Writing self-sabotaging characters

Hi, guys!

Last week, I talked about writing believable romance and compelling chemistry, exploring the things that might draw two people together.

But if one of the people involved tends toward self-sabotage, the normal conventions no longer apply and relationships tend toward… dysfunctional.

If you’re writing a self-sabotaging character, it isn’t enough to just put them in a bad relationship. You need to understand why they’re there, so you can write them, and the ensuing relationship, accurately.

There are several types of people who do this. People who fear change and sabotage opportunities to prevent change. People who want to make others feel better about themselves.

And the most common, which is the one we’ll be talking about today, people with catastrophically low self-esteem.

People who genuinely hate themselves or feel intrinsically broken, perhaps due to trauma or a broken home or depression/anxiety, aren’t likely to look for someone who would be good for them. There’s a reason so many people end up in shitty, abusive relationships.

They don’t value themselves worth the effort of improvement or worth taking a good person off the market. They probably don’t even realize what they’re doing to themselves, but they’re seeking the shitty treatment they think they deserve.

At such a low point, something small might be enough to draw them in. Attention of any kind from someone who has even one quality they like, even something small like an outgoing nature, a cool tattoo, or good fashion sense, might be enough to draw them in.

Why?

Because they’re surprised they got attention or compassion from anyone.

And since they’re getting attention from someone, which is more than they think they deserve to begin with, they overlook glaring faults (drug abuse, cheating, domestic abuse, etc.) with ease. There’s a good chance they’ll internalize all of that, blaming themselves for their partner’s philandering or the abuse.

They’re likely to push good people away and seek out shitheads. Meeting someone good isn’t going to magically fix them or show them that they deserve happiness.

Until they learn to value themselves (which takes a hell of a lot of time and work), they won’t seek a functional relationship.

And that may very well be their downfall.

These characters can be absolutely heartbreaking to write, partly because it’s all too real. Far too many people destroy their own chances at happiness simply because they don’t believe themselves worthy of it.

So, if you decide to write one of these characters, keep these things in mind. It will be one hell of a journey, with a lot of time spent in darkness.

Now, on to the progress report. I’ve come to realize that Second to None may end up being a novella. I tend to write far shorter than the average length, regardless of genre. I write very punchy stories, sparing very little time for fluff.

I use my characters to build my world and vice versa, something I explained in a previous blog, which I’ll link below. (Ignore the progress report at the end of that one, because so much has happened since then that it’s irrelevant.)

Now, fantasy tends toward an average of 110,000 words (roughly), but mine lean toward an average of 70,000 or 80,000. Thrillers tend to be about 70,000 words.

So, with my writing style, I expect Second to None to total around 40,000 words. I’m currently sitting at about 7,500 words.

I’ve also made some strides toward releasing A Heart of Salt & Silver, and I’ve been reveling in the recent release of World for the Broken. If you haven’t picked up a copy yet, it’s available wherever books are sold. (Amazon link: mybook.to/WorldForTheBroken )

For now, I’m going to keep working away on editing Allmother Rising and writing Second to None.

Keep reading. Keep writing.

Later.

P.S.- Here’s the link for the blog explaining the concept of using your world to build your characters and using characters to build the world.

How To Write Morally Grey Characters

Hi, guys!

Last week, we talked about unreliable narrators, which are an absolute joy to write. This week, we’re talking about another fun one. Morally grey characters.

People who do bad things for good reasons. People whose actions you might hate, but whose motives…you completely understand.

These characters might make you squirm a bit. They might show you a darker side of yourself. They show you things that you might have the potential to do if pushed just enough.

Vigilantes rank pretty fucking high on this list, as do angels of death (doctors or nurses killing patients that have no quality of life).

An angel of death might have heard her patients wishing for death. She might hate the constraints of their particular government holding those patients back from the euthanasia they wish for.

Eco terrorists fully believe in their cause when they blow up pipelines. They don’t want nature to take any more hits because of our burgeoning society.

Hell, one of the most recognizable characters in literature and theatre is a morally grey character. Ever heard of Robin Hood? I bet you have. He steals all the goddamn time, but because he’s stealing from corrupt, rich people and giving it to poor people, that makes us all see him as the hero.

But he’s still a thief. He’s just a thief with a code.

In my novella, Annabelle, I explore this exact thing, this criminal with a code. Annabelle is a vigilante, but her motives are pretty hard to argue with. The resulting novella is pure catharsis, because she does the terrible, terrible things so many of us have wished to do.

I mean, she kills rapists.

And while murder isn’t something we typically condone, that motive, that drive is hard to argue with.

It puts the reader into a morally grey area where they struggle to see someone who is obviously doing something bad…as a bad person.

And the biggest thing you need to remember to write that type of character successfully is that they do not see their actions as evil.

They one hundred percent believe in their cause.

If they’ve been pushed far enough to do something like this, there likely won’t be much doubt left in their mind that this is the right thing for them to do. Even if they fully acknowledge the fact that others might disagree. They likely think those who disagree are uninformed or blind. They may think their opposition terrible and evil.

But they don’t see themselves as bad.

They probably see themselves as a hero, as a person doing something that needs done.

That mindset will shape their life.

It will shape their relationships.

If they’re charismatic, they might pull people to their cause. If not, they might have a huge secret, something that keeps them slinking through shadows in the middle of the night and distancing themselves from others during the day. If they’re egotistical, they might look down on anyone who disagrees, which would put a LOT of strain on personal relationships with anyone who isn’t an absolute fanatic for their particular brand of morality.

But there will be decidedly little internal conflict over committing whatever terrible acts your particular morally grey character is into.

If you’re curious about Annabelle or just want an example, the novella is available on Amazon (free in Kindle Unlimited) at this link:

http://mybook.to/AnnabelleElexisBell

Now, to catch you up on my latest projects.

I’ve officially finished the first round of edits on Allmother Rising, and it’s now sitting on the back burner so I can come back for another round with fresh eyes. Then, it’ll be going to beta readers.

I also finished the last round of my edits on my dark supernatural high fantasy romance, A Heart of Salt & Silver! It goes off for proofreading this week, and then I’ll be moving forward to formatting.

All told, I’m looking to have this one out later this year, so I’ll begin introducing the characters soon. Which I’m fucking excited for. Ness, Nolan, and Elias make a fucking mess of themselves, despite the fact that two of three are total badasses. Lol.

But for now, it’s time to dive into writing another book. And this one’s going to be a thriller….

Mwahahahahahahaha.

But I’m torn. I have two story options. One is partially written from years ago, the other is brand new.

At any rate, I’ll dive into one of them tonight.

Now, go forth.

Keep reading. Keep writing.

Later.

“My characters aren’t talking to me, today.” A Blog on Character Autonomy.

Hi, guys!

Today, it’s all about character autonomy. We’ve all heard about writers whose characters talk to them, or decide not to talk to them.

I must admit, I technically include myself in this group. My characters become fully fledged people in my mind. Their personalities develop in ways I don’t expect as the story progresses, which sometimes means I have to adjust things throughout the story to stay true to their personality. (Can’t have any continuity errors, after all.)

I don’t know how much that happens for dedicated plotters, but I’m a pantser. I figure the whole thing out as I go (flying by the seat of my pants), and it helps to see the characters as “real” rather than just words that I have complete control over.

It’s freeing, really.

It allows the story to develop naturally, moving it beyond my conscious control and the restraints I might otherwise put on it. My subconscious visits much darker places than my conscious mind typically does.

Plus, as I’ve said before, people mess up their own lives all the time. If you treat your characters like real people, they’ll create all sorts of problems for themselves.

Now, whether you’re on the side of, “They’re just words, words that YOU write,” or “My characters are like people to me,” character autonomy is not an excuse not to write.

Don’t get me wrong.

It is wonderful when things just click. There are days where the characters are just there, and their voices are clear and pristine. But there are also days where things just…don’t flow. At all. The well runs dry, sometimes. (aka…”My characters aren’t talking to me, today.”)

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write.

This is where the conscious mind comes in. This is when you need to think through the story you’ve drummed up, look at the personalities your characters have blossomed into, and figure out what they would do next.

Just because it isn’t flowing naturally at 1,000 words a second doesn’t mean you should go to the cafe and sit there with a latte scrolling through random cat pictures online, telling people, “My characters aren’t talking to me, today.”

That’s not how you finish a novel.

That’s how you end up with an unfinished manuscript, the details of which you forget by the time you ever go back to it.

If your characters aren’t “talking” to you, it’s time to write the scene that would logically come next, considering the world and the people and the plot.

Maybe it’ll wake them up.

Maybe it’ll be perfect.

If not, if inspiration strikes later, you can always adjust or scrap what you’ve written. But it’s better to write something than it is to just sit there procrastinating and blaming it on your characters.

At the very least, you’re getting practice writing. And lets face it, we all need to practice writing.

Now, for a progress report.

I resized my paperback cover and revealed it to all you lovely people. I have to say, thank you all. This cover got such a warm response from all of you, and I truly appreciate it.

I think I finished all the tweaks all the files will need before being uploaded to Ingram. It won’t be long before I can set it all up for preorder!

I also got some writing done, making it up to 24,405 words. It’s nowhere near the amount I wanted to write last week, but that’s okay.

Mainly because my husband and I finally got some goddamn storage. Our stupid house has one fucking closet. Four bedrooms, one closet. How the fuck that makes any sense is beyond me.

And then the bar on one side of the only closet broke.

:/


So we’ve had an absolute fucking mountain of clothes piled atop a few baskets in our bedroom for a while, now. But we finally found some cube shelves we like and some little cube baskets we like. And we got a new set of bars for the one fucking closet.

Then we spent like 7 hours just putting all the cubby shelves together and folding clothes.

It sucked ass.

But our bedroom is tolerable, now, even though there’s still some more shit to hang up.

So, life kinda got in the way of a huge chunk of writing time on my day off. But I still made progress.

For now, time to get a bit more writing in.

Keep reading. Keep writing. (Even if your characters aren’t talking to you.)

Later.

Building Character

Hi, guys!

This past week was mostly spent working on behind the scenes stuff for Soul Bearer. I’ve been reaching out to ARC readers left and right. I got a bit of editing done for the rerelease of The Gem of Meruna.

I also finished the pre-beta reader edits of Salt and Silver, and got it sent out to them. They found a few things that need adjusted, and I’m glad they caught it. Their response was overwhelmingly positive though, and I’m so freaking excited about it!

It’s a great feeling to know someone enjoyed your work.

And that story was so much fun to write. The characters are…interesting (a demi-demon with a conscience, a werewolf with a hero complex, a reckless mortal). lol.

Which brings me to the topic of the day…

Character development.

So, there are a lot of types of writers, and a lot of standpoints on how autonomous our characters actually are. Some people believe their characters have minds of their own, and have a lot of control on how the story develops. Some people believe all the control rests within the hands of the author.

And to be honest, as far as my next point is concerned…which side of that fence you’re on doesn’t matter.

Because, whether you think they’re forcing your hand or not, you need to think of them as fully independent people.

Whether you’re plotting carefully or running wildly through pages, the characters have to be people to you. Because if you don’t see your character as a person, your reader won’t, either.

You need to see all the facets of their personality. Otherwise, how will you ever figure out how they’ll react in a given situation?

If they’re a full person to you, it’s easier to figure out what they’ll do.

They can’t just be heroic because you say they are. Fiction has to make sense, ironically enough. Your characters have to have a motive.

Which is where backstory comes in.

Now, getting a normal ass person to leave a life with which they’re content to go chasing danger is going to take some persuasion. A person who has reason to hate their current situation…will go more readily.

Which is why backstories get rough.

But no matter what the backstory, you need to be consistent. If they have a history of running their mouth, they’re not going to stop whenever its convenient for the writer for them to not spout off at a superior or an uneasy ally.

It’ll take work for them to control that impulse, if they even see it as a problem. If they don’t, they won’t bother adjusting their attitude. And you either have to find a different way to move your plot forward or curb their temper in earlier scenes.

Because people change, but not instantly, and not when it’s most convenient.

Oftentimes, change is brought about by a low point. (Terrible backstory…reason 2.)

Now, there are a lot of ways to see your characters as real people.

Some writers do personality tests as each character. Some give each character a quirk, or a phrase that they use a lot. It makes them just a bit more distinct, a bit more human.

Whatever you do, each character needs a voice. You don’t want your reader to struggle to tell one side character from another. You definitely don’t want that struggle with your main characters.

The most basic thing you can do is figure out what they want. They’re not always going to want the same thing as your other characters, so there’s a pretty easy distinction.

Then, figure out why they want that thing.

This kinda brings us back to their backstory. What we go through has a huge impact on what we want out of life. And we tend to think about things we want…a lot.

Which means that a character’s thoughts (an important tool in character voice) will be informed by their past.

If someone went through something terrible…they’re going to think about it. If they want to prevent that happening to someone else, they’re going to think about that.

If one character is in love with another, and they’re going along on a quest to try to win affection…they’re not going to spend as much time thinking about the quest as the person on it for a personal vendetta. Instead, they’ll be preoccupied with how their crush is doing and how safe they are and what needs done to win them over.

That right there, the thing they focus on in the safety of their own mind…

That’s a huge distinction.

Take the backstory you’ve provided, and pick something (preferably plot-related) that makes your character anxious. That’s another huge difference between characters. Or maybe it’s something two characters can bond over.

Does your character have low self-esteem? Maybe that makes them befriend people who possess qualities they envy, because they want to be like them.

Maybe it does the opposite.

Perhaps they can’t handle being surrounded by the quality they admire, and they tell themselves that quality is dumb to ease the tension of not being good enough. Maybe they end up hating the person they know they should emulate, as a defense mechanism, surrounding themselves instead with like-minded people to avoid any cognitive dissonance.

Who knows?

There are so many options, so many ways to build messed up people for your stories.

At the end of the day, the best recommendation I can give is to learn about psychology. You don’t have to get a degree. You don’t have to be an expert.

But learning about psychology has so many benefits for writers.

You can use it to build people.

Believable people that readers can relate to.

And that’s huge.

It’s…kinda…the point. Or, a major part of it, anyway.

But I digress. I’ll stop ranting, now.

Keep reading. Keep writing.

Later.

Character like a Coloring Book

Hello, all!

So, first I want to tell you to get your butts over to my social platforms! I’m talking about my (soon to be released) fantasy romance, Soul Bearer, in a July challenge for the next couple weeks, and you should check it out. 🙂 Also, check out World Indie Warriors (the group hosting the challenge) if you want to participate. There will be a giveaway at the end.

Now, with the plug behind me, I want to talk about the work that goes into building a character. Because there’s a lot of work involved.

You don’t just come up with a name, their appearance and favorite color, and then that’s it. That would make for some shitty characters, and an even shittier book.

So, here we go. Because no one wants to read a half ass book full of characters as vivid as the pages of a brand new coloring book.

Okay, first (and most obvious thing) is their personality. Snippy? Compassionate? Ice queen?

Pick one per character, and fucking stick to it. Unless a plot point catalyzes a personality change. If someone is super kind and sweet and optimistic and soft spoken, and they have everything ripped away from them, don’t fucking tell me they won’t ever question the point of caring.

Life changes us. Why wouldn’t it change the characters? We need to see how they develop, what they learn, what they struggle with…

Now, you have to figure out why they’re that way. You don’t get to just say, “Because I want them to be that way.”

Nah. That’s some bullshit.

So, this is where their past comes into play. Some people are naturally shy, yes, but has their life intensified that? Or maybe it taught them to come out of their shell.

Or maybe they pushed through all sorts of hardship, through sheer force of will, because they don’t see any option but to keep going.

You have to plot out a past that helps to shape them into the person they are, and makes sense.

Keep in mind, it has to make sense. Unlike real life, people expect fiction to be believable. If I threw every shitty experience I’ve ever had at one character, people would throw the book away.

“Oh, of course she walks out on the front porch, first thing in the fucking morning, and finds a dead kitten, in pieces. Of fucking course.”

(Side story, but yeah, that actually happened. One mama cat had her baby, her first litter, and it didn’t make it. My husband and I couldn’t get to it to bury it, because we’re not cat size. Another mama wanted the spot a couple weeks later, got the dead kitten out, and promptly deposited it on the front porch for us to see. Not a good day.)

So, you have to meter the trauma. Spread it out a bit, make it believable. Look at statistics. Study psychology to see how shit affects people. Make it believable.

Give them quirks and habits and odd behaviors to make them real and relatable.

Now, there’s the issue of friends. If your MC likes who they are, they’ll probably seek out people with at least some similarities. If they dislike themselves, they might have friends who are their opposite.

People seek out friends and significant others who embody traits they find desirable. That’s why there are so many books and movies where shy girls befriend super outgoing party girls, and vice versa.

Or, maybe they want to be around people like themselves for the sake of common ground, even if they don’t like their own personality. Because then they can be miserable together.

My point is, there needs to be a reason (aside from convenience for your plot) for them to willingly surround themselves with these people.

And then there’s family life to consider. Good childhood vs. bad, and what made it that way. What influenced their thinking as they grew and developed?

Chances are, since they’re your MC, their childhood was probably shit. Or maybe it was fantastic, until they reached adulthood, and then everything went to shit, making them the equivalent of a 90s kid. A bitter, nostalgic adult wishing the world looked like the one they were promised as a child.

Oof. That may have been too real.

We’re talking about fiction here…lmao.

Anyway…Making people is incredibly complicated.

Read up on psychology. It helps. This wasn’t what I intended to use my bachelor’s degree for (I planned to go to grad school, and become a therapist), but I like this use of it better. This career path is for me.

Becoming a therapist was just so people wouldn’t question my career choice. Because no one questions that. They just say they know a few people who need to come see you, and offer to send you clients. Lol.

Though…it is ironic. I didn’t want to spend hour after hour hunched over a desk or worrying about whether people would hurt themselves or others because of something I said wrong. Now, I’m trying to make a career out of spending hour after hour…working away at my computer…worrying over which people will hurt others or themselves…because of things I say…Lmao.

But it’s fictional people. And that makes it okay. Lol.

Alright. I’ve rambled long enough.

I’m more than halfway through this round of edits for The Gem of Meruna, with a possible cover. I’m a quarter of the way through the final edits of Soul Bearer, and am introducing it on IG and FB.

Forward progress. 🙂

I’m pretty excited.

Keep reading. Keep writing.

Later.