When Characters Threaten Your Plot!

Embed from Getty Images

I had encountered a problem between writing the first and second drafts of my first book in my series. I think it is a problem that authors encounter more often than we think.
First, I’ll give you a little background. While outlining Book 1 (and planning the overall arc for the entire series of books), I went into planning the characters. My main character is a twelve year old boy. His main antagonist seemed to be his power hungry uncle. Like most villains, my uncle character had a few “allies,” including a mad scientist character. I had plans for another character, one I titled “Malcolm’s Wizard Ally” in my Evernotes…
The mad scientist and his two lackeys were all a “go.”
But I almost didn’t bother with “Malcolm’s Wizard Ally” at all, until I did something that I advise all writers to do at some point during all stages of the writing process: I got up and went for a walk. Well, I have two dogs to walk, so this makes it perfect for me to get out of the chair and get some air. (If you don’t have a dog, I still recommend going for a walk, preferably without anyone who needs to chit-chat with you while doing so.)
That walk changed the entire course of the series…because that was when I managed to fully imagine this new character in my mind, gave him a name, gave him something to do to make the main character’s life a living hell. It almost seemed like this new character was a godsend. But he turned into a distraction. Suddenly, he was popping up everywhere in the plot, even where he really had no place. He’s just like that!
Yes, he was hijacking my entire series!
I think this may happen more often with villain characters than good guys, but I could be wrong. I also have seen and heard over and over about characters that even readers will like more than the main character! Something tells me that these characters had origins just like the one I developed.
So, I had a decision to make. Do I let him just run wild all over the place and make the story all about what he’s doing to torment my main character, or do I rein the old bastard in? Confession time: half of the material I wrote for NaNoWriMo last November were scenes between this character and my main character! Therefore, I’d venture to say that I have a lot of Book 3 written (at least the first draft) already (yay me).
And I discovered something while writing out this problem character. The problem wasn’t with the villainous witch. The problem was really with my main protagonist. He was weak and was not being challenged enough. He was being coddled by the other good guy characters, and he was having too easy a time of it. I’ve found out that not making my main character strong enough allowed this sort of phenomenon to happen, that other characters began to outshine him.
Every supporting character is supposed to be just that, supporting the main character, even if that “support” is not exactly beneficial for the main character achieving their goals. Yes, it feels nice to “be nice to” my main character, but his character is not built if I make things too easy for him. By sending this new character, this force of nature, to make trouble for my main character, I’m strengthening him, not weakening him!

It turns out that my main character is going to have what it takes to rein in this character. It’ll take a few books to do it, of course ;-), but it’ll happen!
Did you ever experience this phenomenon I’ve described? I found the only way to deal with it was to write as many scenes as I could with this character and my main character and work out how to strengthen the main character so he could stand up to this guy. Had you found any other methods for dealing with this issue?
As I stated in a previous post, Camp NaNoWriMo starts next week!

Posted by SB James in Older Blog Posts, 0 comments

My First Exposure to Self-Publishing

Embed from Getty Images

Welcome to my (late) first Saturday Evening Writing Post. I’m feeling only okay after getting my tooth done yesterday, so I’m going to keep this post a bit lighter than I originally meant to make it.
I can recall very clearly the first time I’d gotten a glimpse of a new age of publishing. At the time, I was working in a (shhhh) used book store, where people, mostly ladies, would come in every week with new Harlequin romances to trade for Silhouette romances, or vice versa. Of course, the best customers were considered the ones who traded Nora Roberts books in and got some of our more overstocked books. Romances were most definitely the biggest sellers there. In addition to every imaginable line of Harlequin and Silhouette (Desires, Super Romances, etc), we had a healthy selection of Historical Romances. One day, a kid had gone into the store with his mother and called out “Fabio” every time he saw the famous model on one of the multitude of book covers. Needless to say, he was calling the man’s name quite often.

Rogue by Fabio

Faaabioooo!


There was a reason there were so many romances–they sold! And were traded in great quantities. My impression, in the mid-nineties was that as an aspiring female author, I needed to start with trying to write for Harlequin or Silhouette, and if I was considered successful, I’d get a contract with Avon or whoever printed historical romances. This had been how Sandra Brown, Jayne Ann Krentz/Jayne Castle/Amanda Quick, and a lot of others had gotten their starts, after all. As a bonus, if I got really famous, they’d reissue all those old Harlequins I’d written…
This was what I felt I had to look forward to as an aspiring author. I didn’t dare hope to write real science fiction or fantasy, even though it’s true that there were a couple of female fantasy authors even back then, but let’s be honest, I felt I’d be stigmatized. Surely fantasy, sword and sorcery, space ships, all that was the realm of nerdy guys who never grew up enough to read Tom Clancy and Lawrence Sanders and Jon Land, weren’t they? The closest I’d ever get to writing something like that would be “Futuristic Romance,” Time-Travel romances, or the very obscure Angel romance.
I am telling you about the perceptions I had at the time. Whether they are completely accurate or not is another issue. If you were an author that didn’t want to be pigeonholed, you were in trouble. If you wanted to get published, you needed to fit into the mold. And that mold would change, sometimes too suddenly for others to keep up. There was one published author who would come into our store on a regular basis. She wrote for Silhouette, but also wrote larger contemporary romances, usually with a comical bent. She complained one day in the late nineties that she was having trouble, since all the romance authors were making a shift to romantic suspense, and that no one was looking for the type of romance she used to write. Before I left that store in 2001, the shift was again taking place, this time to the paranormal romance featuring werewolves and vampires, which had been previously the realm of horror writers.
In between all this, we had a woman come in one late afternoon. She had a box with her, and a plastic display. She asked my co-worker at the front desk if we would consider selling her product. What was it? It was a book on a floppy disk!
She had even printed little labels that looked like beach chairs on the sand, stuck onto each diskette and placed into a plastic case, sort of like a CD case. I recall having my eyes opened at that moment, seeing that potential that was there for the writer who wanted to publish on her own terms, using the computer to do it. The only problem I could see with that scenario was that people would probably not be too keen on sitting in front of a computer to read all day.
Obviously, at that time I had no idea about the website FanFiction.net, still in its infancy at that time… At that time, I didn’t even know fan fiction was a thing. Great, now you know all about my lack of savvy…
My goodness, how far technology has taken us!
Embed from Getty Images

That woman was a pioneer, the kind who tells everyone else that there’s a river that needs to be crossed. Portable devices that enable people to read electronically published books has become that bridge.
Have you ever tried sending your Word Document to your Kindle or Kindle app? If you haven’t done this before, you need to download a small file to your computer so that Amazon will be able to email your document to your Kindle. It’s cool to see your work in progress on your Kindle, isn’t it? I find it’s a godsend for editing! I catch so many more mistakes while reading a mobi file rather than reading a doc file! And here’s another trick I found. If you have more than one portable device on which Kindle is loaded, when sending your document to one of your Kindle devices, also send it to your Kindle cloud as a back up. Then, on your other device, download the file. Now, if you make notes on one device, you’ll have them synced to your other devices as well.
I hope you enjoyed this post. I’d love to know if there’s a way to send documents to your Nook app or Kobo like you can with Kindle. (Confession time, my favorite reader is Google books app, not Kindle!)
(By the way, just as a side note, I’m becoming addicted to embedding these getty images into my posts).

Posted by SB James in Older Blog Posts, 0 comments