“Life is a complicated mess.”


Today, I have the lovely and talented Erika Beebe guest hosting my blog.  Erika is the author of Stage Fright, one of seven short stories in the ONE MORE DAY anthology.  She’s going to chat with you about the mind of a writer, character development and the great question, who are we, really?  Be sure to ask questions and don’t forget to enter the Rafflecopter Giveaway for your chance to win a copy of ONE MORE DAY.

Please give it up for one of the loveliest ladies I’ve ever encountered.

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The mind of a writer is a funny thing. I can invent the most twisted story, shake it off to make dinner, at least mostly, and then I catch my husband leaning over a printed copy of my latest and greatest chapter as the words escape his lips, “Wow, who are you, really?”

Growing up, I didn’t like creepy. I remember being eight-years-old and watching A Nightmare on Elm Street at a slumber party … further back at five when I’d caught Jaws on the television and was unable to walk across the basement floor without dreading the image of a great white beast living a hidden existence under the couch. I’d leap from furniture to furniture in the basement until I made it to the stairs. Now here I am. I write YA creepy. :o)

And then I dream how to tame it.

So how do we go to sleep at night with all of these creepy plots and words floating through our thoughts?

Writing is a profession. When you love it, you know when to turn it on, and sometimes, when you absolutely need to turn it off. Sure, I’ll have ideas slip into my head in the middle of the night, or while I’m going about my day, but that’s why I always carry a notebook. I can scratch down a really great thought, tuck it back in my purse and finish wherever I am in the moment. But just like a counselor, or an architect, or a doctor, you know you could work all the time, every minute of your life if you let it consume you. So you learn how to stop, make a few notes if they absolutely won’t let you move on, and you go back to what you were doing in the present moment.

How do we write about fictional characters and plots we don’t actually live?

Research. For me as a writer, solving a character is much like solving an algebra equation or creating a chemical reaction in a laboratory. I read everything. I look at pictures and study people. I document facts and details with pictures and words, journaling down what I feel and think in a moment. Recently I wrote a chapter where my two main characters were boogie boarding in the ocean. I’ve been to the ocean many times, but the past doesn’t always help an immediate physical moment. Especially if I need to feel, taste or sense a particular detail in a scene. So what did I do? Today, writers are lucky. We have YouTube, Google Maps, and the ability to type in and search for anything. I can watch a how-to video and be in someone’s moment on the beach. I can’t always smell what I need to smell, but that’s where memory helps. If I’m setting my book in a particular physical location, I go to that location.  I need to see the community, feel the ground, and smell the air. Last point to make, lots of what I’ve lived slips into my words. If you know a writer, there’s never a guarantee you won’t be somewhere in a plot or a character. My ideas come from my life. My creativity takes them in new and strange directions.

So who I am?

Am I the girl you see when you meet me? Am I character in my book? Am I a mother, a wife, a career woman, a yoga instructor? My answer is yes. Life is a complicated mess, and no matter what profession we choose, parts of us come out in everything we do.

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KOBO

“Throw out the visual garbage. It’s stinking up your manuscript!”


This is part 3 of my series, How to write a fantasy novel.

As with all novels, you have a Main Character (MC) and what I like to call minions – secondary characters who help or hinder your MC’s movement forward.  Even though you’re writing fiction, these characters need to be fleshed out, well-rounded and most importantly…real.

There are several things to think about before writing.  Whose view point are you going to write from?  Is it going to be 1st, 2nd or 3rd person?  Is your MC a male or female?

For me, I know instantly whether my MC is male or female.  I can hear the voice in my head.  I also know if the character is young or old and I have an idea of the setting.  These concepts, however, are just the framework.  I need to find and build the substance, the interior. This can prove to be challenging.

I know in my earlier post I talked about outlining; however, I’m not a huge outliner.  I tend to formulate my ideas and plot, do a one or two sentence ‘outline’ of where I’d like to see the story go in each chapter, but for the most part I sit down and write.  When I write short stories, this seems to work ok. My characters come alive and they take me on wild journeys.  Revisions are   easier to work through, probably because the stories are less than 10k words.  Novels on the other hand…not so much.

I thought I had really good character development with my novel, In the Shadow of the Dragon King (“Dragon King”), until I submitted it to a publisher.  Man, was I in for an awakening.  Here are some of the line comments:

“Terms such as the one in bold portray the character as significantly older than 15.”

“He’s [David] been portrayed as a bit of a spoiled rich boy. We’re not lead to feel any compassion for him at all. It’s important in the opener to give us as much a feel for the truth of the character as possible.”

[after the MC uses the word ‘darn’] – “Later, David does swear, and the mix up of this type of language and the latter makes him feel much younger than 15.”

Obviously, my character needed work.  He was inconsistent.  He wasn’t fleshed out enough and he wasn’t likeable.  Back to the drawing board I went.  David is now 17 and the language fits much better, and, according to beta readers, he’s much more likeable from the beginning.  The readers are now invested, but it didn’t happen by simply re-writing.  I followed the advice of many famous authors.  I created character sketches and profiles.

What does one put in a character sketch?  Anything you can think of.  You have to know your characters inside out and upside down even though you may never tell your readers half of it.  What does (s)he do during the day?  What does (s)he do for fun?  Who is his/her best friend?  What color eyes does (s)he have?  What are the character traits?  What toothpaste does (s)he use?  Is (s)he an ice cream or cereal junkie?  I found, for me, doing a character sketch helped out a lot.  I didn’t do this for all my characters, only the top four – David, Charlotte, Eric and Trog.  I found it easier to pit them against each other as well as have them support each other once I knew their strengths and flaws.  You can read David’s and Charlotte’s character sketches here and here.

Another thing I learned that can be a death sentence for your manuscript is focusing on details too much and not on the plot.  When I wrote my first draft of Dragon King, I thought it was important the reader know what color eyes my characters had, their hair color, their size and what sort of clothes they wore.  I thought it got the reader into the scene, gave them visuals.  After all, when you meet someone for the first time, you notice things like that, right?  Unfortunately for me, it took an editor to set me straight.  She wrote on my manuscript in big red letters, “Throw out the visual garbage. It’s stinking up your manuscript.”  Throughout the 367 pages, she’d crossed through the extraneous descriptions, both related to character and setting, that needed to go.  It was painful to see my manuscript bleeding profusely, but I have to admit…she was right.

Something else she explained to me was to make sure the character’s personality traits or life events mentioned define our characters.  These things must move our characters forward.  They must have some sort of role in changing who they are.  To quote:

“Your characters must grow.  They must be different in the end of your novel than they were in the beginning.  Something significant needs to occur so the characters learn more about themselves and each other.  Find your character’s weakest trait, his worst nightmare, and focus on making his every action a step to overcoming that issue.  Make me want to help him.  Make me want to reach into the story and give him what he needs to succeed.  When you can do that, you know you’ve written a well-loved, believable character.”

I’m still working on that piece of advice.

Tomorrow, I’ll talk about developing your villains.  They’re not as nasty as you think they are.  They only seem that way.

When personal struggles make for good story


For the past five days I’ve been with a friend who really needed someone to help her through a difficult time.  When I leave her on Monday, I am confident I will leave a renewed person behind, someone who has taken the necessary steps to become well again, both physically, emotionally and mentally.  I am glad I had the chance to be with her and help her through this trying time. It has also been very beneficial to me, both as a friend and a writer.

As an author, I was not surprised to find I was jotting down notes before I went to bed, noting places we went, people we met.  I have character notes out the whazoo.  Even the reason I am here has added great fodder to my writing.  Experiencing someone else’s personal struggles…seeing the way they handle grief and pain and how they endure to make their world right…is sure to add dimension to fictional characters.  Sure, pulling from your own experiences can add depth to characters, too, but sometimes inspiration comes from what’s around you, not from within you.

A view from the outside provides a different perspective.  You’re not blinded by your own emotions.  In fact, you’re emotions have to be more than rational to help the person who needs to lean on you like a rock.  You can witness the tears, the fear of the unknown, the anger, the loss and the desperation for a better future from a completely different angle.

Writers need both internal and external perspectives to write well.  The struggles my friend was and is facing are new to me as they are to her. I had no idea what to expect when I arrived.  It’s like a character arriving on the pages of your manuscript for the first time.  I submersed myself in the setting, the surrounding, the emotions.  This experience has shown me a different way to approach character development, settings and the conveyance of feelings.

I have three more days here, more places to go, more events to experience.  While not all fun and games, the writer in me is thrilled I stepped outside my comfort zone.  In turn, life has made me a better friend and hopefully a better writer.  Only time will tell, but the experience certainly can’t hurt.

What about you?  Do you use personal experiences or experiences of others to feed that element into your stories?

N is for Names


Happy Monday, everyone!  This post is part of the A-Z challenge. Please take time to visit the other blogs that are participating.

Names.  Everyone has one.  Novelists sometimes have many.  In fact, being a novelist is one of the only professions where it’s perfectly okay to have multiple personalities, voices and imaginary  playmates (including creatures, shapeshifters, vampires, and werewolves, among others) running around in our heads constantly.  And of course, each one of those characters has a name, but what are they, and how do novelists come up with those names you love?

I can’t speak for anyone else, but some names just come to me when I write, like David, Charlotte, Trogsdill (“Trog”), Einar, and Eric from my novel, In the Shadow of the Dragon King.  I liked the ring that each name had and didn’t really realize what the significance of their first names were until I started doing some research into a last name for Trog.  I was really amazed at how their names spoke volumes of their characterizations:

David Alwyn Heiland:  beloved/noble friend/savior

Charlotte Breanna Stine:  free man/noble/anointed

Trogsdill Domnall:     to walk heavily/mighty; great chief

Eric Finian Hamden:  forever, ruler/handsome/praised

Einar:  warrior; battle leader

Aside from having random names pop into my head, how else do I come up with character names?  I look at several things.

Era:  current, trendy names may not work very well in the era your story takes place.  “Electra” probably wouldn’t work in a story set in the early 1700s.

Place:  Where does your story take place?  “Bobby Jean” may stand out like a sore thumb in wealthy societies.

Reserved or Contemporary?:  Is your character conservative?  Maybe a name like “Arthur” would be more appropriate than a more contemporary counterpart like “Sonny”.

I’ve also learned to try and avoid famous names, and not make the pronunciations too difficult.  Readers can’t relate to names they can’t pronounce.  And, unless you’re writing a comedy or trying to make a specific point, try to avoid same sounding names, like Harry Larry or Kendell Wyndel.

Where else do I look to find cool, interesting names?  The phone book, the Bible, baby books.  There are tons of “name” sites on the internet.  I also pay attention to those movie credits.  You’d be surprised by the gems you find there.

I found that keeping a running list of names at all times helps a lot.  Whenever I hear a cool name or come up with one, I jot it down so I don’t forget it.  

Whatever I do, I try to make my character’s name identifiable and memorable.  I’ve been told it helps to make a story stand out from the others.  I hope I’ve succeeded.

What are some of your favorite character names?

D is for David (Heiland, that is)


This is a continuation of the A-Z blog challenge.  Click here to see the list of all 1935 participants!

Who the heck is David Heiland?

He’s this guy…

Okay, okay.  You’re right.  It’s not.  This is Zac Efron, but if I could cast my MC, David, from my novel, In the Shadow of the Dragon King, this is what he would look like. Hot, right?

But what makes my Zac Efron look-alike so special?

David was born March 31 and is 16, almost 17 years old, extremely wealthy and lives with his godmother, Lily.  His father, Edward, was a fighter pilot.  Unfortunately, he died in a training mission over the Gulf of Mexico 3 months before David was born.  His mother, Jillian, died from complications after David’s birth.

David lives in an 1860’s mansion in Havendale, Tennessee, located not far from Bristol, and his favorite ride out of four cars is the steel-blue 1967 Shelby Mustang GT500 his father left him.

He is a champion archer and State track star and longs to be a fighter pilot like his dad when he grows up. His favorite subject is history, and finds Geometry a complete waste of time.  He’s an honor student, and holds multiple National academic awards.  He loves to read, draw and play his guitar. His choice of music:  classic rock and roll from the ‘60s and ‘70s.  He broke his left leg while running in a track competition when he was 15.  The injury still causes occasional problems.

His best friend is Charlotte and he would do anything to keep her from harm. His greatest fear is losing her from his life.  He is not in love with her.   Their friendship is strictly platonic.

He is cunning and mentally alert.  He listens to conversations and picks up subliminal meanings.  He remembers things easily and has a photographic memory, especially when it comes to minor details. Intuitive.  He can articulate well.  He has lots of energy he’s a great organizer and a determined fighter.  He’s a great adversary, especially of mind.  Dramatic.  Tough on the outside, soft on the inside.  Charming.  Stylish.  He likes being alone.  Doesn’t like ‘socializing’ or adulation from teachers for doing what he loves to do, but he does like taking control and being a leader.

He has a need to make things ‘right’.  He can’t stand disorder.  He always has to win, to succeed in everything he does.  Must be the one to take initiative, but needs backup once the ball gets rolling.  Needs to help others, especially without them knowing.

On the downside, he is short-tempered, stubborn, with childlike tendency to see things from his own point of view and to express himself as he sees things in an innocent and youthful way. While some might see this as being self-absorbed or even selfish, he sees it as being honest and expressing his true thoughts and feelings and doing what he thinks is right.

He runs his fingers through his hair a lot, bites his fingernails and grits his teeth when nervous or angry.  He’s a klutz in spite of being a state track champion and he mumbles in his sleep.

He has to make his bed every day.  Papers have to be stacked neatly and in piles of similar size. i.e. large pieces of mail together, letters stacked together, postcards stacked together.  His clothes are color-coded in his closet and are on color-coded hangers.  He flips out if anything is out-of-place.

His greatest weakness:  he’s quick to judge.  Quick tempered.  Easily bored, even with his own concepts, and tends to wander off.  He will sometimes sit back and let others have their way.  He can be bull-headed, obstinate and doesn’t like being told what to do.  He’s impatient, aggressive but also needs reassurance he’s doing the right thing.  He’s two dimensional.  He doesn’t see all sides or all aspects, leaving him open to physical and verbal attacks.

He’s taken down a peg or two when he is thrust into the care of Sir Trogsdill Domnall, a highly respected and lethal knight of the kingdom of Hirth.  David is irritated by Trog’s methods of teaching, but when David comes face to face with a sorcerer and a dragon that are determined to murder him, David soon realizes Trog may not be such a bad teacher after all.

Are fiction writers certifiably insane?


I mean, come on, think about it.  We have voices talking inside our heads.  Lots of voices.  They talk to us, they talk to each other.  They argue.  We talk out loud, verbalizing their words.  We act out the scenes the way we envision they should react to a string of events.  We plot out evil and then make these imaginary characters murder, rape, pillaging, lie.  Why, even some of our characters ride wedras, talk to trolls, train with wizards or fight dragons.  Some are werewolves, others elves or some unheard of species all together.  And some of these imaginative tales take place in cities we’ve never been or in make-believe worlds.  Sounds kind of nutty to me.

Most of the time, people like the ones described above, undergo extensive psychiatric help.  Thousands of years ago, they may have burned us at the stake for practicing sorcery.  And it wasn’t long ago they put people away in sanitariums for hearing and talking to voices inside their heads.   So why aren’t authors considered certifiably insane if they hear a voice in their head and answer back?

I’d like to think it’s because we have some connection with reality, but I can’t use that as a huge excuse because most of us writers spend more time in our imaginary world than in the real one, at least us full-time writers.  I don’t know about you, but nothing burns me more than typing a way at a great scene and the oven buzzer goes off, the dog knocks over a vase, the phone rings or a precious offspring whines for the umpteenth time that his sister stole his legos.    How dare reality take me away from that pivotal moment that’s changing my character’s life for good or bad!  Now, I’ve lost it, that moment where the plot was coming together.  My brain is now frozen.  I’m lost.  Now it’s time to go to the store or the park, yet the entire time my characters are duking it out in my head.  Scenes are unraveling.  The words are flowing…and I’ve left my digital recorder at home.  No matter what I do, the voices never go away.  They’re always there, plotting, devising, whispering.

Even as I sit here and write this post, one of my supporting characters is arguing with his father, loud and clear.  My brain has been in a deadlock as to how I was going to re-write this scene so it didn’t sound like a Star Wars knock off, and now it’s coming to me.  Unfortunately, this means I now have to part with reality and talking to you good folks so I can hang out with my imaginary counterparts and sort out their issues.  *smile*.

Yes, we authors are a little ‘touched’.  It’s all good, because without us crazy, insane writers, there would be no books to read, and what kind of world would that be?

Do you inhabit your characters or do they inhabit you?


I had someone ask me once, do you inhabit your characters or do they inhabit you?

To be honest, the question stumped me at the time.  I had to think about it for a minute before I said, “both.”

I’ve tried many times to write stories about certain types of characters I’ve had in mind, but ended up abandoning them and the story because I just couldn’t put myself into them.  I had great ideas, great plot lines, but the actual character development felt forced.  I just couldn’t relate to them and the more I tried to make them ‘likeable’, the more I ended up despising them.

Then there are the ones I love, like David, Charlotte, Trog and Eric from my novel, In the Shadow of the Dragon King.  I know what they have for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  I know their bathroom habits, how often they brush their teeth, their highs, their lows, their ups, their downs.  Every deep, dark secret they ever had, I know about.  Now, you can say “Well, of course you know about those things because you wrote them”, but it goes beyond that.  They are as much a part of me as I am of them.  They ‘speak’ to me, and if I let them, they lead me down the plot path and offer up twists and turns in ways I never dreamed.  Many times I dream about them to the point they wake me up in the middle of the  night and I have to run out to my computer to write it down before I forget it.  So many sub-plots were revealed to me by letting my ‘characters’ guide my writing.  Sometimes, I feel like I’m merely a vessel for them to tell their story.

I’ve read interviews with other authors who claim they same suffered from the same dilemma.  J.K. Rowling even admitted that it was difficult to wake up and not write another line or any other stories about Harry, Hermione and Ron.  She’d been with them so long, talking to them, studying them, venturing off with them on their adventures that it felt very strange not having them around anymore.  That is the way I feel about the main characters in my novel.  Sadly, I know there will come a day when I put “The End’ on the series and David, Charlotte, Trog and Eric will no longer play a role in any other story I write.  Like Rowling, I’m sure there will be a sense of relief that it’s over, but I also know I will be sad at the same time.  I imagine it will be like moving away and leaving behind all of my best friends.  Hopefully, some new characters will take root in my mind before that time comes, making the transition easier.  I can only hope.  But I won’t worry about that now.  I still have two more novels to write in the series.

So, what about you?  Do you inhabit your characters or do they inhabit you?  I’d love to read your comments.