason for villainy that we can comprehend, even if we don’t agree. It’s a good thing they’re so good at being bad too. The hero(es) wouldn’t bother themselves with a villain who never reaked havoc.  If you love a character that gets stuff done with a competence and efficiency that’s scary – see most villains.

magneto

hannibal

Magneto. Erik. Arguably the best comic book baddie that you love, played by two stellar actors in the movies. What’s not to admire? Erik has good reasons to be bad, but he’s also exceptional at it. True, his efforts are often thwarted in the end, but along the way, what glorious mayhem! He’s brilliant, powerful, charismatic, and born to lead. Not to mention the killer head wear and cape. Go on with your bad self, Mags!

Hannibal. He is the stuff of our nightmares because he was brutally intelligent and got away with serial murder and cannibalism for years. He was in a high security facility and we were all still scared to death! He’s not just some crazy freak on the loose. He’s decisive, sharp minded, and charming. And, last we knew, he’s on the lam!

4. Baddies not only make the heroes do stuff that’s…heroic, but they are often the driving force behind a story. Think about it. Without the baddies, what are the good guys and gals going to do? Nothing. Sit around, Chillin’ out, maxin’, relaxin’ all cool. Booooring. Bring in the baddies! Let’s get this party started!

ilithyia_lucretia

Ohhh Lucretia and Illythia from Starz tv show, Spartacus. I. LOVE. THEM. Love, love, love. If you’ve never seen this show, fix that err in your ways immediately. There’s a lot of violence, sex, coarse language, and A LOT of nudity. (I say this to encourage, not deter) At the core of it all are amazing characters and stories, the best of which includes baddies. The best baddies IMO are Lucretia and Illythia. These two women do more conniving, scheming, plotting, and web spinning than the Roman Senate as a whole. You like Lady MacBeth types? Check out these two power players! Frenemies of the best order too. They own every scene they’re in and you love, love, loooooove to hate them.

5. Baddies are an equal opportunity clique. Speaking in averages and percentages, in popular culture, there are more well known male heroes than female. Baddies, on the other hand, come in all shapes, sizes, sex, and species. =) As evident in my picspam, the women often out-bad the men. Hee hee!evil queen

One of my all time favorite baddies is the Evil Queen. Yes, she’s originally a Snow White story creation, but the theme of an evil queen is transcendant. Fabulous, rich, powerful, bitter, and vengeful – she is the ultimate diva and she will wreck your world. I do the giddy seal clap just thinking about her! I love Once Upon A Time’s version of the Evil Queen. Regina. Former Queen in their fairy tale land, modern Mayor of Storybrooke. In developing Regina, they’ve given the Evil Queen a reason to be evil. We can actually sympathize with her and sometimes think she may be redeemed. Or maybe not. Either way, she is a force to be reckoned with and if you’re smart you won’t underestimate her. She is woman! She is a queen! And her make-up is flawless!

What about you? Who are your favorite villains and why? They’re best when they’re baddest!

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Alphas, Betas, Gammas and Antis – A Hero for Everyone

We all have those heroes we love the most. The ones who make us stand up and cheer or make our hearts do giddy back flips. Why do we love them? What is it that makes us connect and root for them? I won’t attempt to give a lengthy answer (everyone would answer differently anyway), but I will divide these heroes up into 4 main subgroups so we can study what works.

I’m including the women here too. Heroines. Though some prefer to call them heroes as well. Whichever term you prefer, the fact remains that the hero is no longer a cookie cutter image of the male town sheriff with a white hat and a handsome steed.  Particularly in paranormal, sci-fi, and fantasy fiction, our heroes are all over the spectrum. 

I won’t drone on in long hand about the characteristics of each, but instead sum them up in short lists.

(I love lists! And parenthesis! And exclamation points!!!)

The Alpha Hero:

Confident

Leader

Dominate

Competitive

Deliberate

Powerful

Aggressive

Often physically heroic

Examples:

Alcide – Sookie Stackhouse Series/True Blood

Thor, Captain America, Wonder Woman

Buffy  

thor

 

The Beta Hero:

Caring

Comforting

Easy going

The “nice guy/gal”

Clever

Practical

Responsible

Often intellectually heroic

Examples:

Toby Maguire’s Spiderman

Sam Neill in Jurassic Park

Ryan Reynold’s in The Proposal

Willow (early seasons of BtVS) 

willow

More recently there’s been an emergence of a third hero type:

The Gamma Hero. 

In short, it’s a mix of both Alpha and Beta, with the best characteristics of both.  This mix has been around forever, but now it has a name. Think Jeff Goldblum’s character in Jurassic Park. Jack Ryan from the Tom Clancy novels and movies (The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, etc.). Often using their wits and taking a back seat to the person in the limelight, they will step up to action if that’s what it takes.  I can’t help but think of the Hulk. (lol…Gamma…get it?) But seriously, Bruce Banner, if he was alone in his body/mind, is more Beta, but the Hulk is all crazed green Alpha. Having that side makes him more Gamma overall. There can be a big gray area on who’s a Gamma, but the judgment call really lies in the eye of the beholder.

redoctober_se_sm01

Finally, there’s a type of hero who falls outside of all three.  He/She may have characteristics of any of the above, yet they will always remain outside the lines.  The Anti Hero. (A personal fave!)

The Anti Hero:

Character traits contrary to the traditional hero, but still has heroic qualities

Sometimes does bad things that aren’t “evil”

Doesn’t fight for justice, but is motivated by personal desires/set of rules

Isn’t always friendly or caring to those except an inner circle (if even then)

Is loyal to few people (if any)

Doesn’t want limelight or attention

Often ends up doing something heroic as secondary to his/her primary goal

Examples:

Severus Snape

Wolverine (Squeee! =))

The Punisher

Spike (from BtVS)

Lisbeth Salander (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) 

lisbeth

Which do you prefer?  Why? Do you love the Alpha because of the promise of strength and justice?  Do you favor the Beta’s wit and easy going ways?  Are you drawn to the Anti-Hero’s blurred lines of right and wrong, justice and punishment?  Or do you like to mix it up?

Tell me about your fave hero(es). There’s a little something for everyone!

 

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