Every Character Has A Crutch

We know it’s true. And yet so many writers try to deny it. But I believe that the best and most complex characters all have a crutch of some sort.

And crutches get such a bad rap.

As a physical therapist, I know how important real crutches are to people who literally cannot stand on their own two feet. Crutches get them past a painful period when they need something to lean on.

Characters are no different. They all have crutches.

Whether it be alcohol, sex, bitterness, holding grudges, revenge, food, cruelty, unhealthy relationships, and, yes, even exercise. All characters have one thing in common…

None of them are strong enough to survive on their own. Even characters who are physically alone in the story need something to keep them going.

I’ll use some famous examples from my favorite works:

Anne Shirley from “Anne of Green Gables” – Most especially seen in the first book or two, Anne holds onto the fact that she is an orphan, and keeps grudges for a LONG time. Those grudges and her need to fall back on the orphan plot keeps her engaged in the story and gives her something that keeps her moving forward. She also has a fierce imagination which, while rich and verdant, can also be her downfall. When she can’t handle a situation, she resorts to fantastical ideas of resolution. These crutches make her a well-rounded and likable character.

Celaena Sardothien from “Throne of Glass” – Celaena is motivated by hoping to achieve her own freedom. Which, given what she’s lived through, is definitely a goal. But she falls back on her hatred of the king and her sharp temper as a crutch. She uses them to propel her lofty, and often insanely gutsy, goals towards fruition. She also leans on Chaol and Dorian, despite the fact that she claims to be self-sufficient and doesn’t need anybody. And you know what? That’s okay! We all need something to get us past dark times and difficult situations. As long as they don’t encumber our growth as a character.

The Big Friendly Giant from “The BFG” – This character is so adorably quaint and down-to-earth, it’s almost ludicrous to think he has a crutch. But he does. His fear of the other giants, and his nightly excursions to capture dreams are his crutches. He uses them as a means to make excuses for why he doesn’t take more of a stand… until little Sophie comes into his life.

I like each one of these characters for different reasons. Do I think they’re weak because they have a crutch or two? No. Not at all. Broken and imperfect characters give us an ability to relate to them. And when we see them rise from the ashes of their crutch and their dangerous or unhealthy mannerisms, we celebrate their victory all the more–because they’ve worked hard to prove themselves and strengthen their own resolve.

I’m sure if you thought about it, you’d realize all the best characters have them. And they make the story more compelling and add layers of richness and complexity to the narrative.

What do you think? Any famous crutches from your favorite characters?

Happy writing!

“Being vulgar to be funny is a crutch, and I prefer wheelchairs.”
― Jarod KintzThis Book Title is Invisible

The 777 Challenge

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Ha! Do you like my joke?

My most humble thanks to Caroline Peckham for nominating me to participate in this challenge. Her blog is awesome-sauce and I comment on there all the time because of her inventive posts and faboo ideas! Go check her out!

The concept behind this challenge is to share a tidbit from a WIP. I think any WIP will do, but since I have so many of them, I thought I’d share from my most worked-on piece that is about ready to be sent to agents.

The Rules:

– Go to page 7 of any WIP

– Scroll down to line 7

– Share the next 7 sentences in a blog post.

– After the excerpt tag 7 other writers to continue the challenge.

(Wouldn’t that make it the 7777 challenge? Meh. What do I know?)

Here’s the excerpt from my MG fantasy novel (first in a series):

Iphigenia opened her mouth, but Wilfrid clamped a hand over it. “Shut up, you two!”

The Colonel’s long-dead heart beat faster and faster. He wanted to rage at them to stop bickering when Ava was in danger!

“Ladies, please,” Gaspar said.

Iphigenia pushed Wilfrid’s hand off her mouth and scowled at Tess. She opened her mouth to speak, but the Colonel flew back down and interrupted.

I’m literally LOLing right now because this excerpt tells you absolutely nothing about the plot of the story. BAHAHA!!! You’re introduced to six characters in seven sentences. Confused yet? Hehe!! It’s much clearer in the book.

Now, I’m supposed to nominate seven others, but I’ve read many people’s WIPs and I know many of my bloggy friends have done this challenge already and I can’t keep straight whose done what, so…

I nominate everybody!!! (I’m such a rule-breaker).

I just love reading tidbits from people’s lovely and amazing creative minds, so if you have WIP with seven pages completed, let’s see a few sentences!

Happy writing, everyone!

“Turning a manuscript into a book is easy; getting the manuscript ready to become a book is hard.”
― A.P. Fuchs

“When you write a manuscript, it feels like being in a relationship with someone. You’ll hate it, get bored with it, be pissed of, like you just want to break up. But, just like any relationship, you will fall in love again and again, like you don’t want to lose it.”
― Alvi Syahrin

“manuscript
meanuscript
moanuscript
manurescript
and so on”
― Katerina Stoykova Klemer

Engaging the Senses

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Writers draw readers in to their imaginary worlds, their characters’ lives, and the driving story that ultimately leaves the reader wanting more.

And one way successful writers do this is by including every single one of the senses in their writing.

We all know the five senses: sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell.

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While there is debate over other non-traditional senses including balance, proprioception and kinesthetic awareness, heat detection, and pain, I’m gong to talk about the big five today.

Too often, writers focus on the sights and sounds in their creative works, but they miss out on the touch, taste, and smell aspects.

Sight and sounds are crucial, of course. We need to see what the characters see, but the other senses get left behind too often.

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For example, did you know that smell evokes more forgotten memories than any other sense?

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Yep. It’s true. I use this very fact in my fantasy series to bring back memories from a character suffering from retrograde amnesia.

Smell can also dictate whether a scenario is dangerous. The scent of gasoline, rotting food, a campfire… all these smells are crucial to our experience as a reader. Who here doesn’t know the joy of a campfire smell? I adore it, and every time I read about one in a book, it immediately brings the scent to my nose. Doesn’t that just enhance the reading experience and make me, as a reader, connect so much more to the book?

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And what about touch and taste? Who doesn’t want a stirring description of the sweet taste of fresh strawberries picked right from a wild plant? Or the first bite of a rich piece of cheesecake?

As for touch, our fingertips share the greatest number of tactile (touch) receptors along with our tongues and lips. That’s because we use our hands so much to detect the world around us. A description of a good night’s sleep wouldn’t be sufficient without knowing the softness of the sheets or the fluffiness of the pillow. Right?

So when you’re writing a chapter or a scene or a description, make sure you ask yourself which senses should be included. And don’t focus on the obvious ones.

Does every sense need to be included in every description? No. Then we’d be engulfed in sense and unable to wade out of that pool of description. But keep in mind which senses might draw your reader in most during each scene. Which one would draw you in the most as a reader?

Happy writing!

“Touch comes before sight, before speech. It is the first language and the last, and it always tells the truth.”
― Margaret AtwoodDer blinde Mörder

“Snyder: There are some things I can just smell. It’s like a sixth sense.”
Giles: Well, actually, that would be one of the five.”
― Mutant Enemy, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

“You must learn to heed your senses. Humans use but a tiny percentage of theirs. They barely look, they rarely listen, they never smell, and they think that they can only experience feelings through their skin. But they talk, oh, do they talk.”
― Michael ScottThe Alchemyst

“Nothing revives the past so completely as a smell that was once associated with it.”
― Vladimir Nabokov

Style Tells A Story

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Don’t freak out. I’m not going to talk about fashion, except that which belongs in my book.

In this case, my reference to style means the clothing of my characters. While others may disagree, I believe clothing is a crucial element in any writing, but most especially genre writing.

Would you dress an undertaker in bright pastels and clown shoes? Unless you’re writing about an undertaker with an identity crisis or some kind of comedy, the answer is no.

Clothing needs to match the essence of the story, as well as the setting, dialogue, and character background.

For example, my MC starts out incredibly poor, so, of course, she’s clothed in ratty jeans and hole-y sweaters. Even when she’s plunged into a different world of fancy clothes followed by clothes required for boot camp, she maintains the persona of one who came from poverty. Just because the clothes change, doesn’t mean the person will.

While at boot camp, the kids have to wear a uniform every day that consists of pliable leathers and cotton – formed in ways to make it easy to move, run, jump, and hide when its required. They’re even given specially crafted boots. If you’re new to my blog or don’t remember, I’m a physical therapist. Therefore, I just had to give my characters well-fitting and tailored shoes. Our feet are probably one of the most important parts of our body concerning mobility and healthy movement, but we so often neglect them with crap shoes that don’t fit, all in the name of fashion. I couldn’t do that to my poor characters.

Let’s think of other books and the style that accompanies them.

Lord of the Rings, written by my all-time favorite author, consists of clothing and style consistent with ancient tales and epic stories. If Tolkien had had his characters wearing jeans and sweatshirts, his book would have gone nowhere.

The Lunar Chronicles, including the books Cinder, Cress, and Scarlet, have a large variety of styles, but it’s consistent with the futuristic premise. There are mechanical and geometrical aspects to their clothing that fits with the time. Again, if Marissa Meyer had put her characters in jeans and a sweatshirt, we’d have known right away they didn’t fit the futuristic setting.

This seems like such a basic concept, but it’s amazing to me how many authors miss the all-important clothing concern. Just a word here or there about clothing in a book is enough to get an idea of style. I’ve read dozens of books that had me shaking my head with their lack of continuity with era, setting, and class. The way a person dresses tells us so much about their personality and life perception, but it’s so often disregarded. That should never be the case. No matter the genre.

A little imagination and a bit of research, and all this could be avoided.

And not only should it be accurate, but it can convey emotion. The colors associated with fashion tell a story. Some people wear blue to stay calm. Others wear red to feel powerful and in passionate. Black renders formality and importance. Gray is somber and bland. Green makes us think of health and wealth. Brown is earthy and casual. Each color evokes emotion and, when paired with certain items of clothing, can convey a great deal. Be astute to what you use to tell your story.

What about you? When did you consider clothing or style when writing? When you started the story? Finished?

Clothing and colors count, people! Keep it real. Literally. 🙂

Happy writing!

“As she always did on any really important day, Penelope Hayes wore red.”
― Anna GodbersenThe Luxe

“Fashion is a language that creates itself in clothes to interpret reality.”
― Karl Lagerfeld

“What I really love about them… is the fact that they contain someone’s personal history…I find myself wondering about their lives. I can never look at a garment… without thinking about the woman who owned it. How old was she? Did she work? Was she married? Was she happy?… I look at these exquisite shoes, and I imagine the woman who owned them rising out of them or kissing someone…I look at a little hat like this, I lift up the veil, and I try to imagine the face beneath it… When you buy a piece of vintage clothing you’re not just buying the fabric and thread – you’re buying a piece of someone’s past.”
― Isabel WolffA Vintage Affair

Breaking the Rule of Three

Three is a big deal. The number, that is. Have you ever noticed? Especially in literary undertakings.

The Rule of Three is actually a writing principle, did you know that? Not just for characters, but also in phrases. E.G. “Go, Team, Go!” It’s also a memorization rule. Research shows people tend to remember things better if they come in groups of three. It’s also true in syntax, or sentence structure.

The Rule of Three is well documented. Let’s take a peek at some famous examples of the power of three in literature, recent and long past.

1. Harry Potter. Obvious for today’s society. Three main characters. Harry, Ron, and Hermione. It just works. And there are numerous secondary character threesomes.

2. The Hunger Games. Katniss, Peeta, and Gale. At times, Gale flickers out and other people replace him to complete the triad, but it’s still valid.

3. Twilight (blech). I despise Twilight, but it still follows the Rule of Three. Bella, Edward, and Jacob.

4. A Christmas Carol. Scrooge is visited by three spirits. Just enough. Not too many, not too few.

5. The Three Little Pigs. It’s all in the name.

6. Macbeth. There are three witches. They meet three times. They say things in three. (See what I did there? The Rule of Three in repetitive sentences).

7. The Three Musketeers. I know, I know. Technically, there are four, but the for the purposes of this list, it reinforces my point.

Well, what happens if you break that rule? Are you banned to the literary rubbish bin for all eternity? Are you black-listed from agents and publishers?

I sure hope not. Because I’ve done it.

I’m breaking the Rule of Three.

You heard me. In my MG fantasy books, there is one main character and three other secondary main characters, if that makes sense. Which means, for me, it’s the Rule of Four.

Although there is something inherently pleasing about the number three, it just isn’t always possible. Believe me, I tried to find ways around the four characters, but there wasn’t one. I’d have to completely gut the book to make it work. And honestly, I like the group of four characters. They’re all so different and bring unique traits to the story that it’d be like cutting off one of my limbs. Of which I have FOUR! Ha!

What do you all think of the Rule of Three? Is it a hard and fast rule for you? Can you think of any other examples? Do you follow the Rule of Three, or are you a rebel, like me?

Happy writing!

“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” W. Somerset Maugham

Kill Your Backstory… At Least Delay It

Hi again, friends! It’s been far too long, that’s for sure.

I really miss chatting with you all more frequently, but not having internet at the place I’m currently staying is detrimental to communicating via WP on a daily basis. Although, it is wonderful for my creative outlet-ing.

Have you ever read the first line or paragraph or page of a book and rolled your eyes so many times you felt like they’d get stuck like that?

No?

You’re lying.

We’ve all encountered books like that. I’m not going to name any specific book, but the one that bothered me the most, and most recently, was one a patient recommended I read. Thank God I didn’t buy it. She loaned it to me.

I’m always leery of people bringing me books. We all have such different tastes I rarely enjoy what’s recommended. Unless that person knows me very well.

On one of my lunch breaks last week, I had to drain and clean the water heater in the clinic. It takes 15 minutes just to drain it before I clean it. So I grabbed the book while I waited.

I cracked open the cover…

Held my breath as I read the first sentence…

And promptly rolled my eyes in disbelief.

Seriously? First of all, the opening line was a cheese factory and I could barely get past it. Then, the first paragraph called for at least half a dozen eye rolls.

And I didn’t even count how many times I muttered, “oh brother,” during the first page. I didn’t finish the book. I didn’t even turn the first page to read on.

Want to know why?

TOO. MUCH. BACKSTORY.

I barely met the main character when I was thrust into this backstory about these two people he met who changed his life forever and how that happened. All within the first page.

First of all, in order to understand why characters matter to each other and the circumstances surrounding the history of their relationships, it takes much more than one page – or a few paragraphs – to dig into the depth of that background. Why authors try to jam it all into the first few pages is beyond me.

I’m not saying I haven’t broken the Thou Shalt Not Include Backstory commandment. I have. As everyone has sometime in their writing life.

I get how crucial backstory is to writers, but the problem is, its far more important to us than our readers.

In the case of said book, I didn’t even know or care about the main character yet, and then I’m forced to encounter this random backstory that probably wasn’t important that early on in the story.

The way to include backstory is gradually. Pile it on during some lengthy dialogue, or in little bits and pieces throughout the whole book while the character is introspective.

Backstory is a delicate beast to manage. Too little and the readers give up on the character’s motivation for what they do. But too much and it grows into an untamable, wild-growing hedge of mythic proportions. As in… we can’t see above it, below it, around it, or through it. All we can focus on is the backstory, when the REAL story is getting buried under the clippings of the hedge.

Is backstory crucial to the success and enigmatic pull of our books? Absolutely. But for pity’s sake… take a whip to that beast and keep it in its place!

Happy writing!

“The more you leave out, the more you highlight what you leave in.”
― Henry Green

“No, no! The adventures first, explanations take such a dreadful time.”
― Lewis CarrollAlice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass

“The most important things to remember about back story are that (a) everyone has a history and (b) most of it isn’t very interesting.”
― Stephen KingOn Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

New Year, New Job!

Happy Belated New Year to you all!

Although, really, I’m not the biggest New Year fan. It’s just the passage of time to me, and since I never make resolutions on January 1st, the new year sneaks quietly through my apartment after I’ve gone to bed early.

It’s been a crazy few weeks. First, I was horrendously sick, then the holidays, and now I’ll be starting a new job on Thursday!

It’s exciting, but it also makes my life a bit insane around these parts.

The paper work! Gah! The paper work is killing me! Because I work in the medical field, the amount of crap they make you go through to work is ridiculous.

But I am excited! About seven months ago, I posted this entry about becoming a travel PT. Meaning, I would travel the country every three months to a different state and work covering maternity leaves, short-term disabilities, etc. Grad school cost FAR too much, and although I love to travel, I can’t actually afford to do it that often.

This way, I get PAID to travel! The travel company pays for me to stay in a furnished house or apartment, I get money for food, they pay for my travel expenses, for me to get licensed in another state, for my healthcare, my liability insurance, and SO MANY OTHER THINGS!

Since I’m still single and without kids, this is the best time of my life to do it! I hope to see as much of the country as I can in the next few years. I’m beyond ready for this adventure.

I’m also hoping this will inspire my creative writing. As many of you know, I began a MASSIVE re-write of my first book a couple months ago and it is taking much, much longer than I anticipated. I’m not doing any copying/pasting, but am starting over from page one.

The plot and such is essentially the same, but the tone may be a little different, a few characters added/deleted, some settings changed, etc. But my original manuscript was 120,000 words, which I whittled down to 105,000 before I sent it to agents this past spring.

I’m currently at about 7,000 words. Which equals two chapters. Gah! The first chapter was a beast, and the second one took a while because I was sick most of this month.

Nature and travel and new experiences always helps me to focus and write more, so that’s exactly what I’m hoping for.

Anybody have any new job/travel plans this year? Any locations on your travel wish list?

Happy writing!

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
― Augustine of Hippo

“Not all those who wander are lost.”
― J.R.R. TolkienThe Fellowship of the Ring

“Travel brings power and love back into your life.”
― Rumi