What I’ve learned from love: How to build a writing life—and a life, period.

In 2009, I lost my grandfather to pancreatic cancer. It was a short battle. He was diagnosed a few weeks before my wedding; he died two months later.

In the way he lived his life, he taught me how to love, how to be a good person, how to lead a good life. He wasn’t wealthy or famous. He’d worked in a coal mine, fought and was wounded in WWII, and worked in maintenance at my future alma mater.

But the day of his memorial service, the funeral home was packed with people. Some hadn’t seen him in thirty years, but they remembered when he’d helped them rebuild their house after the flood; they remembered the kind of man he was. He wasn’t perfect, but he was generous, and he had a strength of spirit, a contagious warmth and happiness, and a sense of pride that came from everyday, simple things. No one was ever prouder of their family than he was; no one ever loved deeper than he did.

In life, it’s easy to get caught up in the game. We want to be published writers, achieve some measure of financial success, or save up for a rainy day or our golden years. And those are all important things. But they can’t be end goals.

A year ago, I first started seriously researching my path as a writer. I found out about the indie writer scene via writers like Kait Nolan. I joined Virginia Romance Writers, where I met writers like Shara Lanel and Nara Malone, who taught me about small epubs and the world of digital publishing. I learned about POD, which allows smaller publishers to offer print versions of books without having to do large press runs. I bought a Kindle and got hooked on the digital book scene. I learned more about how the publishing industry works and what I should expect.

What I’ve learned from my family is that work is important, but it’s only one part of our lives. We have to choose the writing path that works for us as individuals, one that allows us to meet our personal and professional goals. I’ve put in some long, hard hours of introspection. I’m still finding my path, and I know that my journey will be full of changes and surprises I didn’t anticipate.

Whether my book sells a hundred copies or a million, my grandfather would’ve been equally proud. I know my husband will rejoice for me the day I sell my first book, but my worth in his eyes and in that of my friends’ and family’s is not based on my rank in sales.

Author Michelle Davidson Argyle wrote in a blog post entitled “Publishing is Like a Hot Love Affair”:

In the end it all depends on what you want as an author. Don’t kid yourself thinking there’s only one way to publish or that any path is easier than another. And don’t jump into that hot love affair with your eyes closed. It’s a wild ride and one that could end really ugly if you don’t research, gain a great amount of patience, and work hard every single day. Luck only happens to those who put themselves in its path.

Art matters. Writing matters. Craft matters. But we write about life. That’s why having options as writers is so important. Whether you go Big Six, small press, indie, or a combination thereof, your path will be the one that you feel is right for you.

It’s not about doing what’s the easiest or hardest, what’s most ambitious or most comfortable. Your writing goals have to align with your personal goals. If the rebel in you screams indie and you believe you can pull it off, go for it. If you say it’s Big Six or bust, pursue it. We have to be true to ourselves and our values. We have to know what’s truly important to us or else risk getting caught up in the rat race and losing ourselves.

Accessed at stock xchng.Springsteen was born to run; I was born to write. But I live for late-night laugh fests with my best friends, for Saturday morning family breakfasts, for kisses and stargazing, and for the tiny moments that bring me happiness or deeper awareness. My stories and publishing journey will always incorporate those things.

And what about you? What’s your path? How does it align with your personal goals? What guides your footsteps on your writing journey? And how have the ones you love inspired you?

And the winner of the Autumn Reads contest is…

Congrats to Cgirl for winning my Autumn Reads contest. Yay!

Thanks to everyone who submitted to the contest or shared word about it. Here are a few new books I’ve added to my reading list for chilly, blustery autumn nights:

  • The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (Washington Irving; Kindle users can download a free copy to their device.)
  • The Witching Hour (Anne Rice)
  • Scary Stories Treasury (Alvin Schwarz)
  • Christina’s Ghost (Betty Ren Wright)
  • The Dollhouse Murders (Betty Ren Wright)
  • Sister Light, Sister Dark (Jane Yolen)

Yet another confession from a lifelong paranormal junkie: I used to be a vampire slayer.

This is how much of a dork I am: When my brother, cousin, and I were younger (I’d so, oh, about ages 10-11), we started our own vampire-slaying business.

Buffy

Okay, so I was no Buffy...

The trouble had started long before then. It started as an innocent interest in fireside ghost stories and Are You Afraid of the Dark? and progressed to an addiction to R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books. In the years to come, I’d discover his Fear Street series and the works of L.J. Smith, and my obsession would be solidified for life. But once my brother and I started buying up books about vampires, zombies, and other bump-in-the-night phantasms and creatures, we knew that there was only one solution. Vampires couldn’t just roam the streets of our town, preying on unsuspecting old ladies who mistook them for encyclopedia salesmen or on giggling teenagers completely unaware of the dangers that lurked in the dark recesses of the high school gymnasium. Did I mention we were Buffy fans? (The movie, that is. My addiction to Joss Whedon’s works for television came later.)

And so Vampires Inc. was born. Armed with freshly gathered stakes, cloves of garlic, and jars of “holy water,” we were at your service, ready to meet any and all of your vampire-slaying needs. We even wrote a manifesto including tips for how to protect oneself against the pale-skinned, smooth-talking undead. (In my defense, we didn’t have cable, and this was in the days before Internet. We had to do something to keep ourselves entertained.)

Eventually, our mother made us take down the “vampires not invited” sign from the front door, our dog chewed up all of our stakes, and we moved on to less lofty endeavors. But I can’t help but think that somehow, it’s all my brother and cousin’s fault that I became an incurable geek with an insatiable interest in the strange and unusual. Thanks, guys.

Are you a writer or fan of the paranormal or fantastic? When did this interest take hold for you? Please share your story below.

Side note: Free stuff! Something about autumn makes me feel generous. Must be all the candied apples. 🙂 I’m giving away a $10 Amazon gift card. Click here to enter. And my crit partner Kathleen Foucart is offering two chances to win a free first-chapter critique. Click here to find out how to enter.

Author Q&A with Paranormal Romance Writer Rachel Firasek:

 I’m very excited to bring you my inaugural author Q&A on the blog. My first guest is paranormal romance writer Rachel Firasek, author of The Last Rising, Piper’s Fury, and Stone Hard Love. I’m a big fan of Rachel’s books (if my questions don’t give that away…) and recommend them to anyone looking for a dark, tempting read.

In celebration of autumn, I’m offering fellow bibliophiles a chance to win a $10 Amazon gift card. Click here to enter the contest, which runs through Oct. 8, 2011. Good Luck!

Without further ado, the Q&A:

Q: Rachel, your stories offer plenty of sizzling heat, and The Last Rising is no different. What’s your secret for weaving sexual tension into a story from beginning to end?

A: Wow, I wish I knew how I did it when it works. LOL. Really? I play pretend. I get into characters’ heads, shall we say. LOL. Meaning, I will walk around the house getting into my kitten mode. I’ll say lines out loud. I’ll practice on my hubs when he thinks that I’m really just looking for a make-out session. It’s really quite funny and they have all claimed that I’m quite mad. Lewis Carroll couldn’t have written a better role himself.

Q: On your website, you mention that your family encouraged you to put pen to paper (or fingers to keys) and write your stories. How does your family support your writing on a day-to-day basis, and how does their support influence your writing?

A: I’m so glad you asked this question. Let me tell ya! If it wasn’t for my husband and amazingly understanding kids, I would have cracked a long time ago. They forgive me for not paying attention to every conversation and when one gets mad at me for not always being the “best mom” the other will take up for me. It’s really cute. My husband doesn’t mind picking up the slack around the house and helping with the carpool. He knows my goal and how long I’ve waited for this. Recently, I surprised hubs with a big basket of candy at work. We hadn’t been communicating all that well, and I know in my heart it was because he didn’t think I appreciated him. It’s not always easy to remember to say thank you!

I’ll never forget his call to me. It was the sweetest words he’ll ever say, “I’m so proud of you and I love you.”

He didn’t say “thank you” for the candy; it was my “thank you” to him. But, his “you’re welcome” totally rocked. I love that man!

Q:  What does the future hold in store for Ice’s fellow phoenix sisters? And what about Piper and Slade of Piper’s Fury? What should fans expect?

A:

a. The Last Awakening is coming soon, so I can’t tell you much, but Ari and Grey are going to heat up the pages. There will be a stronger paranormal element in book 2, and that’s all I’m going to say.

b. Ah, Piper’s Fury. I love that book. You’ll be happy to know that the book is complete–mostly. I have a revision pass that I need to do, and then I’ll decide what will happen to that little book. I love book 2 even more that book one and I’m fondly calling it The Gypsy Triangle.

c. I’m hoping for a big year next year, which means that I’ll have to get busy writing new and fresh stories, but yes, I’d like to see PF #2 release. I’d also like to find a home for a new YA that I’m working on. TOP SECRET project. LOL.

I’m so glad that I was your first guest. This was fun and the questions were great. It’s fun to interview with someone that already knows your work. It always makes the questions so personal.

About Rachel:

Rachel Firasek grew up in the South, and despite the gentle pace, she harassed life at full steam. Her curiosity about mythology, human nature, and the chemical imbalance we call love led her to writing. Her stories began with macabre war poems and shifted to enchanted fairy tales before she settled on a blending of the two. Today, you’ll find her tucked on a small parcel of land, surrounded by bleating sheep and barking dogs, with her husband and children. She entertains them all with her wacky sense of humor or animated reenactments of bad Eighties dance moves. She’s intrigued by anything unexplained and seeks the answers to this crazy thing we call life. You can find her where the heart twists the soul and lights the shadows…

Recommend your “Autumn Read” and enter for a chance to win an Amazon gift card

As I’ve said before on my blog, I am totally a summer child. Lounging by the pool, going to the beach, picnics, walks in the park, that’s definitely my scene. And winter in the mountains, even as far south as Virginia, can be pretty damn chilly. Winter—not so much.

But fall holds a special place in my heart. It seems to hold so much potential, so much inspiration, so much magic. It’s like the grand finale of the fireworks—you don’t necessarily want the fireworks to end, but that vibrant bursting of color is what it’s all about. Fall, for me, is the witching season. Magic is afoot. Stories are whispering in the scarlet and gold of the trees.

Maybe my love affair with autumn has something to do with the fact that it never sticks around very long. Always leaves you wanting more.

If I had a fireplace, I would spend my autumn evenings curled up in front of a roaring fire, drinking tea and reading a good book. Alas, apartment living does not allow such luxuries as fireplaces (not mine, anyway), but there are plenty cups of tea to be had.

And lots of good books. So, if you were to select books by season, which books belong to fall? I’ve culled together a few, and I’m looking for additions.

Good Autumn Reads:

  • Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
  • Yasmine Galenorn’s Witchling (Sisters of the Moon, book 1)
  • Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre
  • Bram Stoker’s Dracula (what? too predictable?)
  • Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird
  • Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic
  • Cate Tiernan’s Book of Shadows (Sweep, book 1)
  • L.J. Smith’s The Secret Circle trilogy

I would love, once I get through the backlog of ideas in my head, to write a good autumn, witchy story. Dark, vibrant, and lots of magic. And fireworks. Definitely fireworks.

I’m looking for good additions to my Autumn Reads list. So I’m making a deal. If you comment and tell me your Autumn Reads pick, I’ll enter your name in a drawing for a $10 Amazon gift card. Books from all genres are welcome.

Like a healthy competition? If you mention the contest and link to this post on your blog, you’ll be entered two more times. (If you post about the contest on your blog, please comment on this entry to let me know. Be sure to include a link back to your site in the comment.)

Rules:

Only relevant comments count (no spam). It’s a max of one entry per person per comment and two entries per person per blog link (i.e., a max of three total per person). When the clock strikes 12 midnight (EST) Oct. 8, this contest will turn back into a pumpkin. I will announce the winner on Monday, Oct. 10. That way, the lucky winner will get a chance to cozy up with a yummy read of his/her own choosing.

Happy autumn, and good luck!

Magic and the word: Why I write paranormal and fantasy

Every day that I sit down to write, I find myself swept up in the magic. The sheer act of writing is magic in itself; the same energy that flows through me when I read tarot cards or weave a spell also takes over when I conjure a story.

And every word that I write, every character I meet, every story I tell, I know that the magic belongs. I am meant to write paranormal and fantasy fiction. Whether it’s faeries or ghosts, urban or earthy, I know that the magic that weaves itself into my stories is a part of me. It belongs in my life and in the lives of my characters.

I’ve always believe in possibilities. As a child, I was fascinated by witches and wizards, ghosts and goblins, wee folk and nature spirits. Nature hummed with more songs than the birds could tell, more energy than a swollen spring creek could carry. That was the first magic I ever knew. Soon, that magic would find its way to my stories—whether they were the stories of warrior princesses, lost unicorns, or witches who’d newly discovered their powers. In my childhood, everything from a dusty book or painting found in the attic to the spiritual energy of the forest to an old abandoned building in the city seemed full of potential stories. And that hasn’t changed. Stories continue to pop out of the woodwork. And every time, magic plays a role.

As a kid, I was fascinated by witches. Not the Wicked Witch of the West cackling kind, but the wise woman, oracle in the woods sort of witches—wise women who heard the earth, who lived close to nature and listened to its sorrows and songs, who understood the ways of plants, animals, and stars.

In college, I found my way to a nature-based spiritual path and realized that my fascination with those cottage-dwelling wise women wasn’t solely reserved for my fiction. Understanding the sacred symbolism of plants, trees, crystals, and animals can be a part of our everyday lives. Today, I surround myself with items that bring to mind the beauty of nature and of spirit and the potential of magic in our lives.

My stories don’t necessarily reflect my own magical practice. My characters can read thoughts, teleport, or have visions of the past or future. Their magic is part of the story, of the worlds I’ve created and discovered in my fiction. I have several friends who write magical realism and incorporate subtle elements of the fantastic into their characters’ stories without entering realms that echo the medieval-esque fantasy of Tolkien, Le Guin, or World of Warcraft, or the urban/paranormal bent of Kelley Armstrong or Yasmine Galenorn.

In each story I write, every word is wrapped up in magic. The fairy tales and folk tales I soaked up in my youth infuse my fiction. The magic of my real life inspires and is inspired by the magic of my worlds.

My soul is fed by the magic I believed in and discovered as a child and by the magic I discover each day—whether outside my window in the rain, birdsongs, or mystery of the trees; or in the windows to other worlds my stories open…

The curtains dance madly, thrashing in the wind. Outside the window, rain pours and storm howls. A wild witch with knowledge of stars and shadows awaits us, stirring her cauldron, ready to share secrets and inspiration if only we’re willing to drink her dark brew. Like the brew of Cerridwen’s cauldron, each drop is pure, undiluted poetry, the gift of the bard.

Writers venture into the stormy night on a quest for stories. Every story, paranormal or not, hums with Cerridwen’s magic. If you write about magic, what inspires you? Why do you write about the paranormal or the fantastic?

***

Upcoming contest: I’m celebrating the magic of the fall season with my upcoming “Autumn Reads” contest. Join me on my WordPress blog starting on Friday, Sept. 23, to kick off the season and enter the contest for a chance to win a $10 Amazon gift card.

5 ways to eliminate –ly words from our writing

Among advice frequently bestowed upon writers is avoiding the adverb trap. Adverbs are those lovely little words—often ending in –ly—that modify a verb, adjective, or another adverb. They don’t always end in –ly, of course. That’s a very pretty sweater; really, it’s just too cute.

Life Preserver

Don't leave your readers drowning in a sea of -ly words.

But –ly adverbs are especially tricky because they’re easy to use. We dress up our writing with them, and before we know it, our readers are drowning in a sea of adverbs. It’s easy to start pouring –ly words onto the page, especially in early drafts. The trick is to pluck enough of these words out as we revise so that the reader isn’t constantly being bombarded by adverbs.

As I was revising one of my WIPs, I stumbled across a couple pages in which –ly words were running amok. I began to notice the repetition, so I went through and circled every –ly word. Yep. Way too many.

After I’d weeded the scene of excess adverbs, I figured I would gather up a few of my tricks for reducing adverb usage.

1.)  Simply delete the –ly word. Perhaps it wasn’t adding anything to the sentence. When we delete it, does the meaning of the sentence change or become vague? If not, the simplest solution might be best: Do away with the word altogether. This is often the case when an adverb modifies an adjective. “He was absolutely irresistible,” could become, “He was irresistible.”

And –ly words aren’t the only adverbs to watch out for. Mark Twain once said of the adverb “very”: “Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very’; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” In other words, if our character is very angry, why can’t he just be angry? Or, here’s another possibility:

2.)  Choose stronger adjectives. Maybe a stronger adjective is called for altogether. Maybe he isn’t very angry, he’s seething, raging, livid, or furious. Maybe we don’t just need to lose the adverb. Maybe we need a different adjective as well.

3.)  Choose stronger verbs. Perhaps no verb gets modified more than “said.” Are we echoing words like said, touched, smiled, walked, looked, etc.? If so, maybe we initially used an adverb for some variety. What if we try using a stronger verb that can convey the connotation without needing to be modified? Consider this dialogue tag: “… she said heatedly.” What if we replaced said with challenged, demanded, or argued? We’ve varied our word choice and eliminated the need for an adverb here.

4.)  Use concrete, creative description. Sometimes the solution is trickier, and what’s really needed is a reworking of the sentence to craft a more powerful sentence construct. Or, if we find too many adverbs peppering a scene, it might be that more concrete details are called for to let the reader into the scene.

For example, consider this passage: He pressed his hand lightly against her arm. She turned swiftly away. He sighed frustratedly. What if we just get creative here and expand the scene?

Instead we try: His touch might have been light, but it sent warmth radiating through her nonetheless. And that sensation confused the hell out of her. She put a little distance between them. He sighed, curling his fingers, no doubt frustrated with her mixed signals.

The revision beats the initial adverb-laden passage. In the first version, the adverbs are telling. In the second version, nouns and verbs do the bulk of the work.

5.)  Let it stand. Not every –ly word needs to be eliminated from our writing.  A well-used adverb here and there can be more powerful than ten poorly used ones. Consider these sentences from Gena Showalter’s The Darkest Secret:

“Finally, they were getting somewhere. And shockingly, there was thick, dewy foliage sprouting from the rocks. Nice, she thought, until…” (End excerpt, page 182. I don’t want to give it away.)

See? Adverbs aren’t evil, but they are easy to overuse.

The bottom line is that a scene should be strong enough to come alive on the page without adverbs to prop it up. Nouns and verbs should always do the heavy lifting. If they’re not, we need to step back and figure out what’s missing. Not enough description? Too much passive voice? Too many weak verbs or sentence constructs? Or are we worried that our characters aren’t coming through clearly enough? Sometimes overuse of adverbs is purely accidental. Other times, it might signify a broader issue with a scene. Maybe it isn’t where it needs to be yet.

What approach do you take to adverbs when editing? Do you have any tricks of your own you’d like to share?

Going confidently in the direction of your dreams (even if you must occasionally proceed in the dark)

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you’ve imagined.” –Henry David Thoreau

Thoreau ranks high on my list of inspirational people. His writings on anything from civil disobedience to simplicity to living close to nature always stir something in me.

I am and always have been a nature freak. I believe that trees have beautiful, old souls, and that when we work close to the earth, we can hear the magic that hums in its veins—that hums, too, in our veins. When I was a kid, I used to dream of having a small cabin in the woods, of waking to watch deer just footsteps from my door, of always living immersed in nature. While most kids were playing video games, I was identifying flora and fauna. (To be fair, I grew up on a farm with two brothers who hogged the Nintendo controllers and with no cable television.)

In my early 20s, I lived on a farm in the middle of nowhere for a year. I wrote most of my master’s thesis there, with the company of my cats, my beagle, and a nosy horse in need of a personality transplant. I now enjoy my life in town, which, fortunately, features plenty of green space and trees, lots of squirrels, and the occasional deer. (Oh, and lattes.) But Thoreau’s quotes continue to resonate in me, and they resonate in my work.

I was trying to explain paranormal romance to someone who’d never read the genre. On the fly, the best I could come up with was, “Think Charmed and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” He smiled in amusement and said, “I can’t picture you writing anything like Buffy.” He didn’t mean it as a diss. Buffy and Angel aren’t exactly what you’d expect from a soft-spoken, skinny five-foot-tall woman.

I don’t think my explanation helped the other person understand what I write and why I write. Thoreau also said, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” And there’s plenty of desperation in the world. Maybe by writing I’m trying to stave off a type of quiet desperation, unleashing my inner artist, feeding my soul. And I want to give the world some faith, something to believe in. Artists seek out the beauty in the world. Maybe we draw it out; maybe we cling to it. Or maybe we just find ways to let it shine through. I do know that writing makes me a better person, a deeper person, a more spiritual person.

My husband and I just did one of our periodic “this life in review” sessions. One thing we both want immensely is to buy a house. I want a garden that’s not a couple of terracotta pots on our cramped balcony, and we both want a place we can make our own. Having our own washer and dryer that don’t require quarters and not having to listen to the neighbors playing indoor hockey (that’s what I assume they were doing) would be added perks. And as thoughts of houses and mortgage payments took root, a voice inside me questioned if I shouldn’t be dedicating more of my pursuits to a more solid career, something more secure.

But I don’t believe to do that would be to go confidently in the direction of my dreams. We will own that house we dream of, a place for our family to grow, for our animals to play and for us to tend a garden, to paint the walls any damn color we please (okay, I do that anyway, but I have to paint it all back to plain old white when I move). And we’ve found plenty of happiness, good memories, and magic here in this apartment. A house can certainly be a symbol, a milestone, but it’s one part of the journey.

Even if I consult my tarot deck from time to time, I can’t see into the future, determine what choices I’ll make, where my path will lead. Faith in ourselves, in our dreams, in our goals, in whatever higher powers we believe in, those things must carry us forward. We can’t ask for certainty.

We can build, step by step, choice by choice, and word by word, a life that we’ve imagined.

Namaste.

On failure, discipline, and other life lessons from writing

A lot of what I’ve learned as a writer has helped me in my life outside of writing. It’s not just that writing and effective communication skills are valuable assets (which they are!), but that the trials and tribulations of building a writing career make us stronger, if only we’re willing to learn from them. I think two of the biggest things I’ve learned from my writing career so far are the ability to learn from failure and the importance of discipline, which is a combination of goal-setting, dedication, and follow-through.

Failure:

Whether it’s a rejection, a bad review, or simply acknowledging that a story or a scene isn’t working, we can turn failure into a means to achieve our goals. We can fight failure or blame it on others. We can say the market isn’t ready. We can say family constraints got in the way of our writing. Those things might be true. But the only thing we can control is ourselves, not the market, not the situation. When we do this, failure can become a learning experience. When we were kids, we fell when learning how to walk, and yet we learned anyway. Failure is harder for grownups, but still valuable.

I’m one of those stubborn optimists in life who’s always insisting that you have to risk failure to succeed. The most successful people in life are those who are willing to take professional risks. Now, they have to be calculated risks. You can’t just jump off a proverbial cliff to test if you can fly. You have to do research, learn the right skills, and put those skills to work. But ultimately, we will risk rejection, bad reviews, and even snarky comments, to put our writing to the test. It’s the only way to succeed. And then, when we fail, we reassess and try again, armed with the knowledge we’ve gained.

Discipline:

So many of us “creative types” are thinkers, and it’s easy to get stuck in our heads brainstorming and never put our fingers to the keyboard. Sometimes I take a walk and listen to the birds and admire the trees, and while it might be a vital part of my life or my writing process, it’s not going to get the book done. Unless you’re a published writer with an agent and editor and tight deadlines, no one is leaning over you telling you to get this done. Indie writers have their fellow writers, crit partners, and readers to hold them to deadlines. Especially in the beginning, when you’re setting your own deadlines, it’s easy to say, “I’ll get there when I get there.” No two writers will have the same process.

You can reach out to other writers on Twitter (hashtags like #amwriting, #amediting, #writegoal, #MyWANA, or #1k1hr) or blogs (A Round of Words in 80 Days, http://aroundofwordsin80days, or #ROW80) or participate in NaNoWriMo. Or you can build your own goals and stick to them. You have to find the process that works for you (even if it’s trial and error, and there’s failure involved along the way) and stick to it. If great ideas made great writers, there would be a lot more great books in the world. But the great idea has to be in the hands of someone dedicated enough to follow the story and polish it until the words sing.

We have to be willing to just breathe through the failures, which are a necessary part of success. In investing, the greater the potential yields of an investment, the higher the risk. And writing is a risky business. You have to be willing to weather the storms. And discipline, even if we have days where we totally blow our writing quota, helps us hone our craft and accomplish our goals. And both require us to just breathe through the process. As I continue my journey, I know there are plenty more lessons in store.

What life lesson has writing taught you?

Working with characters during revision

An alternate title for this post was: Dealing with Zoe.

See, I love Zoe, the female lead in Made of Shadows. She’s intense, passionate, fiery, compassionate, and maybe a little nuts. Okay, a little might be understating. Zoe is a woman on the edge. The martial arts skills and motorcycle don’t help.

photo from stock.xchng

So when editing Zoe’s story, sometimes it’s hard to tone her down. I realize I need a little distance from MOS to see the places where Zoe’s zest is adding to the plot and when it’s just distracting. Like I said, I care about her. I want the reader to care about her, too, which means I’ll have to learn to love her a little less, so I can edit her story properly.

She’s an absolute contrast to Lithe, of Pierce My Heart, my other WIP. Lithe is a soft-spoken introvert. She’s also a tough-as-nails fae investigator, but her motto, if she had one, would be, “Grace under pressure.” Sometimes I’ve worried that Lithe’s voice isn’t strong enough. Unlike Zoe, I worry that there’s not enough of Lithe shining through in the story.

Thus, one of my primary focuses for the next few months is going to be character development.

Our characters need to be relatable and likable. If the reader doesn’t care about what happens to Zoe or Lithe, then why keep reading? We want our readers to love the characters as much as we do. And if we’ve stuck around long enough to tell their stories, chances are that we do love them.

What complicates the issue is that our characters need to be consistent. This doesn’t just mean that in chapter one our character (let’s call her Lucinda) is a diehard vegetarian and in the next chapter she’s woofing down filet mignon. Character consistency is about more than favorite foods and hair color–it’s about the psyches of our characters, who they are deep down and how that influences their actions.

"Rodrigo, your kisses rock my world. Let me tell you my deepest, darkest secrets."

If Lucinda is perennially mistrustful, we need to make sure she doesn’t just easily open up to other characters. (As in, “Oh, Rodrigo, you’re a really good kisser. Why don’t I tell you about my traumatic childhood?”) Every action needs to be consistent with who she is. It’s not just about what the author wants to happen or where the plot needs to go; it’s about what Lucinda would do next, or what she would do given the next progression in the story. So if she opens up to Rodrigo, there needs to be a damn good reason, and one that’s consistent with her character.

But Lucinda also needs to change, affected by the circumstances of the plot and her interactions with other characters. Lucinda on page 1 can’t solve the situation (say, defeat the bad guy). If she could, we wouldn’t be writing a novel about her. Something has to happen between page 1 and page 300 that allows her to emerge victorious (if that’s the plot). Lucinda needs to change.

The character arc needs to mesh with the plot arc. Maybe Lucinda learns to trust, and trusting allows her to let someone in who can help her defeat the bad guys. She changes from a loner to someone capable of teamwork and trust.

And that’s where I’m at right now: reading books and blogs about character development. I know my characters. I need to make sure the reader does as well, and that each action is believable and appropriate. I hit a turning point while writing MOS. I’d been stuck for a while, not knowing where the story should go next. I tried a new approach. I stepped back  and asked, “What would Blake do?” Ah, bingo. “And what would Zoe’s reaction be?” Ah, naturally. I let the characters drive the story, and the plot unfolded before me.

What about you? What are your stumbling blocks with character? Any advice for working with character during the revision stage?