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

The Not Quite Good vs. the Not So Evil

“The story must be a conflict, and specifically, a conflict between the forces of good and evil within a single person.” — Maxwell Anderson, American playwright (Actually, he said, “The story of a play must be a conflict . . .” and that can lead to the first question of tonight’s discussion. Does a story/novel differ from a play in other ways besides simply the format?)

The best stories are, of course, conflicted, and internal conflict deepens one’s knowledge of a character and raises the stakes for the outcome of the story. But . . . does the conflict need to be between good and evil? If a character is battling it out internally between such disparate forces, then there’s a chance the story will end up being comic bookish and the character end up resembling Linda Blair in The Exorcist.

Perhaps it’s better for the internal conflict to be a bit narrower? Say between one’s need to do the right thing and one’s tendency to be selfish?

I just read an article that said most people don’t particularly want to be good. They’d rather devote their efforts to other things such as being happy, successful, smart, attractive, healthy. Sounds like the makings of a good conflict. Battling one of these urges in order to do something selfless would make a character more real than one who has to battle their evil nature, because who of us is truly evil? Most of us are thoughtless, selfish, petty, pettish, angry, given to telling small lies and committing small dishonest acts, none of which are evil. Just human.

According to that same article, goodness is about a person’s character — integrity, honesty, kindness, generosity, moral courage. A story person with such qualities would seem shallow and uninteresting and too good to be true. On the other hand, some characters who are supposed to be on the side of good do as much bad as the characters who are supposed to be evil. In other words, in a fictional world, it’s okay to be evil as long as your intentions are good. That would make a good conflict, too — a battle between a character’s good intentions and what the character really does. But such a battle is still not a conflict between the forces of good and evil in the same person.

So, do you agree with Maxell Anderson? Do your characters have a massive internal conflict, or do their internal conflicts tend to be less dramatic? What are your characters internal conflicts? Does the internal conflict reflect or contrast the major conflict in the story? As for your villains — are they also conflicted but perhaps lose the battle to their less than stellar side?

If you’d like to discuss this topic live, you can find me at the group No Whine, Just Champagne on Gather.com on Thursday, October 15, 2011 at 9:00pm ET (8pm CT, 7pm MT, 6pm PT). Otherwise, we can just chat here.

Facebook Has Finally Defeated Me

I signed up for Facebook back when authors were joining in vast numbers. None of us knew what we were doing there, we just knew social networking was the next step in trying to promote our books. I was already familiar with Gather.com, another social networking site, and since I had a writing discussion group on Gather, I decided to start one on Facebook. There were already hundreds of such groups, but mostly they sat fallow, so I did one thing no one else was doing — I sent the link for the discussion to the members of the group. There was a great response because, finally, we all had something to do on Facebook while we figured out how to use the site most effectively.

I kept these discussions going through several Facebook upgrades until  they  revamped the group format and got rid of the discussion boards. I still don’t see the rationale behind that, but I adjusted. I added the discussion app to my fanpage and moved the discussions there. We were getting back into the swing of things when . . .  FB revamped the fan page format and got rid of the discussion app. It’s better for all discussions to take place on the wall, they say. It makes for a better experience, they say. A better experience for whom? (Glad I asked that. Since they are making the pages more interactive, and since all businesses — especially big businesses and major corporations — have a page, they are making room for more commercial encroachment on facebook.)

Well, I moved the discussions back to the group walls, and they quickly disappeared into the great maw of self-promotion. I have nothing against authors promoting their books, but please!! Give us something more interesting than yet another plea to buy your book. Still, that isn’t the issue here. Nor are the discussions the issue. If people aren’t interested in discussing the finer points (and the not so fine points) of writing or reading, there’s not much I can do about it except stick to my No Whine, Just Champagne discussions on Gather or post them on the Second Wind Publishing group on Goodreads.

The real issue, the reason Facebook has defeated me, is the updated home page. There is a ticker along the right sidebar that ticks continually with inane messages. John likes Bill’s link. Bill commented on Janet’s status. John and Janet are now friends. Even that isn’t a problem. One quickly gets used to ignoring sidebars on the Internet. The problem is that if you are making a comment on someone’s link or status update when the ticker ticks, your comment ends up in appropriate places, such as when I left a “yay!” on someone’s update about having had a good day and it ended up on another person’s update about needing an operation. Ouch. Still, I can get used to doublechecking to make sure my comments hit the right spot and deleting those that don’t. What I cannot get used to is the new newsfeed — the constant stream of cutesy-poo animal pictures, sickly sentimental and fatuous sayings masquerading as images, and supposedly funny sayings and cartoons that lack an iota of humor.

Even that I can get used to, but Facebook has made it so easy for everyone to share this crap that they do. Over and over and over again. Yikes.

On the other hand, since people seem to like this new newsfeed, it’s possible the problem isn’t Facebook. Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m just getting crotchety.

The Best Thing About Writing Fiction

This morning, author Lazarus Barnhill posted an article on the Second Wind Blog about why he writes fiction. He wrote:

”When you write about a controversial issue, you don’t have to make it the center of your story to express it fully.  You just work it in.  For instance, when I wrote The Medicine People, I dealt a lot with the quiet underlying bigotry Native Americans and Western European descendants still harbor for one another but never express out loud.  And while it was essential to the story, it didn’t overwhelm the novel.  Stories have the power to make an issue live in the mind of the reader the way a speech never can.

“And the best thing about being a fiction writer is, you don’t have to brag to get your point across.  The best writer is one whose reader gets absolutely lost in the narrative.”

When I began writing, I had a lot to say about the way we are manipulated to suit the needs of big business and big government, and that theme underlies my first four novels. Though that theme was important to me, I tried to make the story even more important so as not to overwhelm the readers. I used up that theme, so I don’t know what I want to say in my future books, which is perhaps why I haven’t been able to write — I don’t know what I want to say, or rather, why I want to say it. I tried to write a story simply for the story’s sake, but that manuscript is stalled halfway through. I do have a theme for that — freedom vs. security vs. responsibility — but the book is not a thriller, has no mystery, is more of an apocalyptic allegory, which is something I would never read, so I don’t imagine anyone else would want to either. The point being, I write fiction because . . . Apparently I have no reason since I am not writing fiction at the moment. 

So, why do you write fiction? What is the best about being a fiction writer? What do you hope to accomplish with your writing? How do you make sure readers get lost in your fiction?

Let’s talk.

The group No Whine, Just Champagne will meet for a live discussion about writing and the writing life on Thursday, April 22, 2010 at 9:00pm ET. I hope you will stop by — it would be nice to see you. You can find the discussion by clicking here. If you can’t chat live, we can chat on this blog.

Live Chat About Writing

I have a chat group on Gather.com that meets  on Thursday at 9:00pm ET. This week (April 8, 2010) we will be meeting here: No Whine, Just Champagne Writing Discussion #105.

I missed the discussions the past couple of weeks. I always enjoy talking about writing even if I’m not actively involved in the pursuit of words, perfect or otherwise.

So, let’s talk. If you can’t attend the live discussion, feel free to discuss your writing here. As I said, I always enjoy talking about writing.

What have you been writing recently? If you haven’t been writing, what are you planning to write? How do the traumas or dramas of life affect your writing? Do make time to write regardless of the horrors life throws at you? Do you find comfort in writing, or does your make-believe world seem trivial in the face of real life traumas? How do you motivate yourself to write in such times, or do you just  . . . not write?  

Words Matter

This is Words Matter Week. I planned to participate, doing the blog prompts, but unfortunately real life is eating my online time, so I haven’t had a chance to answer the questions. I thought the blog challenges would make a great discussion, however, and even better, I don’t have to come up with something interesting for us talk about.

Here are the challenges for this week:

What is the most important word or words in your life? Why?

Communication breaks down when words are misused. What is the funniest, most interesting, or worst break-down you’ve ever observed?

Writers are people who take isolated words and craft them into memorable phrases, stories, poems and plays. Who are the writers who make your heart sing? What is the magic ingredient?

If you had to eliminate one word or phrase from the English language, what would it be? Why?

What person in your life helped you understand the importance of choosing words carefully? What would you say to them if you met them today?

The group No Whine, Just Champagne will meet on gather.com for discussion about words, writing, and the writing life on Thursday, March 4, 2010 at 9:00pm ET. I hope you will stop by — it would be nice to see you.

If you can’t make the live discussion, we can have an unlive one here. You first.

Making Time, Finding Time, Having the Time of Our Lives

Once upon time when I worked in retail, I noticed that whenever a day seemed to go slowly for those of us womanning the cash registers, customers would complain about how the day was dragging. Conversely, when the day seemed to fly by for us, customers would also comment on how fast the day was passing. I started taking an informal poll then, asking people if the day was moving fast or slow. With but a single exception, the days went either fast for everyone or slow for everyone, which made me think that time was variable, though somehow our bodies and artificial timekeepers managed to key into the new time speed, so there was no way of knowing that time moved at different rates.

Oddly, time is no longer variable for me. It speeds up and keeps speeding up until I wonder how twenty-four hours manage to fit into a single day. Except when I write, of course, then it seems as if time doesn’t exist.

Time is a major factor for all of us. People often ask me how I juggle promotion, writing, and offline life, but the truth is, I don’t juggle very well. I always drop a ball or two so that a single ball is kept in the air at a time. (Am I mixing metaphors?) Right now my offline life is taking precedence (nothing particularly good or bad, just work). I am doing almost no promoting, not keeping up with my discussion groups (except for this one), doing a single blog post a week, and yet all that and more used to fit into a few hours a day. Now it barely fits into a week.

So, let’s talk about time. How do you make the time to write? For those of you who are published, how do you find the time to promote? How do you make sure that you are having the time of your life when you are writing, or does it become work after awhile? If you don’t want to talk about time, feel free to talk about any aspect of writing or your writing life.

Let’s talk.

My writing group No Whine, Just Champagne will be discussing this article during a live discussion about writing and the writing life on Thursday, January 21, 2010 at 9:00pm ET. I hope you will stop by our Writing Discussion #96. If not, leave your comments here. I always enjoy seeing what you have to say.

Interview Questions Wanted

I am going to be a guest on April Robins’  Blog Radio show Red River Writers Live — Savvy Designs on Thursday, January 7 at 12:30 pm CST, and I need to supply ten interview questions. A few of those questions have to relate to the facebook groups I moderate or co-moderate, and the rest are up to me. I like a freewheeling interview, where we just talk rather than do a Q&A, but I can see that some guidelines would help. I will talk about my Facebook groups and how I ended up as moderator for four of them. And I will talk about how generous the members of all the groups have been with their time and expertise during the discussions, but beyond that? Haven’t a clue. If I were still in my blog tour/self-promotion phase,  I could feed April questions about my books, but that phase seems to have passed. I’m just me again, not an author on tour, and so I’m plumb out of questions.

Any suggestions?

Oh, and if you haven’t yet joined one of my Facebook groups, I am extending a personal invitation. Well, it’s more of an impersonal invitation, since I’m posting it here and not sending it to you individually, but still, it’s an invitation.

Suspense/Thriller Writers

Second Wind Publishing

Genre Book Club

Help Support Independent Publishers

And, of course, there is my live chat on Thursday evening at 9:00 pm ET. Always a lively discussion! So, feel free to join this group, too: No Whine, Just Champagne.

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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Where Is Everyone?

It seems odd that a community of mega millions can suddenly go quiet, but today the internet world seems deserted. There were few comments on blogs I, little going on at Facebook, even less going on at my live chat on Gather. (If you feel up to it,  stop by to visit. We can use the company! We meet every Thursday night at 9:00 pm ET at the featured article at my discussion group: No Whine, Just Champagne. Tonight is our 84th discussion, and though we usually talk about a specific topic, lately we’ve just been gossiping about writing.  Tonight we will be meeting here: No Whine, Just Champagne Discussion #84.)

Where do people go on the first day of the month that is more enticing than the internet? I know there are windstorms across the USA that might preclude the use of computers, but still, out of a community of millions, there should be something going on! Or perhaps the party moved, and I missed it. So, where is everyone?

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