I’m at the RWA national conference in Orlando right now, where there’s always something more to think about, learn, or analyze about writing or romance publishing. In particular one writing craft panel I wanted to highlight was yesterday I attended a great panel workshop given by four New York Times bestselling authors: Lexi Blake, Cynthia Eden, Laura Kaye, and Rebecca Zanetti. The topic was on creating a large cast of characters to carry a series and the room was packed.

The discussion ranged over various details from the nuts and bolts of creating a series “bible” to keep all the details right from book to book (character eye color, favorite catch phrases, back stories, each character’s hidden secret or flaw, etc) to developing secondary characters into primary ones when “their turn for a book” comes.

I didn’t transcribe the entire panel since I was trying to focus on absorbing things relevant to me, but two questions in particular I got down almost every word, and I’m posting to share it with everyone.

Laura Kaye acted as moderator, asking the leading questions for the panel and then finishing off giving her own answer.

First she asked the panelists to describe the pros and cons of working with large casts.

Cynthia Eden: We’ve all heard the expression that no man or woman is an island? Characters don’t exist in isolation. You’re never just writing about one individual. You are by circumstance always writing about a cast of characters. You give them an instant background with their family and friends. With my romantic suspense novels I like to use teams. I write FBI teams. You’re going to need a lead investigator, a profiler, an ME, etc. You’re going to need all these people. So that’s a major pro. And any cast leads to sequels. That’s the biggest pro because it has your reader eager to go on to the next book.

Lexi Blake: Pro of a large cast? It’s fun! I like to write a lot of dialogue and you get a lot of dialogue when you have a big ol’ cast of characters. The con is… I guess there isn’t one. Well, maybe it’s that you have to make each character unique. That can be a challenge. (But that’s fun, too.)

Rebecca Zanetti: A large cast is great to show characterization. You act differently with different people. I have one sister I tease like crazy and one that I can’t. You can show different facets of a character and that’s one I like a lot. Also the slow burn character, I love. That person who shows up in book one and they build up for a long time before they get their story. You can develop them over a series. The con is you sometimes get too many people on a page. Even if you’re on book 4 or 5 of a series, you hope new readers are picking them up. You don’t want to confuse that new reader with too many new characters all at once.

Lexi: Well, and as you write the books they get longer because you keep having to put everyone’s favorite characters in there. Then you have to do the backyard BBQ scene to get them all in!

Laura Kaye: I agree, on the backyard BBQ. The thing that is great about having all these characters is you have the built in relationships where it’s easy to have humor, and it’s easy to have stakes because there are many people who could be hurt or feel lied-to or betrayed. Lots of emotional hooks for your readers. Not just for your sequels where they buy into a beloved secondary character, but for the tertiary characters who can manage to hook interest and get pulled into the story. You can expand a series if it takes off and starts doing well. It gives you the flexibility to do spin-offs. The cons are that your POV characters can’t just absorb a tennis match of other people talking. They have to be engaged in the conversation. Then there’s the giant pronoun problem when you have, say, five military guys on your team planning a mission and you have to figure out the mechanics of writing that dialogue so it’s not monotonous to the reader. The other con is if you’re going with a traditional publisher and you have 5 main characters, but your publisher stops after three books. You can end up with disappointed readers on your hands.

What are some tips for developing such a large number of characters? What are some tips for distinguishing them?

Rebecca: One thing I like is nicknames, if he calls her honey or sweetcheeks makes a difference. Also their motivations. If you play a joke on one friend, they laugh, another one never forgives you. They’re different. There are the little tidbits you put in. I have one guy that likes grape energy drinks and if I don’t put that in readers will write and say does he not like those anymore? Also their wounds. What hurt this guy, what is he still afraid of?

Lexi: if you don’t know those characters, the reader won’t know them. I think you don’t have to know everything before you start, but you have to know what makes them laugh, what makes them cry. I’ve written a lot of small town romance. And getting to know the neighbors and walking through the town can pull you in. But even an office building can have a sense of place. Put your characters around a table and see who talks first. If you’re just putting traits in a notebook and there’s no real emotion behind them it’s going to show. I love using dialogue. Some speak, fast, some slow, and you need to be able to hear them in your head.

Cynthia: I like to work with opposites on a team. You’ll have one guy who’s the hothead and always jumps right in. Then I have a team member who likes to sit back and get all the info before jumping in. So she and the first guy are going to have a clash. My action-first character, if he’s angry, he’s not just going to sit still. He’ll be pacing and clenching his fists and all that. All this body language that this character is doing with reveal his personality. The one who is the analytical sort? She’s not going to just kick in a door. She’ll be trying to talk the person down. Those personality styles lead me into what they should do in each scene. You don’t want them doing something that isn’t their normal nature without a really, really good explanation. Be aware, though, I’ve had New York editors tell me that the way I talk isn’t real, people don’t say that. I’m Southern. Something that seems so normal to me was something they didn’t like. But I think bringing in realistic dialect is a great way to distinguish the characters.

Laura: Think of it as a shorthand for your character. I learned a lot about creating unique characters from reading JR Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series. One is the blind king who wears the weird sunglasses. And one is the sarcastic one with the dragon tattoo who sucks on lollipops all the time. Then there’s the black-eyed, scarred one who is soulless and never speaks. I don’t even have to use their names: they’re immediately distinct. And when all twelve are in a room having a briefing session, you don’t have to use their names, because you know when so quickly from their distinguishing characteristics who’s who. Also, what are things that make the reader see them as endearing or real, that make the reader fall in love with that person? That grape energy drink or they’re a dog-lover or whatever. The more you can create those personal things the better, beyond scars and tattoos, beyond eye color and hair color. I have a lot of guys who swear but they can’t all say “Aw, hell.” Only one of them can say that and the other guys have to say something else.

As usual, the conference has been fantastic. If you are writing romance, or any kind of commercial fiction, I highly recommend attending one of these if you can afford it. In romance, I really feel I can’t afford *NOT* to be here!

Mirrored from blog.ceciliatan.com.

jimhines: (Snoopy Writing)
([personal profile] jimhines Jul. 27th, 2017 10:11 am)

Doctor to Dragons - CoverI met G. Scott Huggins almost twenty years ago. We were both published in Writers of the Future XV, and we ended up in a writing group together for several years. He was one of the folks who helped me grow and improve as an author. I published one of his stories in Heroes in Training a while back.

In April of this year, his humorous fantasy novelette A Doctor to Dragons [Amazon | B&N] came out.

I love the premise and setup. Dr. James DeGrande is a veterinarian in a land that’s been taken over by a Dark Lord, and the whole thing is written with a kind of tongue-in-cheek humor. The book is made up of several distinct but related stories, showing the growth of James and his partnership with his assistant Harriet (a physically disabled almost-witch).

Here’s part of the publisher’s official description:

Everyone says it was better in the Good Old Days. Before the Dark Lord covered the land in His Second Darkness.

As far as I can tell, it wasn’t that much better. Even then, everyone cheered the heroes who rode unicorns into combat against dragons, but no one ever remembered who treated the unicorns’ phosphine burns afterward. Of course, that was when dragons were something to be killed. Today I have to save one. Know what fewmets are? No? Then make a sacrifice of thanks right now to whatever gods you worship, because today I have to figure a way to get them flowing back out of the Dark Lord’s favorite dragon. Yeah, from the other end. And that’s just my most illustrious client. I’ve got orcs and trolls who might eat me and dark elf barons who might sue me if their bloodhawks and chimeras don’t pull through. And that doesn’t even consider the possibility that the old bag with the basilisk might show up.

The only thing that’s gone right this evening is finding Harriet to be my veterinary assistant. She’s almost a witch, which just might save us both. If we don’t get each other killed first.

I appreciate writers who take traditional fantasy and flip things around to present a different perspective. Just as I enjoy clever protagonists, like James and Harriet. (And while this may come as a shock, I also like fantasy that tries to have fun.)

There’s one bit I need to talk about. About 80% of the way into the book, we meet Countess Elspeth Bathetique, an incredibly neglectful pet owner and generally unpleasant person, and we get this exchange:

“Dammit, my lady, you’re not even a vampire!”

“How… how dare you? I identify as a vampire, you filth! You cannot dream of the tragic destiny which is ours!”

“What? Suffering from vitamin deficiency, malnutrition, keeping out of the sun for no damn reason, and torturing your poor pet basilisk? If I dreamed of that, I’d seek clerical help!”

I don’t believe it was intentional, but seeing language generally used by transgender people played for laughs by a wannabe vampire threw me right out of the story. I emailed and chatted with Scott, who confirmed that wasn’t the intention. The Countess was meant to be a darker take on Terry Pratchett’s Doreen Winkings. But he said he understood how I or others might read it the way I did.

One of my favorite parts of these stories are the veterinary details. Huggins’ wife is a veterinarian, and there’s a sense of real truth to the protagonist’s frustration with neglectful pet owners and the various challenges of keeping all these magical animals healthy. It helps to ground the book and acts as a nice counter to the humor.

I couldn’t find an excerpt online, but there’s a promo video on YouTube.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

Posted by John Scalzi

Congratulations! Your book was a success! Now do that trick a second time! In discussing Killing is My Business, author Adam Christopher talks about doing the thing that you did so well all over again — but different this time.

ADAM CHRISTOPHER:

You know how it goes, the difficult second album: a band spends years meticulously crafting a collection of songs, polishing them through endless live sets until they shine, and these songs form their incandescent debut album.

Then they need to produce the follow-up and essentially come up with an entirely new repertoire on demand. That second album can be a difficult one indeed.

Now, I didn’t spend years crafting the Ray Electromatic Mysteries – Made to Kill, the first full-length novel after the Tor.com novelette Brisk Money, came out in 2015 and was something like my seventh published novel – but somehow the series has a certain kind of weight, just like that debut album of your favourite band. I think it’s because that original big idea was very big indeed – I was writing Raymond Chandler’s lost science fiction epics, a series about a robot assassin working in Chandler’s near-future Hollywood of 1965. That idea sprang from Chandler’s own letter to his agent in 1953, in which he complained about sci-fi, saying “people pay brisk money for this crap?” Clearly, this was a front, the famed hardboiled author conducting a fishing expedition, seeing if his agent would bite.

Sixty years later, I wrote a story named for Chandler’s letter – Brisk Money. The idea was everything – a whole world was open to me, enough not just for a novelette but for a trilogy of hardboiled novels and another in-between novella, Standard Hollywood Depravity – the title, again, taken from Chandler’s letters.

So far, so good. Made to Kill was a blast to write.

And then came book two.

I wouldn’t call it a sophomore slump. Far from it. The three novels were pitched together, right from the start, so I knew what I was doing and where the books were going. But there was one thing in back of my mind while I was working on what became the second novel, Killing Is My Business.

What would Raymond Chandler do?

That mantra, in essence, became the big idea of the book.

The concept of the Ray Electromatic Mysteries is simple: the robot revolution came and went in the 1950s, and Ray is the last robot left in the world, designed to be a private eye working in Hollywood. The only snag to this is that his supercomputer boss, Ada, was programmed to make a profit – and she quickly figured out you could make more money by killing people than finding them. A little tinkering with Ray’s CPU and Ada turns him into an accomplished hit-robot.

Simple enough, and, importantly, an open-ended concept. You could write a hundred stories about a hitman.

Which was actually the problem – because while I could easily write endless hardboiled, noir-ish stories set in Chandler’s seedy LA underbelly, a world full of wiseguys and dames and crooked cops and the mob, that’s nothing that hasn’t been seen before a thousand times. Hell, that’s basically Chandler’s oeuvre and people have been calling him a genius or a hack for the last seventy-plus years.

No, what I had to do was to write science fiction. There was no point in Ray being a robot if that wasn’t vital to the story. Ray had to be the central player in the trilogy – he’s unique, literally, and that has to drive the story arc that stretches across all three books.

So: what would Raymond Chandler do?

More specifically, what would Raymond Chandler do… with a robot?

In Killing Is My Business, Ray’s unique character is used to rather unsubtle effect when he uses his virtually indestructible chassis to protect a mob boss from a drive-by shooting, literally placing himself between the crime lord and his would-be executioners. This is something that only Ray could do. It’s a key scene, the first piece of the story that I had thought of.

And it was also a scene that I knew had to happen – if Ray is a robot then being a robot is the story. With that thought foremost in mind, I could write book two and I could make sure the series as a whole is more than just a set of pastiche crime novels, it was something original.  

Now, if he only Ray Electromatic knew what I torment I had in store for him in book three…

—-

Killing is My Business: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Twitter.


codyne: Kitty Jerry under a blanket (jerry)
([personal profile] codyne Jul. 26th, 2017 10:38 am)
It's been a week today since Jerry's surgery. She came home from the hospital last Thursday, with a cone and bandages and shaved spots all over! They told me they'd shave her belly, but she was also shaved halfway up her sides, and around each leg (for IVs), and around her backside.

The first few days were pretty rough. They'd told me she'd have diarrhea for a week or two after the surgery, as her body adjusted to not having a colon, so I was expecting that, but not to the extent that she did! She was unable to control where or when most of the time, so I was constantly cleaning up after her. Plus, she lives in my bedroom, and sleeps on my bed, so my bed was a huge mess. I've been washing sheets and blankets daily. She had a pain med that was given every 8 hours, and an antibiotic that was every 12 hours with food. I was giving her meds at 8 AM, 4 PM, 8 PM, and midnight every day.

(When I went to give her the first dose of the pain med the next morning after I brought her home, I discovered that the change in air pressure in bringing it up the mountain from LA had caused the bottle to leak and all the med dribbled out. Brief panic while I sorted getting the records faxed up to my local vet from LA so the local vet could fill another prescription for me. Crisis averted!)

I was supposed to keep the cone on her until the stitches came out, except for brief periods while I was there to watch her, but she had a bandage over her stitches and she showed no interest in it at all, so I left the cone off, and she hasn't bothered about the stitches at all, even after the bandage came off. So at least she was able to avoid that indignity.

Biggest problem at first was that she wouldn't eat or drink. I was giving her sub-Q fluids daily, and I was able to force-feed a bit of food into her by syringe, so she was okay, but it wasn't fun for either of us. Saturday, I tried to call the hospital in LA for advice, but got stuck in a loop of phone tag with the vet tech, and then the surgeon, while the receptionists kept telling me "Just bring her in!" to which I'd reply, "I'm over 100 miles away, I'm not going to 'just bring her in', I want to talk to somebody!" I ended up taking her to my local vet, who checked her over and said she looked pretty good, and gave me some anti-nausea and appetite stimulant meds to give her, which helped quite a bit, and she finally started eating on her own.

Monday was her last day on the pain and antibiotic meds, and I think just not having to have all that medicine shoved into her numerous times a day has improved her mood and appetite quite a bit! All day yesterday, she purred up a storm whenever I went in to see her, and she was eating almost a normal amount. Her diarrhea has improved to where she's getting into or close to the box every time, and she doesn't seem to be in any distress. I'm still changing the sheets every day, but at this point it's just a few dribbles and wet footprints.

Jerry has a bite to eat

Not a great photo, but I was so happy to see her eating, I had to take a picture.

Next week she'll get her stitches out. The surgeon said it would be fine to have my local vet do it here, so she won't have to go to LA again, which I'm sure we're both glad about. Her diarrhea should continue to improve over the next week or so. Also, the liver masses and colon both tested benign, so she won't require any further surgeries. All we have to do now is rest and recuperate.
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Posted by John Scalzi

Leaving aside everything else that is wrong and immoral about this proposed ban, at the moment there are something like 11,000 trans people currently serving openly in the US services and reserves. They are there legally, and it is currently their right to serve openly. Trump’s ban, at first glance, appears to take away their right to serve their country, and takes away their jobs, their incomes, their benefits for themselves and their families — for no other reason than something which yesterday was not illegal nor an impediment to serving their country with passion and distinction.

Make no mistake: Trump is affirmatively and explicitly taking away a right from American citizens, a right they already had and enjoyed. This is a big right: The right to serve in one’s military openly, without fear of punishment for who you are.

If Trump will take away one right from Americans, he’s not going to have a problem taking away other rights as well. Why would he? Trump is the living embodiment of “If you give a mouse a cookie” — if he gets away with one thing, he’ll go ahead and try to get away with something else. He’s already trying, of course.

I don’t think it will come as a surprise to anyone that I support the right of transgender people to serve openly in the military, a thing they already have done, any more than it will come as a surprise that I support the rights of transgender people generally. But as important as it is for me to explicitly say I support transgender rights, I think it’s also worth asking people who oppose these rights, or other rights enjoyed by people not exactly like them, whether they are comfortable taking away fundamental rights these American citizens already have — and if so, what leads them to believe that their own rights, rights they already enjoy, are not also placed in jeopardy by that precedent.

If the answer boils down to “well, that will never happen to me,” as it inevitably will, it’s worth examining why they think they will forever be immune. The answer will be instructive for everyone.

And also, they’re wrong. If you can take away an existing right of an American simply because of who they are, then you can take away a right of any American simply because of who they are — or what they are, or where their ancestors came from, or what they believe, and so on.

I said on Twitter this morning, “Today, as has almost every day in this administration, offers each us of a chance to understand the dimensions our own moral character.” And so it does. And so it will, every day, I expect, until it is done.


Posted by John Scalzi

Coke announced today that it’s rebranding Coke Zero to “Coke Zero Sugar”:

Coca-Cola Zero Sugar is the new and improved Coke Zero. We’ve made the great taste of Coke Zero even better by optimizing the unique blend of flavors that gave Coke Zero its real Coca-Cola taste. Coca-Cola Zero Sugar is our best-tasting zero-sugar Coca-Cola yet, and it will be available across America in August.

Basically, it’s the same new formula it’s been introducing in foreign markets as “Coke No Sugar” but Coke is keeping the “Zero” branding here because it’s been successful and they don’t want to confuse us poor Americans any more than we already are in these trying times. Or something.

As I noted previously (see the second link, there), I am perfectly fine with Coke attempting this revamp — by all reviews I’ve seen the “Zero Sugar” version tastes more like standard Coke than Coke Zero, and since “actually tasting like regular Coke” is why I drink Coke Zero in the first place (Diet Coke shares its flavor profile with the late, unlamented New Coke), I’ll willing to give this new version a shot. If it turns out I hate it, well. I guess then that August 2017 will be a fine time for me to drastically cut down my soda drinking. I suspect I’ll probably continue calling the new stuff “Coke Zero” rather than “Coke Zero Sugar,” because it’s two fewer syllables and I’m all about efficiency.

So in effect, I think that this is less like Coke Zero dying than it is Coke Zero regenerating, timelord-like, into its next iteration. And I suspect I will remain its constant companion.


([syndicated profile] scalziwhatever_feed Jul. 26th, 2017 11:18 am)

Posted by John Scalzi

Monsters are monsters, but do they always have to be so… monstrous? Vivian Shaw considers the fundamental nature of these terrible creatures in Strange Practice, and how she came to look at them from another angle entirely.

VIVIAN SHAW:

What’s my big idea?

The facile answer is, of course, sensible monsters. An idea which doesn’t seem to have found a great deal of traction thus far in any genre, classic or contemporary, and so offers a wide-open opportunity to play with readers’ expectations — but the real underlying answer goes back a lot further than that. It has to do with the contrast between ordinary and extraordinary, and what that means in terms of storytelling.

I’ve been writing novellas and novels of varying quality since I was about ten or eleven, but I did National Novel Writing Month for the first time in 2004, right after spending a lot of time on urbex websites, and the big idea behind that first NaNo was how many characters from classic vampire lit can I get into one story while exploring the weird and wonderful subterranean world of London? The answer turned out to be between five and eight. That first draft featured not only Lord Ruthven and Sir Francis Varney, but also Dracula and Carmilla (only spelling herself Mircalla, because vampires and spelling are such a thing). On the human side I had Greta, descended from Van Helsing, and August Cranswell, descended from the family that put paid to the vampire of Croglin Grange.

I decided to put vampires in the NaNo novel because I’ve always been fond of them — even as a kid I loved reading the classics, even if I had to stop every now and then to look up the words. The way in which the Western vampire mythos evolved from age to age, gathering often-contradictory detail with each well-known story added to its canon, fascinated me. But in all the stories, all the retellings, I couldn’t get away from the fact that most of the vampires did really stupid things. Their behavior was practically designed to attract the attention of the pitchfork-and-flaming-torch brigade, and just for once I wanted to read about vampires who just got on with it — vampires who were monsters, yes, but also people. Vampires who didn’t have to have geographically unplaceable accents and go swanning around in evening dress all the time for no reason. Vampires who didn’t need to be hypersexualized edgelords in leather trousers, or spend all their time moping about their cursed eternal fate, woe. Vampires who’d rather write nasty letters to the Times than tear throats out (unless the latter was really necessary), and who used their powers to watch over the city and stop other monsters ruining everything. Vampires who were sensible.

And because I wanted to read it, I had to write it first.

That book was called The Underglow, and it sat around on various hard drives for a decade while I borrowed characters from it and played with them, letting them evolve into much more nuanced and interesting individuals. In 2014 I dusted the book off again, looked at it properly, and determined it would need to be stripped to the skeleton and rewritten almost from scratch.

And this time the big idea wasn’t about cramming in as many recognizable characters as I could shoehorn into a plot, nor was it limited to vampires alone. This time it was about the individuals themselves — a more diverse cast, given more opportunity to shine — and what it actually meant to them to be what they were, extraordinary creatures in an ordinary world. I didn’t just have sensible vampires. I had sensible were-creatures, and mummies, and ghouls, banshees, bogeymen, a whole spectrum of monsters to play with, a richer world to explore.

It was this second iteration of the book that would end up becoming a series starring Greta as the central character, set in this peculiarly overlapping supernatural-adjacent world. With my editor’s help, I continued to refine the text into something that explored that particular aspect of storytelling: both the contrast between the ancient monsters and the modern day, and the fascinating difficulties encountered by people who necessarily spent their time in the liminal space of that boundary between natural and supernatural. What their experience would be, as creatures who had to coexist either covertly or overtly with ordinary humans, keeping their natures as quiet as possible — and what it might be like as a human to witness that experience, and to take on the responsibility of offering care across species boundaries. What kind of person would you have to be, to do a job like that?

Without really intending to, all those years ago in the throes of NaNo, I’d done myself an extraordinary favor in inventing the character of Greta Helsing. In the previous version, Greta was much less important a character; in this one, I could take much more advantage of her highly specialized role to portray those monsters as her patients, people she cared for, whatever sort of creature they might be, and what that meant to her. As a human physician to the supernatural, she necessarily encounters an enormous variety of complaints, and so I get to write about so many fascinating problems seen both from the human and the clinical standpoint. It gives me endless pleasure to apply scientific protocol to the realms of the unreal — there’s the contrast thing again, ordinary and extraordinary balancing each other — and I love writing about listserv arguments over the relative merits of different embalming fluids in zombie tissue stabilization, or the practice of creating perfect bone replacements for mummies via 3-D printing from a laser scan.

So it’s contrast, and it’s the experience of that contrast, of being a stranger in a strange land, that really drives the book (and, in fact, the series). The concept of found family echoes throughout, as well — it’s a natural consequence of the transposition of individual and environment, and one of my favorites.

But if, in the end, all you take away from Strange Practice is sensible monsters…I’m gonna be well-pleased with the work of my hands.

—-

Strange Practice: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.


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