Friday, March 30, 2012


Diane's instructions: List the songs that move your spirit, cut deep into your soul, and threaten to break your heart. Any that inspires you! Up to ten songs and feel free to include links or videos.

This was harder than I thought it would be. Oh, not because I couldn’t think of songs—the good Lord knows, I could have given you pages—but because some of these songs cut deep. And for various reasons.  Many touch me far beyond the subject of the song. Could be a phrase or two of the lyrics, perhaps the music itself invokes feelings or memories. When I listen to them, it opens a door to a time and place. Not always comfortable because the song puts me back in a situation and the heart remembers people, things, laughter and the pain. Some of my songs, here, call to mind things my sisters or brothers went through, some are things I’ve gone through.

A few of these touch my heart in another way—they put me in a zone where I’d like to be. Especially some of the instrumentals because they create a sense of comfort, nostalgia,  peace, and reflection.

Evanescence—My Immortal  This one has deep personal meaning for me. Amy Lee has a knack, especially in this song, of capturing the pain and feelings bewilderment and loss. I’ve been there. My voice range is similar to hers and the first time I sang it in public I actually worried I wouldn’t be able to finish it without tears. But I did. It’s a heartbreaker.

Breaking BenjaminAnthem Of the Angels.  I will never hear this song without thinking of my brother Roland and the week prior to his death.

The rest are just songs I like and touch me.

Chris Issac—Wicked Games 

Staind—Falling.   Love the philosophy of this one.
Keith UrbanWhat About Me? There are days this song is so me. :-)

Tim McGraw—Please Remember Me 
Roger Whitaker—I Don’t Believe IF Anymore. (Thank you Dad for hooking me on this one).
Breaking Benjamin—I Will Not Bow Again the philosophy, much of it is mine.

Instrumental songs that touch my heart:

David Arkenstone & Kostia TheCello’s Song 

David Lanz  Cristofori's Dream 

William Elwood "Elysian Fields 

Hopefully, I  have all the links correct. If you find one  that isn't, let me know.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

BITCHES AND BASTARDS, Maybe. But No Perfect Characters Wanted

My guest, is fiction editor, Beth Hill. Her topic is on creating characters the touch readers. If you get the chance, do stop by Beth's Blog and check out her archives. She has some fabulous articles on craft and they are a great resource for writers.
I was recently  talking to a frustrated writer, frustrated because beta readers were finding fault with her lead characters.
Some readers didn’t like her male lead; others had trouble with the female. They said the characters were unsympathetic, unkind, or just not nice.
No, her leads aren’t rotten; they aren’t the bitch and bastard referred to in this article’s title. They are simply characters with character.
And isn’t that what we want for our stories, characters who stand out, who grab our attention? Don’t we want characters who make us notice them? Characters with character, characters we’ll remember for their bold actions, characters who stir our emotions? Don’t we want stories peopled with characters who aren’t safe and who don’t blend in?
The characters we most enjoy have some growing to do. They aren’t necessarily nice. They certainly aren’t insipid.
They don’t always do the right thing, say the right words, and have the correct motivations. They aren’t always politically correct and they may hurt others, both willingly and unknowingly.
They may never apologize. They may make excuses. They may lie or cheat or steal.
Characters who are bold, who aren’t always nice or polite or solicitous, are the characters readers will remember.
So why all the fuss from beta readers?
My guess is that the readers don’t want the writer to submit something they think won’t be popular with either agents or editors. Yet characters that stand out, who are outrageous or who stumble or who push the readers’ buttons, are exactly the kinds of characters agents and acquiring editors are looking for.
Who wants to read about nice characters, characters who don’t ruffle feathers or who don’t get into trouble or who always say the right thing?
Wouldn’t we rather read about flawed humans, people who make mistakes but who still manage to redeem themselves or a portion of their lives? Don’t we want bold characters who are different from us, who speak their minds—even when fearful of consequences—who press ahead despite fear and anxiety and feelings of worthlessness?
I know I’m seldom looking for nice characters. Nice characters don’t create tension—they’d work to diffuse it. Nice characters mean bland scenes and ho-hum motivations. Nice characters mean not-so-nice stories.
And lest anyone take offense, I’m not talking about doing away with characters who are good, who stand on the side of justice or integrity or decency. Good characters can be strong and bold and powerful. But nice characters, characters who don’t take stands and who have no outstanding quirks and who don’t rock the boat are not strong enough to be the leads in a novel.
Characters without flaw are flat and the stories told about them can’t draw the readers’ interest the same way stories about imperfect characters can. What surprise is there when a perfect character defeats his enemy? Doesn’t he always defeat his enemy? Was there any doubt that he’d win again?
But what about the imperfect character who’s admitted to cheating to get ahead—can he win the biggest challenge in his life without resorting to cheating again? Will those around him let him forget what he’s done before and pull for him or will they always stand against him, no matter how honest he now is? Can a rude or belligerent character change enough to get other characters on his side when it counts?
If your lead character is perfect, how will he grow? If he’s perfect, how will his next victory be any different for him than his last? If he’s perfect, how will the reader relate?
Perfect characters are fit for cartoons. It’s the flawed ones who make for fascinating fiction.
The writer I was speaking with said the characters didn’t resonate with the beta readers. Yet after hearing some of the comments her readers had made, I told her the characters certainly did resonate. They had those readers upset. The characters had succeeded in touching the readers.
And that’s exactly what you want your characters to do.
~  There is a difference between characters your readers refuse to follow through a story and characters who are flawed or who have problems or who irritate the snot out of the reader.
Flawed and irritating characters belong in fiction. But characters who are poorly written or who are repulsive to most readers deserve to be shunned. Yet, keep in mind that some characters, no matter how abhorrent, can make compelling stories.
~  Genre is an important consideration for character personality. In romance, readers are going to want to like your hero and heroine, even through their flaws. Be aware of what the genre allows. Be willing to push expectations, of course. But realize that you might not change those expectations with a single book, a single severely flawed character.
But don’t necessarily bow to what the beta readers say they want. They definitely don’t want perfection in their leads. They don’t want the beautiful and perfect and flawless. They may want redeemable; they don’t want main characters who don’t ruffle feathers.
Courtesy of Free Extras
Consider Rhett and Scarlett, whose movie was on TV just in time to bring them to mind for this article. Neither Rhett nor Scarlett are perfect, but they are good characters. Great characters. They give us reasons to both loathe them and root for them. They are bold, brash, audacious, and larger than life. They pull us into their lives not by their goodness, but by their manner. Their personalities. Their daring and confidence. Who would work his way through Margaret Mitchell’s tome without the reward of Scarlett’s nerve and Rhett’s disregard for propriety?

So, be bold in ruffling feathers of both other characters and your readers and don’t be afraid of writing characters who stir the puddin’. Certainly don’t shy away from giving characters unlikable qualities. Give them those negative qualities and make us like them anyway. Or make us root for them, even if they have flaws.
Don’t play it safe with your characters.
Don’t make readers wish they had picked up a more engrossing book rather than yours.
Do remember character traits and behaviors can have a range of intensities. That is, not all characters have to operate at the peak of their traits at all times. Adapt character behavior to the story you want to create, to the needs of the scene. Use lively characters to establish tone and to make other characters nervous. Use the behavior and thoughts and words of characters to make readers uncomfortable. They’ll thank you for it. And they’ll come back for more.
No, characters don’t have to be bastards or bitches or cruel or crazy or repulsive. But they could be. And if you write them well, readers will enjoy reading them.
Take your beta readers’ comments under consideration? Absolutely. But don’t allow them to strip the emotion and verve from your stories and characters. Write bold characters with quirks and faults and flaws. And remember that you don’t have to redeem them or heal all their frailties by the end of your book. You could. But if the ending, if the story, is more powerful with a still flawed protagonist limping home with the prize, then keep him flawed.
Create characters that are boldly imperfect.
And allow yourself to be bold as you envision imperfect characters to live in your story worlds.
Write strong fiction by creating characters who are far from bland and nice.

I love the written word, the ability we have to create worlds and emotions with well-chosen phrases. It’s my intention to share tips and insights and encouragement with writers at all levels, to help you craft stories that will entertain and satisfy your readers. That will help satisfy you as writer as well. I am both writer and editor. My editing focus is on long fiction, primarily novels. I also mentor beginning writers.

Monday, March 26, 2012

MONDAY MUSINGS: Blooming Again

From the withered tree, a flower blooms.

I have apple trees, but there is one I’m rather fond of because it’s a beautiful and the oldest of the apple trees. It used to put out a huge crop of apples. In the spring it would be drenched in the most gorgeous flowers—creamy white with a delicate tone of pink toward the center.

This tree and me go back a bit of time. The both of us have seen good and bad years been prolific in the creative process—she her flowers and beautiful sweet fruit and me with
my ranch and writing.

In 2008 she didn’t produce quite as many flowers or fruit. We figured she needed a bit of TLC. We pruned and powdered. In 2009, she was on her way to put on quite a show. Lots of flowers and they did my heart good to see them. The last week of March we had a horrible ice storm. It encased all the trees in a glittering coating of thick ice. Her flowers froze and those still budding and ready to bloom turned brown and died. Poor thing. She did go on and put out a bumper crop of leaves—considering the hard freeze, I thought she would die. Nah, she’s tough. Many of our trees were struggling to put on leaves that year.  In 2010, no flowers and there was a tornado. I had knee surgery. Copious repairs had to be made to our property that year. It was also the year I really started getting sick. August onward was not good for me. Last year neither of us was creative or productive.  I was beginning to think we were finished.

As I said, we’ve been through a lot, this apple tree and I.

Today, while I was working in the yard, I happen to glance over at the tree and to my surprise, she had quite a few flowers opening. I had to walk over and look. I stood under the tree and contemplated how much had happened in the past couple or years. To the both of us.

We've might have taken a hard hit but I guess you can’t count us out after all.

Looks like this year is going to be productive year for both of us. Might not be the most productive year, but we’re going to be all right. 

What have you had to overcome to be productive?