The Inciting Incident: Is Your Character Unlikable or What Are You Missing?

Don’t you hate criticism that leads you to a lot of head scratching, but little to no idea how to fix the issue?

I had a beta reader – yes just one, tell me my character was nearly unlikable.  I sort of wanted to cry.  That wasn’t going to get me anywhere though.  I had to stop and think.  Why did beta reader A think that. The character is cynical and she has every right to be that way.  She is throwing around  sarcastic comments like they are as common as air. She can’t see anything for what it is and men, well men just drive the nail into her emotional coffin of mad.Incite

So I asked myself: is her entire outlook unlike any other woman scorned?  No.  She is who she is and she isn’t happy.  What I had to do was make it more apparent as to why she was so sarcastic about everything around her that day.  I had to figure out why it is the reader couldn’t identify or at least see why it is that she was acting out in her emotional tornado.  That’s when it hit me.   I was missing the inciting incident!

It better be apparent to your reader sooner  rather than later what the catalyst is to your characters actions.  The middle of a story is too late to explain why Fred is up and leaving, or why Sally was running in the rain, or why Ted just robbed a liquor store.  You can have undesirable traits in characters – heck they are supposed to be someone real so they better not be perfect.  The issue is making the cause for the not so positive traits visible to the reader.

In the first 3 chapters your inciting incident better be apparent.

Have you had any experiences with this confusing the reader because you didn’t make it clear or put it in too late?

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Fun Fact Friday -2013 Trends

Welcome to the new year.  What does a new year mean?  New beginnings, new resolutions, and new stories of course.  I don’t really believe in resolutions any more – that’s coming out of the mouth of someone who generally forgets I made a resolution and therefore I suppose I fail.  What I do believe in though, is escaping into stories.Prey

So what trends will continue from 2012 or start up?  Hard to say. But here are some trends that will probably continue.

  1. Established authors using 3,4, and even 5 POV’s.  Why is this?  Maybe to write the longer story?  I can’t really decide.  I am questioning whether the books would read better  if they stayed with the traditional 2 or 3 heads.  The push to continue cranking out books for less money might have something to do with branching out and trying to create filler with additional character POV.
  2. Billionaires – Thank you Fifty Shades of Grey and the numerous other billionaires seeking love in  50books.  This is most defiantly going to get worse.  Any why now.  Who wants to be poor.
  3. Apparently Bikers are up and coming due to the TV drama of Sons of Anarchy. I don’t watch this but it’s predicted that more and more romances will be set in bike shops and in the works of bikers.
  4. Thanks to bikers, apparently ink will become a new subset trend? The erotic book publisher, Ellora’s Cave, apparently has a line that caters to this already.
  5. New Adult – translation – younger main characters.  YA age with more sex or sexual energy.  What isn’t to love about this? I think this has been long and coming.
  6. Short Stories and Novella’s?  A few more independent publishers are popping up.  Even large publishers are using Novella’s to promote new and up-and-coming authors.

A few trends we can do without might be the Fifty Shades of Gray Halloween costumes come October and the naysayers who don’t like New Adult.  Some people just can’t be happy.

What trends do you see or have you read about coming up?

References and related articles:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/jeremygreenfield/2012/12/21/three-predictions-for-book-publishing-in-2013/

http://www.arecafe.com/cafe-news/romance-novel-trends-for-2013-and-beyond/

Are You Character Driven or Plot Driven?

A character driven story is a story in which the character is what drives the plot to move.  Anne of Green Gables, Twilight, and Rachel Gibson novels are character driven.  In these cases the stories wouldn’t have turned out the way they did without the character.  The characters are the stories and how the stories progress.

A plot driven novel is one where the plot defines who a character is and how the story will go.  Lord of the rings is an example of plot driven, as is Harry Potter.  You could have thrown anyone into these stories and they would have turned out the same – well okay not anyone.  The point is though, that the characters, although we care for them, are not what make things occur.  Action happens to them, they did not cause the action.

It seems with character driven books you get a deeper understanding of the character and their inner workings.  With a plot drive story you usually see the character at a birds eye view rather then know what their individual thoughts are.

I personally like stories that focus more on the characters rather then on the story.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love Harry Potter, you could still get lost in the story. The difference is that I wanted to know where the story went more then I wanted to see how the characters would progress.

Depending on your story, taking one view over the other can make or break what you are attempting to show.  Most romances will be told with the characters as your driving force, where as an epic fantasy will most likely take the plot driven approach.

I write character driven stories.  My characters talk to me and somehow the plot molds and shifts with each action. Even when I swear the story was going a different direction somehow my characters write the story the way they want.
What is your story and why?  List your genre to help put it all into perspective.

Is Dialogue Really that Hard?

Periodically posts pop up, tweets are sent out, or an agent gives a blurb at a conference on dialogue. They all reiterate similar rules but then add a different spin. The one theme is that, most people seem to struggle in dialogue. Is it really that hard?

I talk – I talk a lot. I think I get how people sound because I listen. My characters are no different than someone on the street. I hear them. I listen to them. I write what they would say. But apparently that is not really the case for most people. What makes dialogue hard?

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I started to read a new book today and contrary to the authors other books this one had very strained dialogue. Conversations don’t flow. Each character has a short line that seems to abruptly end. How do I start to like the characters when they seem like body snatchers learning to act like humans?

What does over doing it mean? I have had one person in five years say that to me. “Watch that you don’t over do the dialogue.” I couldn’t decide if that meant I had too much or if it meant that I had some forced lines. So because I have yet to figure it out, I re-read and simplified. I added a few more lines, actions, or thoughts between every-so-many lines of dialogue. I removed any dialogue that just maybe I didn’t love. Did I fix it? Who knows.

When it comes to dialogue I would sit in a public area and listen. Find two people who act like your characters. Yeah, okay think your characters are one of a kind- but remember you created them off of something. In the end read your dialogue after stepping away for a few days or weeks. Can you tell who is saying what? Each character has a distance way of talking. If they don’t you might have an issue…unless they are clones of course.

How do you create dialogue? Are there any fast and steady rules that you follow?

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Writing with Multiple POV’s

So now we know how many different POV’s we are using.  If you don’t, go see my previous posts: Multiple Personalities and Did you mean to have a personality disorder.

But, assuming you do the odds are you are writing in third person of some fashion. I suppose you don’t have to follow third person as a rule if you follow the House of Night Novels; but it is usually more accepted to not do this.

So that’s the question.  How are you going to write in several different POV’s (Point of Views in case you didn’t know.)

As I mentioned there are several different ways to write when using several different viewpoints.  House of Knight novels are an example of how each character has a new chapter in order to write the whole story in first person.  The authors of this series jumps into too many heads if you ask me and if they didn’t prequel each chapter with who’s POV it was, I would be lost.  Whether you like the books or not that is one example.

Another example is to simply write and switch POV as often as you like as long as each is its own paragraph.  There aren’t a lot of books like this but they are still out there.  I think Susan Elizabeth Philips uses this technique in older books of hers.

A third option is to switch into different POV’s as a “scene” change or a break in the scene while still remaining in the same chapter.  This is a lot more common and usually works out well for the reader.  I myself prefer this method.  Recently though I have heard some people suggesting that each character needs equal time in the chapter.  I don’t agree with that statement.  Does everyone talk as much as another or have the same deep thoughts person A had?
So how would you use the scene changes?
Do you continue the scene but now from person B’s POV?
Or
Do you rehash the events that had just occurred in the other person’s POV?
Or
Do you simply jump to another location altogether?

I think jumping locations or scene continuation are mostly used.  Susan Mallory uses this technique. She also writes in more than two POV’s. Rachel Gibson sticks to two people, and she uses the continuation of the scene with some rehashing of events but it’s minimal and flows as the scene continues.

Points to ponder:
I think a good point to note is that if you are not in one of your characters head’s enough the reader won’t feel like they know the character.
If you are in one characters head too much we might get a one sided view point. Maybe you want that?
If you switch between characters too often we may never see a full picture from either character.
Do both characters really need equal time in each scene or chapter in order for the reader to really understand what is going on? (I don’t think so but that is just an opinion.)

Drawing You in from the Start

I think I have characters on my mind.  Why? Well because I am running into a slump.  I think my current manuscript has some really great points but it is lacking.  What it is lacking I don’t know.  Could it be missing action in the first chapters?  Well, it is a romance.  So action is subjective.  What am I doing while trying to sort out my issues?  Reading one of my favorite romance authors of course.

I am reading an older book of hers and it has had me since hello.  Okay that was cheesy. But it really has had my attention since the first few pages.  Why?  I can’t say.  The first part of chapter 1 is about an ex football player, in his agents office, dreading a choice he made.  It really isn’t action, it’s even told from the agents POV not the hero’s.  How that works I’ll never know since the man is a bit part for what I can see.

The second chapter is about the mousy heroine.  Yes mousy… I am glad we got away from cliques but It is interesting that you actually want to read on about someone that is plain and ordinary.  I think the line about her mother telling her she is plain and homely might just have made you feel for her. But again no action – well until she shows up at a wild party unknowingly.

You know so little about the Hero at this point, or well you would if the agent hadn’t added his two cents.  But I don’t think that is a  customary way of introducing a character.  Normally you are supposed to stick to 2 or 3 main character POV’s.  So as much as I want to learn from some of my favorite authors I think her style is better left for established writers.  For now I guess I will be adding some internal dialogue and just try to make it catchy.

Oh and to reiterate Tuesday’s post about Writing a Memorable Character , this author uses plot sometimes to show a characters traits such as the mousy girl being somewhat sheltered and craving adventure.  It has created some very good laugh out loud moments.

What do you do to draw in someone?  Yes a great opening car chase or shoot out is action but there had to be something more.  Maybe I am over analyzing my own work but in the mean time I might as well learn and decide if it can be applied to my writing style.

What are you prone to doing to start off your book?  How do you get someone on the side of your characters from the start?

Character Development – Writing a Memorable Character

Recently some stories out there have made me think about the characters.  Which ones have  left me thinking of them for years, or which characters can I not even name.  Hate then or love them you can’t forget them: Harry Potter, Ron and Hermine, Bella Swan, Gollum,  Luke Skywalker, Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy , Anne (of Green Gables), Stephanie Plum, and so on.

For me the Characters in my story are easy.  I know them. I see them.  I think I am actually friends with them.  Maybe that is a sign of insanity?  Hmm….

Still knowing the character is only half the battle.  I have to be able to come up with a description of them.  I have to be able to summarize who they are and if I can’t I realize that that character isn’t really a person that you can relate to.

What truly makes a great character?  What makes a character someone to love or hate enough that you follow their story?  I do  think there are some very flat characters out there, and even with that you still finish out the story. Only later you realize you have no idea who they were.  Let’s pretend they don’t exist for this post.

First things first.  Stereotype your character to get their top layer – like an onion.  This is the layer everyone sees right away.  Next ask some basic questions.  What is it your character fears?  What is driving them to their end goal?  What would make them turn away from their goal?  Those should be the easy questions.  You character has to struggle with the conflicts you throw at them.  Keep asking questions until you know your character. You may already know them so this could be short for you.

The next thing though, is using your plot to drive out those other layers.  Let your characters traits come out by actions and reactions.

Remember Hermione in Harry Potter – She was smart.  We know this from the stacks of books she carried to her constantly trying to answer every question in class.  We know she was resourceful because she could pull a spell out of nowhere.  These were all shown through the plot from her being in the library to her being in the classroom.

Elizabeth Bennett was a strong willed woman.  The plot showed us that by putting her in front of lots of men and doing what  exactly opposite of socially acceptable.  She was also a person that jump to conclusions and judged people. (Your likable characters aren’t perfect).  Her story forced her to face the fact her first impression of Mr. Darcy was wrong.

So make a mental note of your characters archetype, ask some hard questions about your character that will show up in different places of the book.  Make sure they have a flaw that will be turned around later but will help move along the plot- assuming this is a main character anyway. Make sure the character has a clear goal and stumbles through a few obstacles to help them grow as a person.

How do you create character depth?

What Makes a Likable Character?

Depending on genre “likable” can be very subjective.  In the romance genres there are some basics.  Men need to always be as close to an alpha as possible and still have a sensitive side.  Yeah. I know.  No real men are like that, hence why we read a romance. Women need to be sweet and somewhat venerable in order to allow the alpha-side of the male to show.  Or do they?

There are millions of romances out there where heroines are starting to become strong, can do characters.  I am not talking about physically strong either.  Emotionally strong or independently minded, but they still have a weak moment where the man is able to get in there and still ‘rescue’ her.  The differences are probably the times.  Historical romances are even seeing more woman with some gumption, not necessarily true to the times but that’s why we write, to imagine.  Jane Austen didn’t have a 100% wimpy women and super macho men.  Granted in the end most of the men are fairly alpha, but you don’t know this until the end.  Jane Austen is a  good example of breaking rules on likability.

In Sense and Sensibility all her men are either likable or not likable until closer to the end.  Edward is actually kind of a wimp, but he finally does something with gusto at the end – marriage to someone who deserves it. Willoughby is the macho man, giving Maryanne the time of her life. In the end he ends up a slim, but you feel for him a little still because although he abandoned her for money, you get it.

What is your recipe for a male?  I’m not sure you can really summarize them into a recipe , but i suppose we can try.

10%Unique

40%Macho

30%Driven

20%Sweet

I have a character in one of my manuscripts who is angry at the beginning.  The reader sees that she is angry and upset.  It wasn’t until a few critiques that one person said they didn’t think she was likable.  I didn’t know how to react to this.  Instead of changing the story I left her angry but moved up her motivation.  I never could get feedback from the that same person so I have to trust my other critics that although she was angry to start, you understood even if you yourself had never been in that situation.  Because my female characters are a piece of me I wanted to ask if my heroine was going through a situation that somehow I was the only one to have ever crossed.  I highly doubt that.
So in the end if you character is angry or hurt or rude, if their motivation is clearly spelled out does that make them likable?  If they show a vulnerability even while showing their worst trait could you love their story?  Maybe there is a difference between a desirable character, a likable character, and a character that keeps you reading.

How much of your characters faults can you show before you have given their motivations?  I started reading a book with the most unlikable of characters for the first few chapters.  In fact both hero and heroine were unlikable.  In the end though, I fell in love with their story and started to hate the victim of the book    .

Did You Mean to Have A Personality Disorder?

Voice (and I don’t mean speech) can make or break who your character is as a person. If you use the wrong word your character just went from strong independent woman to withering damsel in distress. Nothing will annoy your reader more than a change in personality. Maybe there is a better word then voice, but that is how I look at this. The voice behind the words that gives your character the framework of who they are and who they will become.All the hats a character could wear

 

 

So, I talked about authors having schizophrenia with too many POV’s, but what about a character that has multiple personality disorder and you weren’t trying. Yes, some characters really will have some issues: serial killers, mad scientists, an institutionalized character or maybe a mom-I feel like I have issues most days. But, for the common character that is supposed to be relatable, you probably aren’t trying to give him or her some kind of major personality disorder.

I have a picture in my head of who my character is and I hope she stays that way throughout the book. I have a mental checklist – although I should most likely have a written one. Six chapters into my writing she is a spunky blond, with a minor attitude, determined to make it on her own and stuck with her choice. Chapter seven would be a very odd place for me to decide to change her into a sap who wants nothing then to marry Mr. Hot and Steamy even though she hasn’t worked past whatever it is that has been driving her through the first portion of the story.

Now granted my stories are character driven, maybe someone who’s story which is plot driven could pull this off. Maybe it is less of an issue but I still think the rules are the same. You cannot change your characters mid story without a major event and even then they will still react a specific way to said life change.

So although I think that there are some days that the voices in my head are telling me to do something out of character, this isn’t a trait you want your character to have unless they fit into the fore mentioned list. Each character has a voice and that voice will show who your characters is. The voice in which your character is written will drive his or her actions.

How do you keep your characters straight while writing? Have you read books where the character changes mid book and it leaves you wondering if the person had a lobotomy?

Multiple Personalities

I feel like some books have schizophrenia.  Too many stories to follow, meaning you are in at least 4 to sometimes 8 peoples heads.  Who’s story is this?
Has anyone else heard the rule no more then 3 peoples POV’s per story?  Maybe this is a rule someone made up to drive people like me bonkers, because I can’t forget it.  My manuscripts usually have 2 POV’s.  The hero and herioine.  I feel like it helps the reader connect with the main characters.  But I am reading a book that has 5 POV’s.  4 of which I am fine with, but the 5th just seems superfluous.  Why do I need to be in the daughters head?

I feel like once you start getting away from the main characters the story’s owner gets lost.  Who is this story really about.  The author that has inspired this post is well established and is pulling it off okay, but there have been some books with too many POV’s.  I got lost.  I couldn’t keep one character from another straight.  Maybe the largest issue with that typically accomplishes this phenomena is that her characters weren’t well defined that they could stand out.  And i don’t mean well defined as in, hair color and shape of her nose.  I mean, the characters personalities weren’t different enough to make me realize they were separate people.

I love to write with two POV’s.  I hope others enjoy it too.  But when are there too many and how do you help the reader follow?  Do you think mind jumping into more then 3 is smart or just for the established author who has apparently decided to break every known rule out there?