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

Write and publish with love and fury.

“Writing a book by committee is a great idea in every way!” said everyone but the writer.

Imagine all the people from all the classes you’ve ever taken in one room. Each group has its own character, but today we’re going to focus on the outliers and oddball characters with whom you’ve gone to school. I’m not talking about those who stand out for their smarts and sweetness. I’m talking about the girl who, just before the last bell rang, reminded the teacher about extra homework for the class just before the long weekend. Remember the annoying guy who always had another question or inane comment to add long after a subject was beaten to death? And don’t forget the person who was really stupid, but for some reason thought he should speak a lot. Worse, he was smug about it.

Now put all those people you didn’t like in school and put them in charge of your work in progress.

That pressure behind your eardrums is your brain trying to escape.

This scenario isn’t entirely theoretical.

Recently, I listened to two different podcasts about two of the most successful television shows that exist. These were true fans…but:

1. On several points, they seemed determined to be confused about plot points even though the answers were readily available on screen, if only they’d looked.

2. Several weenies missed subtleties that weren’t really that subtle. It’s not the fault of the show’s writers if you aren’t paying attention. If you’re missing something, stop tweeting while you watch The Walking Dead

3. Someone objected to issues within the shows that are non-issues. e.g. Is Leonard’s mom on The Big Bang Theory really a licensed psychiatrist? If true, she’s terrible! Answer: it’s a comedy and you aren’t supposed to like that character and it’s a comedy and it’s a comedy and oh, for the love of Thor! Stop!

4. These dedicated amateurs had one or two good suggestions (I’m guessing by accident.) The rest of their requests for changes were objectively terrible, like dumping beloved characters that made the shows work, for instance.

There’s a reason we don’t write by committee.

It’s good that writing is a lonely job. You don’t get book ideas and plot points from other people. The elements develop organically, rising up from character and logic and by answering the question, “What’s next?” And then answering it again and again until you stop writing or die. The writing grows from the act of writing.

Input is helpful after you’ve done the work, sure, but don’t even ask a trusted friend what to do when you’re still in the second draft. He doesn’t know. How can he? You wouldn’t ask if you should turn left or right when all he knows is that you’re somewhere in New Mexico.

“Is this the right direction? Should the Mom die in the middle of the book?” A good friend will tell you to keep writing and hang up on you so you can get back to it. Finish something before you show it to anyone. You’re in command. Steer your ship solo. Lots of people will have their say later.

Everyone has an opinion on everything, even more so when they know less about the subject.

Once upon a time at a writing conference, an author asked me about the book I was writing. I gave him the broad strokes and he said, without hesitation, that my second act was “wrong”. If there’s a high school suicide in the first act, then the main character has to be torn up about it.

“Not if he hated the suicidal kid’s guts to begin with,” I replied. 

“Dude!” he said without a microbe of doubt, “High school kids don’t act that way. They shouldn’t act that way!”

“In my book they do.”

Summarily dismissed, I slunk away and have since dedicated my life to hating Stephen King with the fiery heat of a thousand suns. (No! I’m kidding! The offending author was not Stephen King. I love Steve! Him, I would have believed.)

Here’s the crux:

There are few rules in writing, but one I’m sure of is this, “If it plays, it plays.” You can make anything work in context. You can sell anything if the story sells it.

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

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

People doubted me, but I created a sympathetic hit man named Jesus (in second-person throughout, no less.) I create a lot of anti-heroes and no, I don’t care if readers love and agree with all my characters. Loving and agreeing with characters is overrated. Interesting is more important than loving.

Many of my stories don’t yield an easy happy ending but give unexpected, yet satisfying endings instead. I rarely do happily ever after, but you’ll often find transcendence there.

My main character in This Plague of Days is on the autistic spectrum and hardly ever speaks (and when he does, it’s often in Latin phrases.) When Doubting Tommy asks, “How the heck are you going to make that work?”, the answer is, “Watch me.”

My mission isn’t to write something easy that entertains. My mission is to write something different that entertains. Too much consultation, especially early on, would squelch my process. We don’t write by committee because committees are how most things don’t get done. Committees are where good ideas go to die. Committees are where you’ll find three reasonable, intelligent and helpful people compromising with one insane fascist to arrive at something closer to crazy than good.

Choose your beta readers, editors and allies carefully and don’t show them anything too early in your process. The book is only yours as long as you’re writing it. After that, it goes out to the world and it’s up to thousands of readers to decide if your vision pleases them. 

Make sure that, whatever you write, it pleases you.

~ The latest All That Chazz podcast is up at AllThatChazz.com. You’ll also find helpful affiliate links to my books there so you can buy them, which is quite a happy coincidence, isn’t it? Thanks. For a topic sort of related to this one, you can also get the latest update on Season 3 of This Plague of Days here.

Filed under: All That Chazz, publishing, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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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Author Blog Challenge: I love the voices in my head

Michael Clarke Duncan at the Warner Brothers L...

Michael Clarke Duncan at the Warner Brothers Lot in Burbank, California. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the writing prompts for the Author Blog Challenge is to choose a favorite literary character. That’s tough. I mean, I relate to Tyler Durden from Fight Club, but the cognitive dissonance kicks me in the pills when I realize that, beside the insomnia and ennui, I am not even Tyler’s alter-ego. I have a few things in common with Portnoy from Portnoy’s Complaint, though. Ugh.

This isn’t a dodge and I don’t mean to fall into douchey pimping, but the truth is my favorite literary character is whichever one I’m writing at this moment. I have several works on the go, so let me introduce the interesting people I hang out with while strangers assume I’m staring off into space and drooling:

Legs Gabrielle is a very funny comedian whose career has fallen through the floor. She finds herself back in Poeticule Bay, Maine, in the house she ran away from as a teenager. A killer has come to town, the Sheriff disappears, the deputy is cute, her sister has cancer (and might also be crazy.) I love Legs’s sense of humour and she’s a pleasure to write for the jokes that work as  counterpoint to her emotional depth. Hollywood has rejected her, but she’s the star of her own book soon.

Chili Gillie is a Michael Clarke Duncan lookalike, Legs’ bodyguard and has Mike Tyson’s voice. He’s a sweet man who only looks mean when needed. He’s the calm rationality around which the crazy revolves. His presence is extraordinary, but he’s the most normal of my characters. Both Legs and Chili are the stars of the first story in Self-help for Stoners and Chili shows up again in Bigger Than Jesus in a larger role. I’ve got big plans for him.

Dr. Circe Papua turns up a lot in my fiction. She’s a psycho psychotherapist who is magically persuasive and can be deadly if provoked. I love her cunning, unexpected lethality. Circe’s complex relationships with her patients often demand a battle of wills and wit. She shows up in different incarnations in Self-help for Stoners, Vengeance is #1, Corrective Measures and Sex, Death & Mind Control (for fun and profit).

Jesus Diaz is a mob enforcer who doesn’t want to be what his tragic childhood and circumstance has made him. He wants, above all, to fall in love with the right woman (if he can ever find her) and go relatively straight. He’s the main character in my crime novel, Bigger Than Jesus and I like him most for three things: he’s clever and prefers to lie rather than fight; he’s not really all that tough despite his profession; and he’s funny. I like funny people and chapters that whip along, full of pops and surprises. The series reads like a Cohen brother’s movie. Bad things keep happening even though you think you have an easy way out. This book will be out very soon and I’m jonesing for it. Just nailing down the cover and then we’re just about there. Jesus Diaz originally came to me as a story for Self-help for Stoners, but in that incarnation, he’s a much older, wiser and experienced assassin.

Jack (from Corrective Measures and Sex, Death and Mind Control.) Jack is a serial killer who I find interesting because of the way he sees our world. He thinks about vengeance quite a bit, but I’m actually more interested in writing him when he’s not himself. He’s fascinating when he’s trying to fit in and working through his twisted motivations and problems. He’s a dark avenging angel who has to hide his wings (metaphorically, that is) as he punishes people he decides deserve bad ends.

What’s fun is, eventually, I’m going to have all these characters meet in one book, but they have a lot of work to do before they meet. I have a lot of books to write before that happens, too. It’s exhilarating, daunting and pretty cool. Yeah, I said so myself.

Filed under: publishing, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Truman Syndrome & the writerly mindset

While sipping the best coffee ever at Coffee Culture, I saw a handsome, young black man standing across the street. Beside him sat an elderly white woman in a wheelchair.

I swear this is true: I watched him light a very fat joint, take a hit and pass it to the old woman. Without looking at him, she took a hit and passed it back. This wasn’t merely unexpected. It was surreal. As he rolled her out of sight I thought there was a story there but I wasn’t sure yet what it would be.

As I headed home, I had a Truman Syndrome moment. Everything looked slightly fake, like I was on a movie set made just for me. An old man with a nose like The Penguin’s beak and horrible posture scrabbled across the sidewalk as if pulled along by his cartoonish nose. At the same time, a woman ran the other way in a gait that looked…contrived. She wore a pastel green blouse that matched her socks and she ran like she was holding back a terrible case of diarrhea and trying to hop in time to an urgent nursery rhyme.

If I were to see each person individually, it would just seem odd. However, the juxtaposition of all of them made them not real people, but characters. As I scanned the sidewalk, everyone looked like an extra in an early 90s low-budget movie. I could picture the AD whispering instructions to concealed earpieces for each passerby. “Keep moving! Don’t look at the camera. Don’t look at the actor! Don’t look at Chazz! He still has no idea!”

The sense that everything is slightly off, somewhat “presented”, and utterly skewed? That feeling hasn’t left me all day.

I’m either in a writerly mood or this is a narcissistic psychosis.

Not that those conditions are mutually exclusive.

Filed under: What about Chazz?, Writers, Writing exercise, , , , , ,

The “I Want to Watch You Suffer” Rant

Sure, I don’t like you. In fact, sometimes I hate your guts. Sometimes I want to stab you in the eye with a Number 2 pencil and then slit you open with an Exacto knife, take a blow torch to your pancreas and, while you’re thinking about that, slowly strangle you with loops of your own intestines. Look up the word decerebrate. That’s what’s next. (Yes, I’m talking about your characters.)

The many reasons I despise you make you more interesting, so I’ll be glad to read about you or watch you on-screen. Gee whiz, I sure hope I get to watch you suffer! As somebody pithy said, “TV allows you to have people in your livingroom you’d never want in your livingroom.” Writers are often told that it’s important your protagonist is a likeable character. Ahem. Fiction is full of people, heroes and anti-heroes, who have traits that are unappealing. I want to read about people dealing with complications who are full of doubt–just like me. Their flaws make them believable. I prefer psychotic Batman to the perfect, impervious boy scout that is Superman.  Superman’s too hard to kill. Shoot Batman in the face and he’s dead. (Why don’t they just shoot him in the face? He’s more vulnerable so he’s more interesting.)

I haven’t seen a better illustration of this than the anti-hero bound for quasi-redemption in District 9. Here’s a guy who is a nerdy bureaucrat who gleefully kills little alien babies. <SPOILER ALERT> You don’t actually make it all the way to liking him, but amid the action you begin to feel sorry for him as he literally becomes his victim.

But what do I know? All through Star Wars I was cheering for Darth Vader to cut that simpering Jedi school dropout Luke Skywalker into light saber-diced cheese. Or is it really Mark Hamill I loathe?

BONUS:

Is your book a happy story? Those tend to suck.

Filed under: publishing, Rant, rules of writing, , ,

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.

For my author site and the Chazz network, click the blood spatter below.

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