Make Every Character Count by Dave Ebright

Tonight I’m posting an article by an author friend of mine. I don’t know where I met him — perhaps here on this blog — but now we’re connected at various sites. He’s quite a character, this Dave Ebright, and he penned an award-winning pirate story for young adults called Bad Latitude. (Even the title cracks me up.) Dave’s second YA novel, Reckless Endeavor is on its way to me right now, probably spending the night in a lonely USPS outpost somewhere. I can hardly wait to read it! Adventure, the haunted town of St Augustine, and dead pirates. What’s not to like?  Here is what Dave has to say:

I was participating the other night on Pat’s forum at GATHER, No Whine, Just Champagne (which is a very worthwhile place to hang out & chat about the craft of writing on Thursday nights at 9PM EST — not a paid commercial message) & made a comment that got me in deep trouble with my friend & our awesome moderator. So here I am, making amends & torturing Pat’s readers with … gulp … an opinion. Here’s how it all started (unedited):

(ME) “I actually wrote a blog post on a writerly topic about making every character count — then I realized — Who the heck am I to be writing something about writing? — so I deleted it.

(PAT) “Um . . . Dave? What are you talking about? Why shouldn’t you write about a writerly topic? If you’ve seen half the crap out there about writing that I have, you’d understand that you have more right than most. Did you save any of the post about making every character count? If not, can you rewrite it? I’d love to post it on my blog if you don’t want to post it on yours.

So, here is my writerly blog post.

_________________________________________________________________________

Make Every Character Count by Dave Ebright:

Google the phrase “Make every word count.” Writers & teachers use it repeatedly in articles, on blogs, in classrooms & as part of ‘how to’ seminars. Great advice but there could be a Part B which should read – make every character count.

Recently, while reading a bestseller’s novel, the need for another form of economy in writing all but screamed from the pages. The book contained so many characters it needed an accompanying playbill for reference. It was difficult to follow & by the mid-point, the slog was on. The plot faltered, confusion set in & my interest waned.

I have written two books, both part of a YA series, with another on the way. As most writers discover (& hopefully strive for), the writing improves from one effort to the next. Word economy can be one result, as well as the decision-making. There are twenty-four characters in my first book. Five of them make only minor contributions to the story. The second book has but fifteen & all play vital roles, affecting the action, enhancing the humor or taking center stage for relevant scenes. Limiting the number of characters was intentional, the result of lessons learned, but I was determined that every character would serve a purpose.

Now forget the “writerly” approach, I’m not comfortable with it anyway. Try this.

The characters are part of your book’s team. You want to pick the best players to participate. You coach & develop them via edits & rewrites to become interesting, memorable, funny or evil. Since it’s your team (book), you decide on who gets the playing (plot) time. Anyone given the privilege to make your team has to contribute or they’re benched, or jettisoned to the bilge of a pirate ship. Whew! Now that sounds more like me.

Writing for only four years hardly qualifies me as an expert but as an avid reader who happens to write, character fillers performing busy work are distractions. Sure, make every word count, but take the same approach with your characters.

Okay – I’m gettin’ back to doin’ what I do best now.

Feel free to chop, edit or delete altogether, Pat - no hard feelings.

I didn’t chop, edit or delete a single word. I was right — this writerly discourse by Dave Ebright deserved a better fate than ending up in the recycle bin. Dave made a good point, one that is often overlooked: make each character count. He made another good point: No Whine, Just Champagne is a great place to hang out on Thursday nights. We’ve been having some wonderful chats about writing and the writing life. Here is a link to the most recent discussion, the one that inspired this post, Maximum Capacity — No Whine, Just Champagne Writing Discussion #170

Three Discussions with Me!

One of the real joys of my Daughter Am I blog tour has been the people I’ve had a chance to talk to. Dave Ebright, author of Bad Latitude was kind enough to be a host — twice — and he also followed my tour. How cool is that! He left a string of questions for me at Bobby Ozuna’s blog where I was being interviewed, and what ensued was a fascinating discussion. Well, fascinating to me. I like knowing how other writers work and how they think.

Dave: A few Qs, Pat – if you don’t mind:
Do you outline 1st?
Do you start at the beginning & write through to the end?
Book signings – Love ‘em or hate ‘em?
Favorite – 1st draft? Rewrites? Editing? or … uhm… Marketing?
Least favorite???
Character or plot? What do you consider your strength?
Coffee Tea or Vodka? (Kidding)
Thanks Bobby for having Pat as your awesome guest. Good interview.

Pat: How long have you been saving these questions to ask me, Dave?

Dave: Right off the top of my head — I was curious. You seem to really have your act together.

Pat: As for your answers — I don’t outline first. I know the beginning, the end, the general idea of the story. I start at the beginning, thinking out each step of the way as I go. The only time I deviate is that somewhere in the middle I write the end. Don’t know why. Perhaps it gives me the push I need to get through the murky middle.

Dave: That’s exactly how I do it. I make some changes during the rewrite / editing, but the story is the story.

Pat: Book signings — so far I haven’t done one. There are no bookstores around here, and I don’t seem to be able to get together with the librarians to plan an event there.

Dave:  I was scared to death with my first signing (there are pictures on my FaceBook from the one at the St Augustine Lighthouse) Fortunately, I write for kids & relate well (was a coach for many years), so I’m sorta in my element.

Pat: There are only two parts of the whole writing  process that are difficult for me — getting motivated to write and then incessant copyediting after I’ve written the book. Other than that, I enjoy the whole process. Or maybe not. If I did, I’d be writing! I like promotion, but whatever I’m doing doesn’t seem to be effective. At least not yet. I have hopes, though.

Dave: My problem is time – I’m not one for sitting down for only an hour or so. When I get into it — I’m good for several hours. Editing, I’m okay with snippets, but I print everything, mark it up with red pen & then make changes on the word doc. (several times).

Pat: That’s my problem, too. Some people can write in fits and starts, and few minutes here and a few minutes there, but not me. It takes a while for me to get into the proper frame of mind. That’s why getting motivated is so difficult for me — I know that I have to make a real commitment not just on blocks of time but for the year it takes for me to write a novel.

Pat: As for your question about character or plot: character and plot are pretty much the same thing in my books. Character determines plot, plot determines character.

Dave: I get most compliments about characters & plot twists. Love ‘the I didn’t see that coming’ reaction.

Pat: As for what’s my strength, that’s up to my readers to decide. Dialogue is the easiest thing for me to write, though.

Dave: Love dialogue with lots of quips & one liners. Current work includes conversations with a dead pirate (Calico Jack Rackham) which has been a blast to write.

Pat:  What do I drink? No coffee, no tea, no vodka. I’m strictly water with an occasional hot chocolate.

Dave: I am a coffee-holic.

Pat: Whew! I think I answered all your question!

Dave: Sorry – didn’t mean to be a pain. I just admire your ability to provoke thought. I’ve enjoyed your blog tour. Don’t worry though, I’m not a wacko stalker. Hah!

Pat: You weren’t a pain, Dave. This was fun. I’ve liked your impromptu parts of my tour, first the article on your blog, and now this conversation.

Dave: I’m anxious to buy your book. I went online to order from 2nd Wind using my wife’s PayPal account but, since I’m out of town, the shipping address didn’t match up with the account & that, apparently, screwed them up. I’ll be home in a week or so & I’ll order it then.

Keep up the good work Pat. What I’ve read of your work so far is excellent & your blog posts are always entertaining & informative.

Pat: Thank you, Dave! That was fun. If anyone wants to answer Dave’s questions, I’d like to hear your responses!

The second discussion of the day is taking place at James Rafferty’s blog. I met James at Gather.com where we are members of a couple of writing group. We are talking about contests and the difficulty of straddling genres. You can find James and me here: Collaborative Interview with Pat Bertram

The third discussion of the day is my weekly live chat. We meet every Thursday night at 9:00pm ET. I hope you will all stop by to talk. You can find me here tonight: No Whine, Just Champagne discussion #80 

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What Hooks a Reader — Blog Tour Day Ten

Though it is actually night here,  it’s still day ten of my Daughter Am I blog tour.

The reference to night and day reminds me of one of those standardized tests I took when I was in second grade. The question was, “How many hours are in a day?” I knew, of course, that there were twenty-four hours in a day’s span, but for some reason, I took the question to mean day as opposed to night. I knew that there were variable daylight hours — that was apparent from the way the sun set earlier each evening as it got nearer to winter. So, what was my answer? Twelve. I figured that on the average there had to be twelve hours of night and twelve hours of day. As you can see, I never did quite fit into a standardized world.

What does this way too revealing annecdote have to do with my blog tour? Absolutely nothing, except that it could be considered an example of a hook if, in fact, it did hook you! I am down in St. Augustine, Florida with Dave Ebright, and we’re cyberly talking about hooking a reader. I have a hunch Ebright doesn’t need any advice from me – his novel, Bad Latitude,  has hooks galore: surfing, fast boats, zombies, ghosts, and pirates. Stop by Ebright’s Blog, JaxPop: Haunted City Writer, and tell us about your hook, even if  it is only a fishing hook. You can find me and Dave here: That’s What Hooks a Reader.

If you haven’t yet stopped by the Second Wind Publishing haunted house (hey, there’s a theme here! Haunted City. Haunted House. Way cool!) you are missing the fun. You can find the house here:  Trick or Treat! Let the Game Begin!

DAIClick here to buy Daughter Am I from Second Wind Publishing, LLC. 

Click here to buy Daughter Am I from Amazon.

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