C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

Write and publish with love and fury.

Post-holiday sales and writing stronger characters readers will love (and love to hate)

Season One of This Plague of Days is the siege. Sutr-X was the pandemic. Sutr-Z's next and it's coming for you and the Queen's corgis.

Season One of This Plague of Days is the siege. Sutr-X was the pandemic. Sutr-Z’s next and it’s coming for you and the Queen’s corgis.

1. Good characters have secrets they are trying to keep from the other characters. For instance, there is no major character in my zombie apocalypse, This Plague of Days, who does not guard a secret that’s contributing to the hullabaloo. Plenty of room for conflict there. Secrets are hard to keep and the longer they’re kept, the bigger the explosion when the secrets are revealed.

2. Good characters do not get along. In This Plague of Days, the matriarch is a Christian. The patriarch is atheist. They love each other, despite their differences, but it makes for some friction and they cope with problems much differently. They also begin to come closer to the other’s position, so rather than getting preachy, it’s an exploration of how people cope in a crisis. These details make them relatable so readers care about them.

3. Good characters have competing motivations. In Bigger Than Jesus, my Cuban hit man kills for love. Competing characters want power, sex, money and vengeance. All those characters are after the same thing for different reasons, so tension is built as allegiances are broken.

4. Good minor characters don’t know they’re minor characters. Everyone is the star of their own movie. If your henchmen might as well have the labels “Heavy #1 and #2”, give them more life history. I have a bad guy, a drunken marauder, in Season One of This Plague of Days you don’t really get to know. He wears a wedding dress into battle (stolen from the protagonist’s mother.) It’s a brief brush stroke that lets the reader figure out the rest as to where that guy is coming from while fuelling reader outrage.

Now in paperback!

Now in paperback!

5. Good characters are conflicted and can change. Sometimes, real people do in fact do something uncharacteristic. That makes them interesting. To make this believable, give them good reasons to change their behavior. With enough correct and detailed context, you can make the reader believe an out of character choice is logical at the time. Let a bad guy aspire to be a hero. Let a hero do something petty, just for spite (and the joke.) People who are too sure of themselves are often boring, unimaginative, predictable. I hate predictable choices in plots, don’t you?

6. Good characters, even heroes, make bad decisions that make them more interesting. As with #5, context makes this work. The reincarnation of Battlestar Galactica is a perfect example. You were probably rooting for the human heroes in the show, but they made terrible decisions all the time. Overall, that didn’t make them bad per se. It made them less predictable, more interesting and more human.

So, for instance, victims who are chronically bullied are tragic figures. Push that victim too far and they can fight back believably. If the bullied person overcorrects and becomes a bully or a killer, or fights back and fails, that’s even more interesting. The reader will expect them to triumph. You could give them that happy ending, but don’t deliver it too quickly or in a way they can anticipate.

Click it now to get a huge short story collection of dark fun. On sale now for only 99 cents. Love it? Give it a review, please.

Click it now to get a huge short story collection of dark fun. On sale now for only 99 cents. Love it? Give it a review, please.

In The Dangerous Kind (ahem: my novella found in the huge collection of short stories, Murders Among Dead Trees on sale for a short time for just 99 cents) a boy forms a plan to murder his abusive older brother on a hunting trip. Complications ensue and his resolution comes in a way neither he, nor the reader, expects. No spoilers. Just go read it. You’ll love it.

7. Good characters have conversations. I’m already mentioned Tarantino recently as the apex writer of tangential dialogue, but there are many examples. Think of Tony Soprano’s conversations with his therapist or all the geeky arguments about Star Wars and comics stuffed into Kevin Smith movies.

Bigger Than Jesus, for instance, is stuffed with movie references. I didn’t do that just for the jokes. I did it so readers who were uncomfortable rooting for an assassin would discover they shared a lot of common ground with my luckless Cuban hit man. The Hit Man Series works because, despite what he does for a living, Jesus is always trying to escape his life in the Spanish mafia. He’s actually very funny and loveable. Throw in a tragic childhood and all those little conversations really aren’t tangential at all. They’re the key to the character’s choices. That connects him to readers.

8. Good characters have depth. Anybody can write a scene with two hit men disposing of a body. I’d write that scene with the details you’d expect, I suppose, but I’d have the assassins argue over the Obamacare while pouring concrete.

In This Plague of Days, we learn how a deadly octopus leads to Dayo’s migration to England. When the Sutr virus outbreak hits and Buckingham Palace is attacked by zombies. I want you to know who Dayo is and why she got that way. You don’t have to do a ton of research to give every character a rich family history (and if you do, I don’t suggest you use it all.) Give us just enough to make them feel real and just enough for us to feel like we’re witnessing a friend’s death when you murder them horrifically. (Attention Plaguers: I’m not saying Dayo will die in Season 3. I’m not saying she won’t. I’m not saying. You will find out her last name in Season 3, but that’s all I’ll promise.)

My luckless hit man is a funny guy in big trouble.

My luckless hit man is a funny guy in big trouble.

9. Good characters have physical problems. Most heroes in action movies get a scratch high on the forehead, even after a couple of hours of near misses, crashes and mortal combat. Picture wounds in most any old movie with Bruce Willis and Harrison Ford. All that fighting and not one chipped tooth? Really? Not one broken hand after all those haymakers? That’s why everyone remembers Jack Nicholson’s cut nose in Chinatown. He dared to look bad for the camera.

In Bigger Than Jesus, Jesus Diaz has the snot beaten out of him from the beginning. I’m trained in pathology, so physical ills turn up a lot as I give characters more barriers to their goals. I made the hero of This Plague of Days an autistic selective mute. In Vertigo, Jimmy Stewart’s goals wouldn’t be so tough to deal with if he didn’t have…you guessed it…vertigo. In Rear Window, he’s got a leg in a cast when the villain comes to kill him. Mo’ problems = mo’ thrills.

10. Good characters are familiar, but not necessarily archetypal.

Shiva, in This Plague of Days, is the Snidely Whiplash of the story. She’s a big character who, in the movie, will be played by Helena Bonham Carter or some dark beauty from Bollywood who isn’t afraid to chew the scenery. The whole moustache-twirling bit is archetypal. However, when her secret is revealed, we understand why she wiped out a major chunk of the world’s population and why she thinks she’s doing the right thing as a bio-terrorist. Her motivations are pure even though any sane observer sees her as pure evil. Before we’re done with This Plague of Days, you may even feel sorry for her. Sure, she’s a vain bitch, but so’s your sister and deep down, you still love her.

Crack the Indie Author CodeHere’s the thing about familiarity.

I don’t suggest you do as Larry David did, modelling the character of Cosmo Kramer on Seinfeld on an actual person. That sounds like a lawsuit in the making. However, take your crazy Aunt Sadie’s Red Rose Tea figurine collection and make it the fancy of the brutish pro wrestler you saw on TV once. Take information, life experience, Wikipedia and expertise you possess and put it in the blender of your imagination. Find their combinations and permutations. Come up with something new, familiar, yet not clichéd. Don’t make your character recognizable as a family member because Aunt Sadie will sue. She’s crazy, remember?

We are surrounded by fascinating characters. Write them and build something fresh.

Click here to get Higher Than Jesus, #2 in The Hit Man Series

Click here to get Higher Than Jesus, #2 in The Hit Man Series

~ Robert Chazz Chute is a complex character, better suited to minimal human interaction. However, I’m friendly on Twitter. Follow me @rchazzchute. I tweet about writing, books and publishing.

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Write believable characters

I’ve been on Walkabout. After crawling through the seedy underbelly of a big city, I feel dubious about the idea that there are unbelievable characters. There are so many strange people walking around, we shouldn’t be so dubious when they turn up in fiction.

Just this morning I saw:

1. A guy dressed up like a Bollywood character in a flashy musical. Same big goofy smile, too.

2. A handsome man, dressed in a sharp black suit and sporting a $200 haircut, looked like he belonged at the airport picking up cocaine from Columbia.

3. An impossibly sexy woman walked by. It’s Stella, long before she lost her groove! With asthma.

4. A very muscled young athlete strutted by. He’s had a great summer. The pancreatic cancer has already taken root.

5. Homeless people of all ages. They all have that same haunted look around the eyes. Their postures show that boredom is terribly heavy. I did not expect the dirty, skinny Santa to pull out an iPhone 4, however.

The trick, of course, is to provide enough character detail that your fictional actors have a believable context. Strange characters need a lot of reality around them to find the sweet spot on narrative’s balance beam. Let your mob goon have a soft spot for kids. Let the sweet grandmother swear when she doesn’t think anyone can hear. Don’t allow cardboard stand-ups and clichés in lieu of character development. Characters can be weird. Really weird. You can even clump them together since freaks often do gravitate to freaks. I’ve noticed Goth kids with parrot haircuts often do travel together, for instance.

Just avoid making them one-dimensional. For instance, one of my novels has a couple of gay characters. Ever notice how gay characters are often safely relegated to the flamboyant dancer who’s good with make-up or the safe gay neighbour who’s just a stand-in exposition device? In my novel, compared to the protagonist, the gay guys are proactive in how they deal with plot obstacles. By that I mean, they have skull-cracking ability and they are not just sitting around articulating plot details with pie charts. They have their own backstory and you’ll find yourself curious to follow them out the door to see what happens to them after the novel is over. (At least I’m curious.)

I plan a series. In the first book we meet Romeo, a young New Yorker who wants to be a movie star and becomes a murderer’s target. The next in the series will follow Romeo’s estranged mother as she tries to track her son down on his journey to Hollywood. The third book will be Romeo in Hollywood and once again in mortal danger. Things will get strange but will feel real.

Verisimilitude is easy because reality is scary weird. 

Look at the news. 

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Three tips about writing characters.

1. Don’t let all your characters sound the same. If two characters are indistinguishable, they may as well be one character.

2. Don’t let one character bang the same note all the time.  Characters that have the same range as a triangle in a brass band soon get tiresome, and worse, unbelievable. You aren’t betraying the character’s traits if they are angry yet occasionally sombre. Even wackos in the psych ward take a nap from time to time. Your characters need to act like people, not cartoons.

3. And please, don’t let smart people do dumb things to make a plot work. When you find yourself doing that, you need to step back and think about the plot problem so you can write around it convincingly.

BONUS:

A conclusion is where somebody got tired of thinking.

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Winner of Writer's Digest's 2014 Honorable Mention in Self-published Ebook Awards in Genre

The first 81 lessons to get your Buffy on

More lessons to help you survive Armageddon

"You will laugh your ass off!" ~ Maxwell Cynn, author of Cybergrrl

Available now!

Fast-paced terror, new threats, more twists.

An autistic boy versus our world in free fall

Suspense to melt your face and play with your brain.

Action like a Guy Ritchie film. Funny like Woody Allen when he was funny.

Jesus: Sexier and even more addicted to love.

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