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

Write and publish with love and fury.

#NaNoWriMo: You can’t murder Miss Marple

Free to you Nov. 26 – 30, 2012

There’s an essential difference between a book that stands alone and a book in a series. In a one-off, anything can happen. In particular, you can kill off your protagonist. You’d be very unhappy with an Agatha Christie novel that ended with the gory strangulation of that sweet Miss Marple using piano wire. (What is it about piano wire that we always associate with strangulation? Was there a sale? Home Depot has lots of wire, but none in the category of “Piano”. Barbed wire would be meaner and razor wire would be more efficient. Yes, I spend too much time thinking about these issues.)

Though Sherlock Holmes went over the falls because Conan Doyle was sick of writing his “mere entertainments”, Sherlock survived in the end. It’s generally bad form to take a reader in hand and walk them through an intriguing story only to kill off the protagonist. It often makes the reader feel they’ve invested a lot of time and energy into a hero or heroine for naught. Kill off the intrepid heroine and, unless you follow her into an amazing Afterlife, readers will feel cheated of the victory they expected. Exceptions exist, but downer endings without some larger goal achieved easily go sour. Be careful about killing off the good guy.

When you write a series, character is even more important than usual because no matter what pressure cookers you throw your protagonist into, the reader is pretty sure he or she will come out reasonably okay in the end and uncooked. Character is key. Sacrifices are demanded. Red shirts are required. Captain Kirk was responsible for the deaths of many of the Enterprise Crew. Everybody would be much safer if they stayed home on Earth, but, whether we’re writers, appreciative readers or just out of Starfleet Academy and beaming down to the planet in Come-Eat-My-Face Red, “Risk is our business.”

Click the image to get Higher Than Jesus

The trick is to get the reader invested in your protagonist’s goals, make them real and ensure they are sympathetic. For example, my hit man, Jesus Diaz, is an orphan with a history of childhood abuse. That’s explored in the first book in the series, Bigger Than Jesus. In  Higher Than Jesus, he’s dealing with moral issues around what he does for a living while battling Vicodin addiction and some bad guys who are much worse than he. He’s also in love again and out to save the future Mrs. Diaz. Despite everything against him, Jesus is also a funny guy and the deeper the trouble, the funnier he is. That’s his key to multiple books.

Somebody asked me if my inspiration for that quirk was Spider-Man. I used to collect comics and yes, Spider-man is, as they used to say in the Silver Age of comics, “a real cut-up”. However, I first discovered the power of the funny in myself when I encountered a guy with a knife intent on slicing me up. My fear fuelled something in me and I was never as hilarious as when I was sure I was about to die. It was under the controlled conditions of an Operating Room, but still…

Click it to get it.

Click for suspense and hilarious frivolity in Self-help for Stoners.

~Robert Chazz Chute is the author of crime novels, two books about writing and publishing and several books of suspense, including Self-help for Stoners. He has hugged the man who inspired the book, director Kevin Smith of Silent Bob fame, but it was a man-hug. Self-help for Stoners is in Kevin Smith’s bathroom for reading when the whim strikes. Hear the podcast and consume the muted glory that is his author site at AllThatChazz.com.

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Author Blog Challenge: The Writing Mistake You Might be Making

English: The main character in the comic serie...

English: The main character in the comic series “Lame Strips” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I sat at the front of the writing class, giving a reading from Self-help for Stoners. The story, “Another Day at the Office” is  about a guy with a skunk talking his way out of search, seizure, jail and worse at the hands of a policeman in Texas during a traffic stop.

When I finished, I looked up and asked, “How old is the main character?”

I pointed around the classroom. “22! 28! 35! 40!” they answered.

“What colour was his hair?”

“Red! Blonde! Bald! Black! Brown! Wispy Comb over!” (Good for you. I never would have thought of wispy combover for that character.)

There you go. Too much description limits your readers’ imaginations and puts their visions in little boxes that belong only to you. Be more generous and don’t assume your reader is an idiot. They’ve seen people in their lives. They’ll fill in the blanks. The readers want some ownership of the story in the theatre of their minds, too. Don’t describe too much. Was it Dashiell Hammet who said his hero was “knuckly” and left it at that? Too much description has  become a cliche that often opens a lot of books: the main character inspects himself in the mirror before heading off for work. They preen and describes themselves to the reader. Don’t. Instead, please let the action and dialogue carry me along. Let me insert my own vision of your characters. I’ll have a picture in my mind before long and I might even be annoyed if the author’s description differs with my own.

Even then, be sparing. My hit man in Bigger Than Jesus has a thing for expensive suits. It comes up as it pertains to the action and as it pertains to character. It is not there just to make up an arbitrary word count. In fact, it’s crucial to the character. No campfire story starts with a long description of what everyone is wearing unless there’s a point or a clue to character. Be just as judicious, whether you’re telling ghost stories to a bunch of kids around a campfire on their first trip into the woods or writing books for the masses.

BONUS:

Tuesdays and Fridays, I do a little podcast from my author site at AllThatChazz.com. A fresh episode (#29!) is up now in which I tackle letters from Republicans, creep out my twelve-year-old and worry, too late, about my blood pressure.

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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. 

Filed under: self-publishing, Useful writing links, What about Chazz?, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Writers: Why you should read John Dies at the End

Sometimes I see manuscripts where there’s a lot going on. That’s good. The problem is that the protagonist is always around the action, but isn’t initiating any actions. Heroes are self-starters.

It’s okay to have your hero or heroine gobsmacked when zombie terrorists attack the city. However, if things are still happening to the protagonist rather than him or her being proactive, your protagonist will soon annoy the reader.

It happens more often than you’d think. I suspect it’s a plotting problem. If the hero runs around in circles while everyone around him knows more than he does, it’s easier to get him into trouble.

There’s a place for weak-willed characters. They’re called secondary characters. Your protagonist can do the wrong thing or draw stupid conclusions, but notice the words “do” and “draw.” Protagonists are verb-oriented.  Yes, the hero can be fooled. The hero can have room to grow as a person. But he can’t be an idiot who grows into a genius unless his name is Charlie and his pet mouse is named Algernon.

For instance, I’m reading a great book now called John Dies at The End by David Wong. Aside from managing to be a clever mixture of Stephen King and Douglas Adams, I noticed Wong’s protagonist makes decisions that are perfectly reasonable in context. And he acts immediately.

So many books allow villains to do what they made of fun of in The Incredibles: Monologuing. (Example: “I expect you to die, Mr. Bond! But first, let me give you a tour of the complex and explain my evil plan to corner the world’s teddy bear market.”)

When Wong’s hero confronts Big E Evil, he doesn’t let the Big Bad lay out plans for world domination. He  pulls out his pistol and fires immediately, no warning shots. The results may not be what you expect, of course, but his hero isn’t dumb. The effect of this narrative efficiency is so powerful you’ll find yourself asking, “Wait, what was the evil plan? Oh, nevermind. I guess I’ll find out later.”

Don’t worry. You will. But I won’t spoil anything for you. Just go buy John Dies at the End by David Wong. You’ll be glad you did. It’s the best book I’ve read in quite some time.

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Filed under: authors, book reviews, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , ,

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

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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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