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

See all my books at AllThatChazz.com.

How to Make Readers Hallucinate Happily

I once read a popular novel by a very successful author whose name escapes me at the moment. Two characters were young guys who were virtually identical in worldview and speech patterns. To distinguish one from the other, the author slapped a ridiculous hat on one of them. He fussed with said hat throughout the book.

As I read on, I thought, you got a lot of money for this. I see what you’re doing and I understand why. It still pissed me off. If you have too many characters to juggle, it can be difficult for the reader to keep track of who’s who.

One solution is to break up your groups. In reading one of my favorite books, The Stand, I didn’t love every character equally. While focusing on one less favorite character, I’d wonder what was happening with my faves. However, the story was sufficiently compelling to propel me through the whole book. Stephen King didn’t toss everyone into one room all at once, so it was easy to track the huge cast.

I used that same template in This Plague of Days. Huge cast, but I separated varied groups. The heroes are the Spencer family from Kansas City. There’s a group of Europeans struggling to escape to North America. Then there’s a motley crew of villains: two cults and three species (human, zombie, and vampire).

A writer friend teased me about the global scope of the trilogy. “Meanwhile, in Jakarta…” In my defense, killing off a bunch of characters along the way narrowed the focus and all the threads get pulled together in the end.

The Problem of Who’s Who

Consider a novel featuring a large number of new recruits shoved in a barracks for Basic. They’re all wearing the same greens, so fashion won’t help you. Suppose you make the cast even more homogenous by putting them all on the same page mentally as well as physically. Instead of a nice segmented plate where the peas don’t touch the mashed potatoes, now you’ve got soldier soup.

Who’s who? How can you help the reader distinguish one character from another? Some fantasy authors list the cast of characters at the front of the book and add a glossary at the back. I find convention dated and cumbersome. As a reader, I don’t want to (and won’t) flip back and forth to understand what’s going on in a story. I want full immersion. Let’s talk about how to get there more elegantly.

Possible Solutions

Taking our soldiers in the barracks example further, here are my suggestions for avoiding reader confusion and exhaustion.

  1. Avoid giving them one worldview. Perhaps in an attempt to unify them in glory, some writers forget that soldiers are still people who are drawn to service from varied backgrounds and from marginalized groups. In Jarhead, a drill sergeant demands of the protagonist why he joined up. “Sir! I got lost on the way to college, sir!”
  2. As King did masterfully in The Stand and It, take the time to develop characters by giving them their own chapters so readers get to know them. Some readers complain that the King of Horror goes off on too many tangents. I disagree. He’s not telling you some minor character’s background just because he enjoys typing. He’s making you care when that character gets killed off.

    Repeat after me: NO! FACELESS! REDSHIRTS!

  3. An alternative is to put guard rails on your story. Tighten the focus on a smaller group. Reading Misery, I enjoyed the story very much. However, reading as a writer, I was amazed how King managed to keep most of an entire novel’s action to one room and still keep me invested.

    Tom Cruise’s version of War of the Worlds is instructive, too. The scope of the alien invasion is global, but the focus is confined to one not-so-great divorced father trying to get his kids to safety. It’s not just a pulpy science fiction story. It’s a war story that brings home the horrifying plight of refugees. That’s a war story that’s too rare.
  4. Distinguish your cast by giving them more depth, character, and flaws. I’m not suggesting something as superficial as playing with their hat for 300 pages. Make one a coward and another a traitor. Make one mean and another innocent.

    In The Night Man, Easy Jack is an Army Ranger out on a medical discharge. His knee hurts all the time, he’s overly sensitive to light, and returning home to poverty in rural Michigan has screwed him up and screwed him over. He’s also got a bomb plot and a corrupt cop to deal with. Fortunately, he’s a wry underdog with a loyal guard dog at his side. Complexity serves the story.

    In Band of Brothers, the paratroopers are all highly trained professionals. Still, tensions are high. They fight for the a noble cause and for each other, but a couple still get into a fistfight aboard a troopship after one makes a stupid antisemitic remark.

Unless it’s Winnie The Pooh, there is always an enemy, within and without. Conflict is at the heart of our art. Making our cast of characters less homogenous, we do more than help the reader hold them all in their minds. We transform our tiny imaginings into fully-realized people. We deepen the story’s potential and draw readers into genuine joy and escape.

When a novel is great, it’s not a mere distraction from the moribund spiral of mundane existence. When the experience is rich, reading becomes an immersion to the point of compelling hallucination.

AT RISK OF TELLING YOU WHAT TO DO, READ ENDEMIC NOW.

~ I’m Robert Chazz Chute. Check out all my books at apocalyptic epics and killer crime thrillers at my author site, AllThatChazz.com.

Filed under: writing advice, writing tips, , , , , ,

Writing Fairweather and Foul

I recently received the most aggressive fortune in a fortune cookie ever: For a good cause, wrongdoing may be virtuous (pictured). Sums up a lot of fiction, doesn’t it? It spoke to a central question in my newest big book, though! (See below. Oh, and by the way, Endemic is FREE today, Tuesday, November 2, 2021!)

How good does the cause have to be? How bad can I be?

Papa, Don’t Preach

In fiction, themes and messages are best when they emerge from the narrative organically. If a writer sets out to create a message from the beginning, it might turn into a lecture rather than a story. Readers want to be entertained. Don’t write fiction to teach them something. Set out to discover something.

Why Endemic?

Someone asked me why my latest novel is called Endemic. There are layers;

  1. Of course, when a pandemic doesn’t go away, the disease becomes endemic. That’s the broad stroke of world-building and the basis of my novel.
  2. Ovid Fairweather, the protagonist of Endemic, is neurotic and nerdy. A former book editor, she gets into urban farming to survive the viral apocalypse. She’s a very unlikely heroine who has conversations with her dead psychotherapist. To defend herself, she commits violent acts. A conflicted soul, she wonders if her capacity to do the things she does was dormant, waiting to emerge her entire life. Was her violent nature endemic? Was it learned? Or was it merely a reaction to terrible circumstances?
  3. So, was Anne Frank right? Are people basically good? And if they aren’t, can they be redeemed? What actions are required to achieve redemption? Who dictates which transgressors can be forgiven? What punishments await sinners? If a trait is endemic, can we change?

Disaster stories and horror are most interesting, not for the disaster itself, but how people react to circumstance. Can we come together or will it always be “every man for himself”? Human nature is fascinating. That’s the exploration boiling underneath all the plot, witty dialogue, and action.

Going Deeper than Good or Bad

There’s a common mistake anyone can fall into. It’s the notion that everyone is either all good or all bad. If they agree with you, they’re geniuses. If they mostly agree, but don’t use your phrasing, they’re idiots you need to educate. Cultural divides don’t get bridged that way.

In real life, people often have a hard time with others. When we find out heroes who champion our cause are flawed, we’re sorely disappointed. There are still plenty of people who don’t want to hear that Mother Teresa was for suffering or that their favorite Hollywood star treats the help horribly.

In fiction, we try to avoid portraying protagonists as flawless. Flawless is boring, so readers appreciate characters who are not paragons of virtue 24/7/365. Common tropes support the detective who has seen too much, so she drinks too much. The serial killer may be evil, but as long as Dexter likes kids and kills serial killers, we’re rooting for him to get away with his crimes.

When you write your novel, you want your characters to be relatable. Readers want someone to like. Avoid writing characters who are so perfect no one can dislike them. That character may be likable, but the story will have less conflict and end up being boring.

Ovid Fairweather is perhaps my most conflicted character yet. The past haunts her. She isn’t sure whether she’s the heroine or the villain. I’m confident most readers will root for her even as she waffles and worries. She is quirky and neurotic so Ovid has a lot of challenges to rise above, just like the rest of us.

Find out for yourself here

I was a nail. I am a hammer.

As the United States falls to disease, killers and thieves rule New York. Bookish, neurotic, and nerdy, Ovid Fairweather finds herself trapped in the struggle for survival. 

Bullied by her father, haunted by her dead therapist, and hunted by marauders, Ovid is forced to fight.

With only the voices in her head as her guides, an unlikely heroine will become a queen.

Fun, surprising, and suspenseful, Endemic is the new apocalyptic novel from the author of Citizen Second Class, This Plague of Days, and AFTER Life.

BEGIN YOUR NEXT BINGE READ

and

DO YOUR CHRISTMAS SHOPPING HERE.

~ For all my apocalyptic epics and killer crime thrillers, please do visit my author site, AllThatChazz.com.

Filed under: publishing, writing advice, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Show me you are a writer

You know this meme:

Tell me you’re X without telling me you’re X.
It just occurred to me that this is another version of a good writing guideline: Show, don’t tell.

Good fiction exploits resonance and a certain amount of circuitousness. Don’t tell me your heroine is brave. Let the character demonstrate her bravery. Book readers want to meet the author halfway to achieve an immersive experience. They don’t want a telegram.

Of course, there are times to tell, not show. When dialogue is interesting and clever, let it be said in quotes. If the dialogue is merely informative and delivers zero bam-pop-pow, then it’s time to tell instead of show.

Telling:

He asked me if I wanted a coffee before the interview, and I declined.

Showing:

“Fancy a hot cup of java?”

“No offense, sir, but I make it my policy to never accept any beverage from a person of interest in a poisoning case.”

~ Robert Chazz Chute shows and tells appropriately. His killer crime thrillers and apocalyptic epics deliver lots of bam-pop-pow. Check out his books on his author site, AllThatChazz.com.

Filed under: writing, writing advice, writing tips, , , , , , , ,

http://mybook.to/OurZombieHours
A NEW ZOMBIE ANTHOLOGY

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.

You can pick this ebook up for free today at this link: http://bit.ly/TheNightMan

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