Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Avoid Sad Sack Protagonists

This top post of 2016 was first published on June 2nd.

Your characters should be multi-faceted. They should have strengths and weaknesses.

Wounds from life that haven't healed can supply internal conflict or motivate them to take on the overall story problem.

However, if your character is so lacking in self-esteem that he is not equal to tackling the overall story problem or so sniveling or pathetic the reader can’t get behind him, it is a serious plot fail.

If you decide to burden your characters with low self-esteem at least understand the why and how. Use the problem judiciously to motivate them, not from a standpoint of ignorance. Choose the degree of affliction carefully.

As children grow up, there are several ways in which their self-esteem is damaged.

1. Healthy self-esteem requires competence.

A child needs to feel self-confident and independent. If Dick, as a child, is not allowed to master things, to build self-confidence and independence, he becomes weak and helpless and develops an inferiority complex.

These problems can complicate Dick's relationships, friendships, social connections, and job performance. Dick's inferiority complex can create conflict in all layers of story problem. Wherever he goes, whoever he meets, he will feel "one down." He will hear implied criticism where none is intended. He will grow resentful of everyone he deems "one up": those who are smarter, richer, or more successful.

How far he goes to level the playing field depends on the type of story you are telling and the type of character he plays. Is he the villain? Is he a foe? Worse, is he a friend?

2. Healthy self-esteem requires confidence.

If Jane lacks confidence, she might irrationally defer to others. She can lack ambition and be pessimistic. This creates conflict with her lovers, family members, friends and business partners. In this state, Jane makes a good foe. It's hard to be friends with her. Her friends will grow tired of her negativity and inability to make a decision.

3. Healthy self-esteem requires self-respect.

If Sally has low self-esteem, she'll have a hard time appreciating other people. The darker side of low self-esteem can drag her into drug addiction and crime. She does not love herself, so she cannot feel the love other people try to give her. She will take every positive comment they make as a personal attack. Sally makes a poor friend and coworker. No matter how hard you try to make Sally feel better, she'll twist what you say to fit her negative self-image.

Misery not only loves company, miserable characters will go to great lengths to drag others down with them.

Severely broken characters do not make good protagonists, unless it is a literary story where you follow the character’s arc from low self-esteem to high self-esteem.

Everyone has down days, but if Dick is depressed, he always feels low. It keeps him from succeeding in relationships, friendships, at work, and in social organizations. He won’t make a good antagonist or hero in a Thriller or action tale because he can’t summon the requisite energy.

Depressed characters can be the protagonist in a literary story where they overcome the problem.

Depressed characters can be friends and foes in the other genres.

I've read a few stories with depressed, self-loathing main characters. It was difficult to root for them.

There is a trend to utilize horrible people as protagonists. For some writers, the ploy has worked but with mixed reviews. The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling comes to mind.

I don’t read those books, probably for the same reason I don’t watch “reality” TV where dysfunctional people “show their backsides,” as my granny would say, for public entertainment.

I am troubled by the presentation of verbal, emotional, and physical abuse as humorous rather than tragic. Abuse is a sad reality for too many people. As a writer your manipulation of the characters and plot illustrates abuse as excusable or criminal. But that is a topic for another day.

Your protagonist does not have to be perfect, but he must inspire the reader to root for him. We can root for him to succeed in his overall story goal or fail at it. Either way, by making us care about the story outcome, you supply the needed tension to keep readers turning pages.

Sad sack protagonists can make readers toss your book into the garbage bin and leave scathing reviews.

For more information on building characters through personality types and nature/nurture, pick up a copy of Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict and SBB: Build a Cast Workbook.

Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Hollywood, Here I Come

This top post of 2016 was first published on April 28th.

From April first to the third, I blew my budget on a trip to California for the Sisters in Crime Hollywood Conference at the Hilton Hotel in Universal City. The SinC organization put on a great conference, and it didn’t cost the Sisters one cent. Well, except for travel and hotel, but the conference was free.

Every morning started with a continental breakfast except for Saturday when the Los Angeles Chapter of SinC put on a magnificent spread. Lunch was provided Friday and Saturday, and I have to say the Hilton food was outstanding.

The conference included panels with Hollywood industry veterans that included writers, producers, editors, screenwriters, cable and network professionals, directors, program and development honchos, literary agents and managers, and even an entertainment attorney. The speakers explained their jobs, told antidotes, gave us ideas how to connect, and graciously offered five minute pitches to the attendees.

Before the pitch session, we had pitch specialists help us compose a one line pitch to grab a producer/director/agent's attention. If you think it’s hard to explain your book in a sentence that would knock a producer’s socks off, you’re right. The person who helped our group was terrific. When the time came to pitch, most of us were nervous. I pitched the first book in my series, Mind Games, to a lovely gal who is director of development at Cartel. When the timekeeper came in to signal the end of my five minutes, I slipped the development director my bookmark containing all my books in living color, and was ushered out the door.

The subjects of the six panels:
1. Who’s Looking for What?
2. What Makes a Good Character?
3. From Page to Screen
4. Getting Past the Gatekeepers
5. The Steps from Development to Green Light
6. Let’s Make a Deal

My take was what a lot of us felt: MIXED MESSAGES. We want your book, we want to find you, BUT, you must have an agent with connections to film and TV in order to get your book in front of the right people. This was something I suspected but it spelled disappointment nevertheless. Not that I thought anyone would walk away with a contract. I'm not that naive. One writer I know wangled an invitation to send her book, so best of luck to her. I gave my bookmark to the woman who said they were always looking for good material. We’ve since connected on Facebook. I hope she’s curious enough to check out my stories. But the best way to gain the attention of Hollywood is to write a bestseller, a la Gone Girl, get lots of reviews, and then maybe, just maybe, someone will find your book. We all know how easy that is. :-)

The highlight for me was an hour speech by bestselling author, Megan Abbot, who’s adapting two of her novels for film. She, like Gillian Flynn, has the star power and writing creds to be able to negotiate that kind of control. Advice for the rest of us, should we be lucky to ever land an option or contract: stay out of it. They will do what they want with your words and your story. Megan was funny, natural, and informative about the ins and outs of writing for film. Everyone thought she was great. I know I did.

The other delight was actress-turned-mystery writer, Harley Jane Kozak, interviewing actress, writer, director, and producer, Alison Sweeney, who stars in Murder She Baked on the Hallmark Channel, based on the books by Joanne Fluke.

Hallmark produces ninety movies a year, and is the best outlet for cozy mysteries, which unfortunately, I don’t write. I’m a Lifetime Channel gal myself. (Hear me, Lifetime? I’m ready. Got eight stories you can adapt to the small screen. Even wrote a screenplay for one of them.)

Best of all was the camaraderie of the Sisters. I met a few Sisters I knew from online, got to know a few more. To top off the weekend, three of us did Rodeo Drive. We sauntered into all the designers' stores, checked prices, and hot-footed out of all the designers' stores. But we had a fun afternoon. Even our actor-to-be Uber driver drove us around and pointed out the high spots. Was the trip worth it? Every penny.

What’s next for me? I wrote a screenplay for my book Hooked in 2014, entered it in a contest—one of the things they suggested we do to get our work into the hands of film professionals—and though it didn’t do well, I plan to learn how to do it better and rewrite it. I also want to finish the two books I’m working on. So full plate for 2016. Wish me luck.

Polly Iyer is the author of seven novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and three books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games, Goddess of the Moon, and Backlash. A Massachusetts native, she makes her home in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Carolina. You can visit her website for more on Polly and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, December 5, 2016

What is Deep POV?

This Top Post of 2016 first published on May 17.

Just when you think you’ve figured out this thing called Point of View, you get an editor who says “go deeper.” So, what does deep POV mean, anyway?

Basically, it is taking the author completely out of the story, leaving the reader inside the head of the character. As readers we want to experience this character’s adventures vicariously. We want to see, smell, hear, taste and touch the same things the character does. The character is interpreting the story for us just like we interpret what happens in our lives. That means that in deep POV even the “less exciting” parts like description become exciting because they show emotion and personality.

Part of going deeper into POV is the “show versus tell” technique. Because we want to become Indiana Jones or Bridget Jones or whoever we’re reading about, we don’t want to be TOLD that Indiana is afraid of snakes. We want to FEEL his fear, to taste it, smell it. We don’t want to be told that Bridget is lonely, we want to be lonely too. Use the five senses liberally.

Drop the taglines (he said, she whispered etc). Example: “Why do you insist I make that speech?” she asked. Mary’s hands shook and she knew she would have butterflies. (Drop the “she asked” and go with the action or reaction.)

Weed out the thought and sense words. If we are in Mary’s head, we know she’s thinking (again no tagline needed). Likewise with words like “felt”, “saw”, “watched” and “knew”. We don’t need to be told that she felt her hands shake or that she has butterflies—describe how those butterflies feel inside her. She watched a smile spread across Dick’s face. Simply: A smile spread across Dick’s face.

So, don’t create distance between your reader and your character by inserting your (telling) self. Let them hear the character’s voice. Let them feel her fear/joy/confusion etc. It’s personal and intimate. Readers will form a stronger connection to the characters and then they will have to know what happens to them, so they’ll keep turning the pages and wanting to read your next book.

Do you have any more tips on creating Deep POV?

A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in North-central Arizona where she blogs, teaches writing, and edits. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, won the national WILLA Award. The next book in the series is Dare to Dream, and a non-fiction book Cowgirl Up! A History of Rodeo Women, is also available. Heidi has a degree in journalism and a certificate in fiction writing.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Five Ways to Spring Clean Your Amazon Author Page

This Top Post of 2016 first published on March 29.

So, you have a book or multiple books on Amazon, eh? Great! You’ve probably taken time to head over to the Author Central page on Amazon to give readers some information about yourself.

And after you did that…

…you might have worried more about checking your book rankings on Amazon than providing a little feng shui to your author space.

If so, worry not, for below, you’ll find five ways to help you spruce up your author page!

#1 - An image can be worth a thousand words. The first thing readers see when they land on your author page is your face. Think about the personality you want to convey to your reader and change your image periodically to reflect that personality.

#2 - Well, hello, my name is… Just as your life changes, your bio should change. It’s your HELLO, your WELCOME, your INTRODUCTION to your reader, so it should pop. It doesn’t hurt to do a quarterly check on your bio, cutting descriptions that might detract a reader, adding information that reveals your awesome personality, changing the tone of the bio depending on where your writing career is currently, etc.

#3 - When in doubt, blog it out. If you keep an active blog, link it to your author page. This is a great way to make your author page a catch-all: a place not only to purchase your books but also to keep up on what’s going on in your personal and writing lives.

#4 - Give ’em something to talk about. Do you have trailers for your books? Do you have video of book signings, events, interviews? Do you have great pictures of you with your readers? Add those images and videos to your author page to add layers of cool information for readers to dig into and learn more about you and your product(s).

#5 - Sharing is caring. When you update your author page, share the link with your readers: add it to your e-mail signature and newsletter, and let your friends and followers on Facebook and Twitter know about the page, too.

Every home should be a space people feel comfortable in, want to return to. Your Amazon Author page is no exception. Spring clean your space and invite your readers to the goodies you leave for them!

How often do your update your author page on Amazon? How important do you find updating your author page?

Creative Passionista Shon Bacon is an author, editor, and educator whose biggest joys are writing and helping others develop their craft. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her author website.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Happy Holy Days and More

Words are so powerful. Last year, with all the debate around Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays... I came up with a series of these memes. I'm fairly certain we can all find the sacred in the season, and within the context of our own story.

Photo credit: Dani Greer 

As we do every December, we'll share some of our previous posts, and this year, you'll get another chance to read the Best of 2016. It was a good year for us, and we hope you'll join us here in 2017. Happy holy days!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Writing as Therapy

One of our themes this of this month’s blog is gratitude. It’s been a tough month for some of us, maybe all of us. The contentious election of 2016 put friends against friends, and family members against each other. It has been one of my biggest distractions for the last year, and now that it’s over, I’ve decided to stop watching TV news. I haven’t since November 8th. The vacancy it left got me back to reading, binge watching TV series like Poldark, which I’m loving, and writing. It also made me think of why I started to write in the first place.

It was during a difficult time in my life. I was stressed and upset, over what doesn’t matter. We’ve all had those times; they keep popping up like a summer cold. I read a suspense novel that I thought was rather poorly written, both in execution and plot. I’m no great writing critic, but I know what I like, what keeps me riveted. This book left me thinking, for some ungodly reason, that I could do better. I’d never written anything other than silly poems or fashion copy for ads I used to draw for stores in Boston when that was my profession a lifetime ago.

I had a plot idea and started writing, having no plan, no outline. When I finished, I thought it was a pretty good story, but I knew I needed an editor. I didn’t know what I didn’t know, but at least I knew it. I found a man online, we chatted. I thought he was quite the character, and it turned out he was. I got his prices and sent him the manuscript. He emailed me after reading forty-nine pages and said the plot was great; the writing needed work.

Well, yeah, that’s why I sent it to you, I wanted to say but didn’t.

His edit was great, a primer on how to write a sentence, eliminating all the extraneous garbage. I felt like I had taken a college class.

Not to go further with the book or the editor but to the reason I started writing in the first place. Entering into a fantasy world took me out of my own world, which, as I said, was not a happy place to be at that time. My story became my other life, and I’ll always be grateful for that. I loved being someone else for those writing hours, because that’s how I did it. I became my heroine and my hero, my villain and the supporting players. I enjoyed the process so much, that I kept writing my stories after I finished that book, creating other stories, each different from the one before.

As situations always change, I got past my dark period and found a new love: writing. The book I started at that time was Threads.
Not surprisingly, it’s a dark story, but it has a moral: no matter how dark life gets, no matter if everyone else is in the sun and the rain follows every step you take, life situations do change. Though I wrote that book first, it was one of the last I published. I always felt it was unfinished, but I didn’t know why. It turned out it was the structure, because the story goes back and forth, alternating the time frame, and I couldn’t write it in a way that made sense. Finally, I thought I got it right.

Finding a passion, an outlet, is an important factor in taking charge and making whatever that passion is work for you. It could be writing, as it was for me, or music or art or acting or reading. It could be activism or volunteering or even politics. The point is to keep your mind occupied, seek out a different interest―something that challenges you. Even if you’re not in a dark period, it’s exciting to take a different path to keep you energized. Whatever you choose, do it for yourself. Learning something new is the best reward for a lazy brain.

Polly Iyer is the author of seven novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and three books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games, Goddess of the Moon, and Backlash. A Massachusetts native, she makes her home in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Carolina. You can visit her website for more on Polly and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Friday, November 25, 2016

#FridayReads The ComPanion by S.K. Randolph

My introduction to “otherworldly” entertainment came in the form of a western science fiction serial in the mid-1940s. The Phantom Empire, filmed in the 30s and starring Gene Autry, played Saturday afternoons at our local theater. Then Star Trek premiered in the fall of 1966. During the 20-year lapse between Autry and Captain Kirk and for decades thereafter, however, I never stepped over the line into the exciting world of fantasy.

That changed a few years ago when I began reading S.K. Randolph’s novel, The DiMensioner’s Revenge. This first book of The Unfolding Trilogy gripped my attention by the end of the prologue and held it all the way to the last page. Volumes 2 and 3—The ConDra’s Fire and The MasTer’s Reach—continued the adventure, and tension mounted as good and evil battled across the galaxy. The ending of the third volume—stunning as it was—left me hoping that, somehow and in some form, the series would continue. Then I received an advance copy of The ComPanion. My hope had not been in vain.

The Unfolding Trilogy details the battle to save Myrrh, the last remnant of old Earth, and protect the balance of power in the Inner Universe. No longer concealed from interplanetary forces that seek its demise and their rise to galactic rule, Myrrh’s continued existence—as well as that of Thera—lies in the outcome of that life-and-death struggle. A compilation of 10 novelettes (12,000 – 17,000 words each) and 1 novella (an epilogue of 24,684 words), The ComPanion allows readers a revealing peek into the pasts of the trilogy’s primary players and shares details of events that brought them face-to-face with The Unfolding. In addition, it includes an appendix that expounds on the planets, solar system, and family trees, as well as a glossary that defines numerous words specific to the incredible world created by S.K. Randolph.

Let me share three examples from The ComPanion's shorts.

  The door opened with a whisper. The Galactic Guardian responsible for overseeing her training walked into the room. “Hello, Almiralyn.”
  “Good turning, Chealim.”
  His expression grew somber. “I have some disturbing news.”
  Her brows arched. “News?”
  “The Mocendi League has begun a search for you. You hold the keys to The Unfolding, to the maturing of the entire Inner Universe. You must remain attentive at all times.”
  A kiss brushed her forehead. Light flared. The Galactic Guardian vanished.

  “What the . . .” Wolloh stared at his surroundings—dirt and cobwebs, musty old hay, the tumble of boards that made up the remains of an ancient shed had replaced the cottage... the cottage he had fallen asleep in.
  Rain dripped from overhead. Wind found its way through every crack and cranny. “Velar?”
  The lack of answer sent a shiver up his spine. Was last night a dream? He glanced at his pack . . . A small book with a tattered, scarlet cover rested next to it. The title, The Art of DiMensionery and The Order of Esprow, was etched in gold. Wolloh glanced around the interior of the shack. Last night . . . Velar was here. He looked back at the book. He left this for me.

  Clawed talons clicked a rhythmic cadence on the ice-black floor, then ceased. Abarax studied him, its cherubic features inscrutable. Seeming satisfied with what it saw, it passed him a document with The MasTer’s seal imprinted on the folded edge.
  Relevart flipped the document over and read the words scripted there. For Rethdun’s Eyes Only. He glanced at the Astican. “Thank you, Abarax.”
  It bowed and left.
  He pressed his thumb to the seal and whispered, “Dubinn Stersec.”
  The document fell open . . . A careful study of the contents left his brow furrowed and his thoughts in a whirlwind. Laying the document on the table, he steepled his fingers and tapped his chin. “My, my, dear Rayn, what a conundrum you have created.”

In the beginning, I imagined the trilogy would reach out mostly to young adult fantasy fans. To the contrary, it is proving ageless in its appeal. Whether readers are 9, 90, or anywhere in between, it pulls them into its stories. Then I received The ComPanion and pored over its revelations. Curiosities that had arisen while reading the three novels were satisfied. Unique words coined to fit the story took on new power as I learned their full meanings and derivations. Characters, already robust and well-rounded in the trilogy, stepped off the pages to share the triumphs and tragedies that made them who they were. Ideally, readers should use The ComPanion as a tool, an accompaniment to each volume of the trilogy, a reference for both main characters and the original vocabulary describing inhabitants and locales of the Inner Universe.

I highly recommend The ComPanion, as well as the trilogy, to all who love great stories with strong, diverse characters and compelling plots. You will not be disappointed. All the books, including The ComPanion, are available on Amazon.

~ Edited and Reviewed by Linda Lane. This series of books introduced me to the fascinating world of fantasy, a place I had never before visited. I was enthralled.

Author S.K. Randolph grew up in Bermuda, where from an early age she channeled her creative talents into ballet. Her career in dance spanned forty years and took her from performing to teaching, choreographing, and directing, including as Director of Dance at Interlochen Center for the Arts.

She now lives with her partner on a boat home ported in Sitka, Alaska, and spends her time writing and creating digital art. Together, they explore the waters of southeast Alaska and in the words of Thoreau, strive “to live deliberately.”

For information regarding The UnFolding Series, visit and S.K. Randolph on FaceBook


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