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.

Writing an Unreliable Narrator

Hi, guys!

Today, we’re talking about something that can be really fun to write.

Unreliable narrators.

They can lead a reader down a pretty wild path, and they’re not terribly difficult to write as long as you stick to their personality. You can write them in just about any style, whether you write as if an outside source is telling the story or from the perspective of a character.

Personally, I prefer first person, present tense, which drops you right into the mind of the main character. Everything is seen through their eyes, experienced through the lens through which they view the world.

And if you strive for any level of realism, your characters, much like real people, will NOT see themselves 100% accurately. Whether they have low self-esteem or are overly cocky, whether they have body dysmorphia or Stockholm syndrome, depression or maybe they’re just your average Joe…

They almost certainly are not perfectly self-aware.

On average, people rank themselves as being above average. Which is statistically impossible.

And yet, we all have something, some little thing we hate about ourselves that we focus on way too much and try to overcompensate for.

We all have some strange little thing that we learned in childhood that we thought was just… how everyone did things. And we don’t even think twice about it until we meet someone who has no idea what the fuck we’re talking about.

And if your characters are realistic, they’ll have all these little quirks, too.

Much like real people, their perception of themselves colors how they see the world, making their view of the world rather skewed, as well.

Which is where we get unreliable narrators.

Some personal bias they hold casts shadows on certain things, painting them as terrible or perhaps ignoring them completely, while putting too much praise on other things.

Maybe the character is racist, and they describe people with negative or positive traits depending on their race, regardless of the truth.

Maybe your character grew up rich in a happy home, and now, they don’t see any of the problems in their world until some other character pulls the blinders off and forces them to see their actions and their world for what it is.

I won’t say what story this character is in because spoilers (hell, I’m not even going to tell you their gender), but I’ve written one with full-on Stockholm syndrome. It shapes their entire perception of themselves, their world, their religion, their peers. Literally everything is shaded by this veil over their eyes, and it takes the entire story for them to see the truth.

In order to pull off an unreliable narrator, you have to dive deep into their mind. You have to stick to your guns and write everything how they would see it, not how it actually is. You have to know how it actually is, as the writer, then write it how that character would see it.

Only when that “Ah-Ha” moment hits do you really show the world and the character for what it is. Then, the reader can think back over it, and see what actually happened and how things were actually going down.

You need to find a balance with the details you put in before that eureka moment, though. There needs to be enough accurate detail for the reader to see it properly later on, but not so much that it stands out like a sore thumb at the time.

Beta readers, critique partners, and editors can help with finding that perfect balance.

And so can studying psychology.

The mind is a maze laced with mines, dead ends, and trap doors. It holds pitfalls and skylights placed directly under the balcony of someone else’s apartment, blocking the light. Its full to the brim with steep descents and hairpin turns.

Memories, constantly relived or questioned by others, can be shifted and tweaked. Things lie forgotten in our past.

It’s a mess.

And it paints a mess across the entire world.

Personal bias makes us all a little unreliable, so it makes sense for a narrator to be unreliable, as well. And it can make for a hell of a twist in a book.

So, have fun with it. Write a character that doesn’t see the world accurately every now and then.

Now, as for what I’ve been up to.

I’ve been getting so much done while I’ve been laid off from work. I finished writing Allmother Rising, finished a round of edits on Where Darkness Leads, and did a complete round of edits on A Heart of Salt & Silver. I’m almost through the first round of edits for Allmother Rising, and I just started the last round of edits on A Heart of Salt & Silver this past weekend. It goes off for proofreading next month.

I also got a finalized design for the cover for A Heart of Salt & Silver, which is super exciting. I have to adjust the size of it after formatting the manuscript for trims sizes and all that, but the design is done.

And if you somehow didn’t see it, World for the Broken is officially out, now! As of last Tuesday, it’s out there for you all to read. You can order it wherever books are sold, but here’s the Amazon link:

mybook.to/WorldForTheBroken

Anyway, it’s time for even more editing. : )

Keep reading. Keep writing.

Later.

Book Research: Sometimes Google isn’t enough

Hi, guys!

We all know writing requires research, sometimes into unexpected subjects. I never thought my writing would require calculating space travel times and learning how bears show affection.

But here we are.

But there are things we need to research that can’t be found in a half an hour on Google.

Over the years, I’ve indulged quite a few hobbies. I’ve always been that person who got interested in what her friends were interested in. I never had my own thing (didn’t have the guts to) until recently. I’ve been writing creatively for over a decade and a half, but only recently did I begin to take it seriously.

And now, I’m grateful for all those other hobbies and still intend to collect a few more.

Because some things just need to be experienced firsthand.

For instance, before I ever picked up a bow, I assumed that the arm pulling back on the bowstring would get tired first. Nope. The other one does. It still has the tension of the bow being drawn, plus it’s holding the weight of the bow straight out from your body. Under tension.

Before ever setting foot into a garage, I never thought about the unbelievable strain working on a lowered car puts on your back. It’s much more comfortable to just plant your feet real fuckin’ wide and bring yourself down low enough to lean on the fender (with a microfiber cloth between you and the car…You don’t want to scratch the paint, you monster.)

Before I cleaned a fish for the first time, I assumed breaking a neck would be a simple trick of leverage. *shakes head* Nope. I’m pretty strong, and I struggled, hard.

Now, I do have a thin layer of insulation (thank you soda and candy) but I have trouble finding non-sweatshirt material jackets that fit me because my fucking arms are too big for women’s jackets. But I still had to hand that fish off to someone stronger and more experienced. I did clean it afterward, though, and it wasn’t as bad as I expected.

Before getting into manual labor, I never truly knew the meaning of “farm strong,” because yes, it’s a fucking thing. Outdoorsy, hunting/fishing/farming types are probably pretty fucking strong, even if they have a belly from home-cooked goodies and beer. Because they have to be.

And while we’re at it, factories do not work the way you think. In theory, they should be streamlined and clean and smooth running, but they’re run for profit. Anything that doesn’t absolutely have to be fixed, won’t be.

Running a machine with a broken or malfunctioning part means that other parts have to be made to function in ways they aren’t meant to in order to pick up the slack. Which causes a domino effect of quirks and other malfunctions, and gives each machine their own unique “personalities.”

Before getting into video games, I didn’t realize Console vs. PC is a thing in the gaming world, with a lot of elitism involved. I also never realized that pre-built, store-bought gaming computers are never going to be as good as what can be built by the gamers themselves. So they build them, upgrading parts every so often or just building from scratch every few years.

To anyone who isn’t tech savvy (i.e. me), 3d printers can seem like magic. And just like magic, there are so many ways it can go wrong. Machinery malfunctions and improperly heated beds, errors or missing chunks in G-code, prints not sticking to the bed, filament breakage or clogging…The list goes on.

Drawing can be unbelievably messy if you’re using charcoal. And believe it or not, drawing a naked model in a room full of people…not awkward and certainly not sexual.

My point is, these aren’t things I learned from Google. These are things that came from personal experience.

They’re little quirks of doing something that aren’t strictly necessary in a generic how-to guide, but they make the experience human.

You don’t have to be an expert at everything your characters do. But maybe give their interests a shot.

(The legal ones, anyway. I don’t need any lawyers coming for me saying I encouraged their clients to try whatever they did.)

At the very least, ask someone who does those things. There are tons of real people in writing groups online, and stuff like this is where the massive Facebook groups, like Fiction Writing, really shine.

That’s where I learned that cremations of obese people can result in grease fires that get the fire department called over the amount of smoke. The former mortician answering questions in the group noted a preference to cremate larger people at night, for that reason.

So don’t spend every second of your life hunched over your keyboard. You need to experience things in order to write the little details that make your characters more realistic.

You need to live and be a well-rounded human being in order to write characters that seem real and well-rounded.

So get out there and try a new hobby. Your characters (and your readers) will thank you for it.

Now, if you haven’t noticed, we’re getting closer and closer to the release of World for the Broken. April 21st is just around the corner, barely over two weeks away.

If you haven’t preordered, you totally should. (You can do so here: mybook.to/WorldForTheBroken )

I’ll be posting a special blog this Wednesday containing the ENTIRE first chapter. So, if you want a sneak peek before you order your copy or if you’ve already ordered and want to read a bit ahead of time, you’ll get your chance in a couple of days.

Keep reading. Keep writing.

Later.

Making magic: Things to think about when building a magic system

Hi, guys!

Now, if you’ve been following along, you know I like fantasy books. Give me a book with very little tech and a shit ton of magic, and I’ll eat it up.

But writing them can be tough. Magic systems can be taxing to put together.

So, to help you build a complex, SOLID magic system, I have a few things for you to consider.

First and foremost, does it have limits? What can magic be used for…and what can it not be used for?

Can it heal? Can it kill? Do people use it to manipulate time or elements? Can they summon things or people? Can they teleport or raise the dead?

Can they do some other thing I haven’t listed? The world is vast, and magic pushes the boundaries even further. So, feel free to be as creative as you wish.

But there will be limits. You need to decide what your magic is able to do and where to draw the line.

Second, are there different types?

Maybe different types do different things. Maybe there’s elemental magic and healing magic.

Third, you need to decide what those results cost.

Blood sacrifices? Does it make them tired? Or…maybe it doesn’t cost them anything, at all, though that’s less likely. (That’s crossing into the realm of supernatural/paranormal stuff with innate abilities. Vampires, demi-demons, werewolves, etc.)

You need to figure out what they have to give up in order to get what they want.

Fourth, how do they use it?

A series of hand gestures or waves of a wand? A complicated ritual? Maybe it comes down to a specific string of words, chanted in just the right way. Do they simply have to ask their god for power or is the magic stored in plant and animal matter, and they just have to mix the right things together in a potion?

There has to be a method of harnessing the power you’ve given them access to.

Fifth, is it widely available?

If your magic system is based on asking a god for power, obviously someone who’s never heard of that god won’t have access. Maybe it’s widely available and anyone can practice magic, they just have to learn how to do it. Perhaps, it’s hoarded by the rich and powerful or handed down through bloodlines.

All of these things define your world. Magic is linked to the very fiber of the fantasy world you’re building.

You cannot just say, “Well, it’s fine. It works because it’s magic,” and expect your reader to accept that.

Because it’s bullshit.

I’ve said it so many times, and I’ll say it again. You’re already taking the time to write a book…You may as well do it well.

Don’t half-ass it. Think this shit through.

In the end, you’ll end up with a better book. (Just don’t info-dump your world building on your readers all at once.)

Now, as for my own projects, I’ve jumped up to 53,483 words on my current WIP (whose magic system is heavily dependent upon their god).

Where Darkness Leads features many types of magic, distributed amongst the populace through blood lines and the amount of elements used for their creation. And I got a decent amount of editing done on it this week.

Keep reading. Keep writing.

Later.

So you want to write a fight scene: Five quick tips for writing violence

Hi, guys!

Last week, we talked about sex scenes. This week, we’re talking about fight scenes.

So, literally the opposite type of tension resolution.

I love a good fight scene. Whether I’m reading or writing, I need action in my books. But if the fights are all cheesy or forced or physiologically impossible, then it just ruins it.

And no one wants that.

(Side note: magic and supernatural abilities will alter some of these things. Exhaustion, pain, strength, endurance, etc. That’s a topic for another day, though.)

So, here’s a few tips to make sure your fight scenes are up to scratch.

First, do you even need a fight scene? Much like sex scenes, people tend to want to include a fight more often than they actually need to.

Does it fit with your character’s personalities? Is there enough on the line for them to come to blows over it?

If not, write in a shouting match, a heartfelt conversation, or some passive aggressive, bullshit move.

Whatever your character would actually do.

Because no matter how much you want to ramp up the tension in your story, sticking to what your characters would really do (according to their personality, their background, their opinions, and what’s at stake for them) is more important than forcing a fist fight onto the page.

Second, do some research.

Take a self defense class, watch a bunch of videos online, maybe even learn martial arts if you’re feeling particularly plucky. You need to know something about the fighting style your character is supposedly using. You don’t have to be an expert, but you need to know something.

At the very least, spend some time on the internet for research.

Second, exhaustion and pain are very real. They will take a toll.

Training helps people deal with them more effectively.

Adrenaline helps to keep both of them at bay, to an extent. But it wears off. And the human body can only take so much.

Study the limits.

You’re a writer. I’m sure your search history is already on a few watch lists. What’s one more eyebrow-raising search?

Google whatever you need to in order to attain a relatively realistic fight scene.

Don’t expect your readers to believe that a 105 pound, 5’1″ woman is going to take three punches to the stomach and a slap to the face from a mountain of a man, then run three miles and climb the side of a building to escape.

That bitch is probably going to puke. A lot. And she’ll have to stop to breathe. A lot. Likely puking even more. She will not look pretty doing any of this. Her sweat will not be a graceful glitter upon her skin. Bitch is gonna drip sweat. Like…too much of it.

The world will tip and sway beneath her feet, and her face is going to scream in pain from being slapped.

Bloody nose? Sure. Temporarily seeing a bright light? Sure.

Getting slapped is no laughing matter.

A three mile run and then free climbing? Not gonna happen after that level of assault from a big ass dude.

Honestly, it could result in internal bleeding or broken ribs (if he didn’t quite hit the fleshy part below the ribs, which might poke something vital), and she could die before she gets to that building she’s supposedly going to scale.

Now, when the adrenaline wears off, your character will feel it. They will crash. They might shake or cry. They might do both, or some other thing. Research is your friend, here.

Third, don’t focus too much on their surroundings. During a fight, the person is obviously going to be paying attention to the fight. They probably aren’t going to notice a lot of their surroundings unless they have a lot of military/police training or perhaps specialized in a field related to that particular aspect of their surroundings.

So don’t tell me what period the art on the wall is from unless they teach art history at the college level and happen to throw someone up against that painting.

In that case, they might lament the destruction of such a thing…as their opponent tears the canvas.

You need the scene to be fast and gripping, not bogged down by excess details. Don’t worry about the pattern of the lace on the tablecloth by the window across the room, painstakingly stitched by the character’s great aunt on their father’s side of the family before she died of natural causes, disappearing from their lives quietly in the middle of the night.

Worry about the look in their opponent’s eyes or the feeling of a drop of blood dripping from a busted lip. Focus on quick breaths and all-consuming rage burning them from the inside out. Show us clenched fists slamming into a nose and the ensuing crunch of cartilage.

Keep the scene moving forward. It’s a fight.

It needs to be active.

Fourth, people get distracted.

Emotions tend to seep in around the edges. Unless they’re a trained fighter, maybe even then, they’re going to think about the reason they’re in that fight. Maybe they’re worried about the person they’re trying to save. Maybe they’re worried about their own impending death.

If they duck behind cover or get tossed like a ragdoll, they might think strategy. Or they might dwell on the mistake that landed them in that position.

If chaos and fear sink gnarly teeth into their bones, they might spiral a bit, focusing on their tendency to make mistakes.

Just don’t spend too much time on stuff like that. Again, you want it to be fast and punchy. Always bring it back around to what’s actually happening in the conflict.

Fifth, use the appropriate amount of gore.

Certain genres and age groups tolerate/crave different levels of gore. YA contemporary calls for far less gore (probably almost none, maybe a bloody nose) than adult splatter punk (all the gore).

Unless you’re writing splatter punk or something akin to Dexter, you probably don’t need as much detail of the blood and body parts as you think.

Additionally, consider the effect it will have on the scene. Does the extra description add to the emotional value of the scene or slow it down?

If your character finds a loved one dead and cradles them to their chest, describing the blood that comes away on their hands or clothes could add to the weight of the scene. But it isn’t necessary to count each drop or describe the way it runs through every crease of their palm.

They won’t be focusing on that.

They’ll be focusing on the fact that…that blood should be inside their loved one. Not on their hands.

As for my own projects, I’m finally approaching the “landscaping their enemies to death” portion of my current WIP. So I’m heading for violence in that one. (Currently sitting at 48,817 words)

I’m nearing a lot of fighting in my edits of Where Darkness Leads.

And all the promo stuff for the April 21st release of World for the Broken (dark post-apocalyptic romance) is ironed out. And that one is chock full of fights.

Now, go forth and fill your books with as much violence as they call for.

Keep reading. Keep writing.

Later.