Grace's Mosaic Moments


Saturday, February 6, 2016

Character Development - 4



While Hailey, Riley, and Cassidy were rehearsing for a musical, Mommy had to be the Girl Scout selling cookies at her Real Estate Investors' meeting! Please note the double pony-tails & Scout bandolier.

My cousin in California shared this photo taken by Steph Ball on Highway 88 in California. Oh, the joy of living in Florida!


For the most stunning photo I've seen on Facebook in a long time, here's Sunset Through the Trees by Francis Broadrick.




PYTHON UPDATE.
The Big Cypress Wildlife Management Area and several other areas in the Everglades have been closed to the Python hunt due to high water levels. The hunt continues elsewhere. The count as of February 6, 2016, is 90.

For a video from the Python hunt's website, click on the link below, then click on the python photo.

Link to Python video


CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT - MORE EXAMPLES

Grace note: this week I'm continuing examples of ways in which characters need to change and grow to keep them interesting. The characters are from my new SyFy series, Blue Moon Rising (Book 1, Rebel Princess, expected out soon from Kindle Scout).

K'kadi Amund.
K'kadi is the bastard half-brother of Kass from last week's blog (the princess turned rebel). When K'kadi is first seen, he's nineteen, definitely odd—in our century we'd probably consider him autistic. He speaks only through illusions which he creates out of thin air. He is easily distracted, unreliable, quicksilver when the rebellion needs steel. He loves to scatter smiley faces and fireworks over people's heads. In spite of Kass's efforts to teach him discipline, near the end of Rebel Princess, he disgraces himself by allowing compassion to overcome duty, dropping the invisibility cloak of a rebel shuttle right under the noses of the enemy. In Book 2, Sorcerer's Bride, K'kadi's powers begin to grow—resulting in not only bigger and more dramatic illusions but what appear to be visions of the future. The problem is, no one can be certain if he's displaying fact or fantasy. Matters are also complicated by his falling in love at first sight with his mental opposite, a female warrior who considers anyone with his kind of magic—even if only makes pretty pictures—a monster. Because his attitude toward the girl from the planet Herculon verges on stalking, his brother-in-law orders K'kadi to endure military-style basic training. The ruthless discipline helps, but it's only at the end of Book 2, with the near death of Psyclid's rebel leaders, including his half-sister M'lani, that K'kadi finally begins to get a grip.


However, Book 3, The Bastard Prince is his. Yes, K'kadi must share the pages with Tal and Kass, but late in Book 2 he has progressed to "silent speak," an abbreviated form of silent communication which is a dramatic step up from being forced to communicate solely through illusions. He is older, taller, stronger, and much more powerful. He experiments with different talents, perfecting Kass's own gift of telekinesis. He has learned to "cool" his passion for Alala, the warrior, even as he unashamedly uses his gifts to peek at Tal and Kass in bed. (Just so, you understand, he won't make a fool of himself when his day comes.) Although The Bastard Prince is a work in progress, it's easy enough to see that K'kadi has grown and changed a great deal. Hopefully readers will also anticipate that there's far more to come. (I need to remind myself to add hints that he's not infallible. Our boy just might slip up again sometime, because, after all, there's always Book 4.)

Princess M'lani, Kass's younger sister.
M'lani is much more the classic princess than Kass ever was. She never longs to leave home and explore the universe. She first appears at the end of Book 1, when she volunteers to stand in for Kass as bride of the Sorcerer Prime, Jagan Mondragon. Though she is hurt by his seeming indifference to her magnanimous gesture—which will keep Jagan in line to be the next king—she is always aware that she is making a marriage of convenience, a far cry from the love match between Tal and Kass. Unlike the other members of her family, M'lani has displayed no psychic talent of any kind. She is, however, a pacifist like her father. And yet after enduring five years of Reg occupation and learning about her sister's role in the rebellion, she does not balk at being drawn into Jagan's assignment to organize Psyclids against the Empire.

On the one hand, M'lani must struggle with her engagement to Jagan, whose prime assistant is his long-time mistress. On the other, she must cope with the dramatic appearance of a personal psychic talent that is diametrically opposed to her strict pacifist upbringing. She must also act as arbitrator between Jagan and the local rebel leader, who clash at every turn. All major challenges for the sheltered princess who has never been farther away from home than royal family's former vacation site, Blue Moon.

As M'lani is drawn further into the rebellion, on the night of her marriage, she uses her Gift of Destruction to help Psyclid hostages escape, killing ten Regs in the process. And breaking the strongest tenets of her upbringing. She is a torn soul. Even after being arrested and beaten by the Regs, she maintains her desire to take back Psyclid without shedding blood. Which eventually happens . . . except just as it's over and everyone is celebrating, it's M'lani's blood that is shed. Jagan's as well. And finally, in near death, they find each other. Neither a strong patriot to begin with, M'lani and Jagan are now the hero and heroine of Psyclid Freedom Day.

Jagan Mondragon, the Sorcerer Prime.
Jagan is the most difficult character in the series. He's arrogant, egotistical, and comes very close to being an abject coward when we first see him, as at the first sign of trouble on Psyclid, he ran as far as he could get. He has a mistress, but he's clung to notion of marrying Kass long after she's told him she has a different life in mind. We get the idea he's returning to Blue Moon only because Kass shames him into it. Gradually, Jagan redeems himself, proving his sorcery a major weapon for the rebellion, yet even when he becomes a main character in Book 2, he remains difficult—agreeing to marry M'lani out of expediency, quarreling with the local leader of the rebellion, his arrogance continually getting in the way of Happily Ever After, whether for M'lani and himself or for Psyclid. Yes, he's mellowed, he's discovered he's married to the right sister, but he's never going to be easy to understand. And that's okay. Change doesn't mean that your characters have to do a complete about-face.

B'aela Flammia.
(Hard to write about B'aela without a "reveal" that's a complete spoiler, but here goes . . .)
B'aela is a witch and a pragmatist—Jagan's chief assistant and long-time mistress. She is highly intelligent, worldly, and perfectly aware she will someday be replaced. After all, Jagan has been engaged to Kass since they teenagers. Although a minor character in Book 1, B'aela comes into her own in Book 2, becoming a weapon of war in more ways than one, taking a new lover, and just perhaps finding an attraction that may become more permanent. By the end of Book 2, we realize she has become a major player, although the resolution of her love life will take as long as the resolution of the rebellion. B'aela is a good example of a minor character who insists on blossoming into something far more than she was intended to be. (One of the reasons I'm an "out of the mist" author instead of tied to an outline.)

A Grace note on Secondary Characters.
For the most part, secondary characters are allowed to remain themselves. The wise old gramma, the grumpy grampa, the BFF, the best buddy, the good boss, the bad boss, the charming child, the whining child, etc. These come in many shapes and forms and mixed personalities. They provide color, contrast, and someone for the h/h to bounce dialogue off of. BUT keep in mind that making these characters too complex can result in them overshadowing your two main characters, so that's a no-no.  Concentrate on making them fulfill their roles, but keep the "growing & changing" to a minimum (unless it's an essential part of the plot).


Summary.
Whatever kind of romance you're writing—Contemporary, Romantic Suspense, Paranormal, Futuristic, Inspirational, etc.—creating three-dimensional, interesting main characters who change and grow is essential. The basic lesson remains the same: Introduce your most important characters with a strong "description" -  whether physical, mental, or both - and build from there. Make them characters your readers can love or hate, then show us why. Show us there's more to these people than we thought, that they're capable of learning, growing, stumbling, coming back from adversity to be something more than they were before. That's life, that's humanity. Without it, your characters are merely cardboard, not more fleshed out than a child's stick figure.


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Thanks for stopping by,

Grace

For Grace's website, listing all books as Blair Bancroft, click here.
For a brochure for Grace's editing service, Best Foot Forward, click here.
 




Saturday, January 30, 2016

Character Development - Examples

From the Archives:
 
Legoland - 2012 (I think)


Python Hunt Update:
According to The Orlando Sentinel, January 26, 2016, a Florida Wildlife Commission officer shot a 16' 10" Burmese python in Everglades National Park. Unfortunately, as a FWC officer he is not eligible for the longest-snake prize. (That record is currently 18' 8" for a snake found in a rural section of southwest Miami-Dade County c. 2 years ago.)

As of Saturday, January 30, the Python Hunt total is 66, two short of the total for the last hunt, with two weeks yet to go.


Character Development - Examples

As I began Book 3 of the Blue Moon Rising series, I realized it offered some good examples of characters changing over the course of a book. Admittedly, a series gives them more scope, but the concept is the same: characters become boring if they remain static. For example: if the main characters fall in love on page one and stays that way throughout the book, with no more "conflict" than a bit of bickering here and there. Or the villain is just a villain, with no nuances, no effort to show any depth or multiple facets to his/her character. The heroine is born Miss Goody Two-Shoes or Ms Tough Bitch and never shows any other side to her character. Same for the hero. If any of the above happen, no matter how complex your plot, the book remains boring, boring, boring. Even if you're writing Mystery or Suspense, your characters are all-important. They must grab and hold a reader's interest. They must make readers want to root for them, forgive their sins, love them, identify with them. Readers do not want turn page after page and find your hero and heroine the same-old, same-old. Ho-hum, and wham against the wall! (Though not your Kindle, please!)

Grace note: Yes, there are always exceptions. For example, long-running mainstream mystery or suspense series (usually by male authors) in which the main characters remain pretty much true to form and changes are relegated to secondary characters. But in books where romance is emphasized, character change and growth are pretty much mandatory. The classic example: Pride and Prejudice.

Below are a few examples I am just now analyzing for character change. I never consciously thought about it while I was doing it. Let's see if I followed what I preached.

From the Blue Moon Rising series - Book 1, Rebel Princess, expected to debut soon from Kindle Scout.

Talryn "Tal" Rigel. 
Tal is your classic much-decorated hero of a militant race in a distant star system. When he is assigned to mentor some Space Academy cadets during a brief respite from battle, he encounters a young woman from the pacifist planet Psyclid, who obviously doesn't belong in his country's Space Academy. Yet there she is, and leading the cadets to victory in every mock battle they stage. From suspicion and reluctant admiration, Tal slips into rescuing the cadet when she becomes the enemy, and slowly, ever so slowly, while the story concentrates on the imprisoned heroine, Captain Tal Rigel becomes a traitor, launching a rebellion against his country and the empire it has built. (And that's just the first four chapters.)

Princess L'ira, aka Kass Kiolani.
The girl known at the Regulon Space Academy as Kass Kiolani has stars in her eyes. She wants to break free of the placid neutrality of her home planet, Psyclid, and explore the sector, the quadrant, the universe. She knows the Regs think Psyclids are weird, and she thoroughly enjoys using her paranormal powers to tweak military exercises in her favor. Secure as only a princess can be, she never dreams menace can find her. Until the eve of Regula's invasion of Psyclid when Tal saves her, confining her to a private prison to save her from rape and possible medical experimentation. Over the next four years she builds a fantasy hero based on Tal Rigel and is totally unprepared for the moment the supposedly "Killed in battle" hero pops back into her life. (Again, that's just the first four chapters.)

Grace note:  By the end of Chapter 4, both Tal and Kass have already encountered major changes in their lives. This much drama is not necessary, but they make excellent examples of "change" - heros and heroines who are forced into being something they never expected to be.

Tal & Kass. 
Another romance staple—Conflict—blows up in their faces. Kass is furious because Tal let her think he was dead, because in the process of escaping she, the girl from a pacifist planet, has been forced to kill three men, and because the real Tal Rigel is nothing like the man of her dreams. Tal is bewildered because she doesn't seem to understand that because of her, he has given up everything to become leader of the rebellion. In addition to conflict with each other, Tal and Kass must deal with the rebellion's civilian governing body, Kass's encounter with them revealing yet another facet of her character - an arrogant, and highly royal, temper.

Grace note: Conflict is the breath of life in Romance, both inner conflict and conflict from without.


The story continues:
Tal, a non-believer in both magic and paranormal, has been forced to accept that there are powers beyond the Regulon beliefs, but it's not easy. Nor is it easy for either Tal or Kass to find the real person beneath the fantasy person who had filled their dreams. Matters are further complicated by Kass's fey younger brother, who is mute, and by the fact she is engaged to Jagan Mondragon, Psyclid's Sorcerer Prime.

Grace note:  Conflict added on top of conflict.

Action conflict:
As Tal and Kass return to Blue Moon, with the Sorcerer Prime on board, they are attacked by ships of the Regulon Fleet. In the aftermath, Tal and Kass finally move closer together.

Grace note:  A hot action scene with a more cosmic scope than previous actions scenes.  And high drama is frequently followed by high romance. (Leading to an even more dramatic change in their relationship.)

More conflict:
Never make it too easy on your h/h. Tal and Kass's union is soon followed by a blow-up of epic proportions, purely personal and remaining unsettled when they go on a scouting trip to Psyclid to visit Kass's parents, the king and queen. there, they are forced to "put up or shut up." Will Kass wed Tal or Jagan Mondragon? Will she rule Psyclid? Or not? In the royal palace on Psyclid each takes one more significant step toward being something more than they had thought to be. 

Grace note:  In addition to becoming something far more than either Tal or Kass dreamed of, they give up treasured goals from their past. They become new people, better people, more powerful people; hopefully, more appealing people. If they've made you agonize with them, exult with them, then I succeeded in writing a good book.

Tal and Kass - the Future:
In Book 2, Sorcerer's Bride, Tal and Kass are in the process of becoming an "old married couple," leaving most of the drama and romance to Jagan, the Sorcerer Prime, and Kass's sister, M'lani. But in Book 3, The Bastard Prince, we see cracks appear in their relationship, and it becomes clear that it's not going to be smooth sailing for this star-crossed couple. Never letting emotions become static keeps things lively.

Grace note: And that's the story of just the two main characters from Book 1. More next week on the quite different conflicts and changes encountered by Kass's siblings and their significant others—how they too must earn their way to that magical Happily Ever After. 


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Thanks for stopping by,

Grace

For Grace's website, listing all books as Blair Bancroft, click here.
For a brochure for Grace's editing service, Best Foot Forward, click here.
 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Do You Know What Genre You're Writing?

A lot of "mosaic moments" this week:

The Northeast is currently enduring a blizzard - the forecast in Connecticut, where my son lives, has gone from 3-5" to 10-12" to 12-18". From Washington DC to New York City, the accumulations are much worse - 24-30". But on Long Island, it appears they're having a problem of a different kind. Photo credit on Facebook: "via Daniel San Filippo/Tri-State Meatball member."



On an entirely different front . . .
I think you'll enjoy the video my daughter made when she went outside at 7:30 a.m. (1/21/16) to walk her girls to the school bus stop.

To see a family of deer enjoying life in Longwood, click here. 


Shot of the stage at the Dr. Philips Center for the Performing Arts, Orlando - 1/22/16


Another mother/daughter drinking selfie - this time at the Star Trek event


STAR TREK - THE ULTIMATE VOYAGE

In celebration of fifty years of Star Trek, someone - and I have no idea who - put together an amazing evening of live orchestral music and a mélange of snippets from all the Star Treks, from first to most recent. It was beautifully done - a truly moving experience. The audience went wild, with a standing ovation for the show and for the encore! If you're a Star Trek fan and this presentation comes your way, do not miss it.


Update on Alligator Attack - from The Orlando Sentinel, January 19, 2016:

Rachel Lilienthal, the woman who lost the lower part of her arm just below the elbow to an alligator last August, went back to work last week as a Spanish lecturer at Rollins College in Winter Park. She admits she has a bit of trouble stacking students' papers in the classroom, but she manages to swim laps in a pool and is hoping to strengthen her muscles enough for a prosthesis at some point in the future. So, three cheers for a truly gallant survivor.

Crocodile Tale:

Finding an alligator in a swimming pool is not uncommon - after all, they're in almost every last puddle of fresh water in the state of Florida, but a crocodile . . .?

Crocodiles live in salt or brackish water, and here in Florida are generally found only in the lower Everglades. But this week a resident of Islamorada in the Florida Keys woke to find an 8-footer in the shallow end of his pool. Florida Fish and Wildlife returned the croc to his native habitat.

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Do You Know What Genre You're Writing?

 I frequently find my topic for the week in events that happened during the week, whether in my own writing or in my editing work. And this week, as I attempted to explain the nuances of Romantic Suspense to an author who thought that's what she was writing, I realized something I had forgotten since those first struggling years as an author: sometimes it's really tough to know what the guidelines are for a certain sub-genre of romance, let alone follow them well enough to impress and editor or agent. 

Frankly, if you want to "write in the cracks" - skimming styles from multiple genres - then indie publishing may be the only way to go. Editors who must adhere to the requirements of a "line" and agents who want to be sure they're going to make money with your book are going to leery of any story that strays from the accepted norm, no matter how good it is. Certainly, I ran into this problem head-on when I started submitting back in the late '90s. I was writing what I wanted to write - and running head-on into the conventions of romance. Back then, it was pretty much "Start out writing for Harlequin/Silhouette, and if you're good enough, maybe you'll be able to break out into some longer and more serious. My problem: I started out writing "Mainstream," although at the time I had no idea that's what I was doing. (And yes, as I've said before, those first two books, Tartleton's Wife and The Sometime Bride, are still the best work I ever did. Because I wrote from the heart, paying no attention to rules I didn't know existed. (As proof positive, I was just granted my rights to my books published by Ellora's Cave Blush - all but Tarleton's Wife, which in its fourth incarnation since it was first published in 1999, is still selling too many copies to qualify for rights reversion!)

So what's an author to do? In attempting to analyze Romantic Suspense alone, I was forced to acknowledge three styles: 1) Category Suspense - short, 60% romance, 40% suspense; 2) Middle-of-the-road - 80,000+ words, strong suspense plot, strong romance (sex scenes likely), plenty of action but not too bloody or hair-raising, minimal profanity; 3) Mainstream - 90,000+ words, emphasis on complex plot and hard-hitting suspense, romance a factor but not predominant. Gritty details, blood & guts. Profanity likely. Skilled writing a must.

A good example of an author who writes category, middle-of-the-road, and mainstream is the most prolific and respected romance author, Nora Roberts.  Although she no longer writes category, that is how she got her start. And she seems to alternate her more recent books between series aimed at the "middle" family romance market and more hard-hitting single title mainstreams. And then there are her mysteries, written under the pseudonym, J. D. Robb!

So how does an author figure out the vagaries of Romantic Suspense, let alone all those other sub-genres of Romance? I have only one bit of advice. Explore book stores and online until you find the genre you like best. (You probably already know what that is. But maybe not. Until recently I avoided one of my true loves - Science Fiction - because I thought I didn't have the technical knowledge to write it. And then I discovered "Futuristic"!)

Do your homework. Find the genre you most want to write. Then do nothing but read, read, read the best books you can find in that field. Don't even think of writing a single word until you've researched the parameters of that genre. 

Example:  If you want to write a cozy mystery, death is usually off-stage, even the action is not "strong stuff."  Include too much realistic drama and the editors of "cozy" lines will shudder and shy away. On the next level up, I would include the authors Rhys Bowen, Julie Hyzy, Tasha Alexander, and Catharine Lloyd, who hit a great happy medium between "light" and "serious" mystery (and without a lot of blood & guts). In Mainstream, Robert Galbraith (J. K. Rowling), J. D. Robb and C. S. Harris shine (sticking to female authors only).

The same sub sub-genres apply to every other romance sub-genre from Contemporary to Historical. There's a the simple "category" story, the longer middle-of-the-road book, designed to appeal to the majority of readers, and the harder-hitting Mainstream novels intended for those who want more "meat" in their fiction.  

And the problem is, unless you're going indie, you have to write to what the marketing departments of New York publishers want. (With few exceptions, NY is where agents make their money. From what I've seen recently, even the e-market for erotica, which had been paying well, has slowed.) So it' basically, conform or go indie. 

This does not mean you cannot have a unique idea. Lori Szoberg sold to Kensington when she made a hero out of the Grim Reaper! It's how you approach your idea that matters - how you swing the bat, if you will. And exactly because there are so many ins and outs to each sub-genre of romance, you must do your homework. You must pay attention to what is selling in your chosen field and not stray too far from the fold until you've established enough of a reputation to branch out with a few new wrinkles to the genre.

Then again, I'm glad I didn't know any of this when I wrote Tarleton's Wife and The Sometime Bride. They might never have been born.

The big decision - Write what you want to write or Write what editors and agents think readers want. (NY editors have a lot of statistics behind them, but the enormous success of indie publishing indicates they narrowed the market beyond what readers wanted.)  So . . . your call. Just be aware that for all that editors tell you to write the "book of your heart," they really mean: "Write the book of their heart" or "Write the book that meets the criteria of their company's executives."

Good luck! And do your homework.




~ * ~

Thanks for stopping by,

Grace

For Grace's website, listing all books as Blair Bancroft, click here.
For a brochure for Grace's editing service, Best Foot Forward, click here.