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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#NaNoWriMo: The key tip to write a much better book

When we plunge into writing a book, there’s lots of enthusiasm on the front end of the challenge. But how will we fill all those pages, especially in that saggy middle where we really don’t know exactly what’s going to happen? How will we give our story verisimilitude? How will we make readers care about our characters and give the book depth? Where will all the conflict come from? How will we sustain our enthusiasm all the way to the end of NaNoWriMo?

There is a solution that many writers shy away from to their detriment. They want their protagonists to be likeable so they make them Christlike figures. This saps a lot of juice from your book. Here’s why you must make your characters more flawed:

1. With flawed characters, there’s much more to write about. A former writer on Seinfeld said recently that stories that focussed on Jerry were always the hardest to write because he had the fewest flaws. George and Kramer and Elaine had plenty of neuroses and quirks, so that allowed the writers plenty of material with which to play. Give your detective an obsession or a hobby that doesn’t help him. Nero Wolfe had the orchids upstairs. Monk has OCD. Everybody has a blind spot or maybe even a fatal flaw that your plot can turn on.

2. Flawed characters have an interesting past that has a bearing on the present and future. My hit man in Bigger Than Jesus and Higher Then Jesus was abducted and abused as a child. Those scars interfere with his love life now. He wears very expensive suits and can’t stand to have sex without his clothes on because he has emotional scars. He also doesn’t want a lover to see the physical scars across his chest. His psychological quirks go deep, dealing with PTSD, addiction and his relationships with women. He falls in love too quickly always searching for a woman he can idolize and worship. Or is he really looking for mom?One of my favorite chapters in Higher Than Jesus is the one in which my hit man goes to group therapy (and fails miserably at it.)

You don’t want to stop your narrative cold with flashbacks too often, but if you can weave those flashbacks into the story well — and if those flashbacks are compelling enough — you’ve got a tool to give your readers a much richer story.

3. Flawed characters create tension. Your plot should spring from character. For instance, Jesus Diaz is prideful. If there’s a problem, he feels he has to handle it. Other circumstances conspire to make him feel he can’t simply call the police to handle his issues, but his resolve is key to that plot point. Higher Than Jesus would be at least a third shorter if Jesus solved problems the same way normal people solve problems.

4. Flawed characters have more conflict with their world. Jesus has a hard time relating to anyone else as a “boss”, for instance. He’s not a guy who is meant for the 9 – 5 world, especially with his limited skill sets in finding people, his inability to work in law enforcement because of his shady history and the creative uses he finds for super glue. Tension and heat increase from friction so be mean to your protagonist and make at least some of his problems his own damn fault.

Crack the Indie Author Code and Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire both have bonus offers of free ebooks. Buy two books and you get four!

5. Readers relate to flawed characters. A novice writer asked me to read a chapter from her paranormal romance. The hero was very heroic — blandly so — and had an impossibly heroic name. The heroine was everything you’d expect from a heroine and more. They’d never done anything wrong and never would. They were always right, always predictable and always relatively safe because they were amazingly capable. Meanwhile, most readers think they should get to the gym today and most of us won’t make it. When you write your hero as if he’s Superman, he’s boring and you have a book the length of a comic book with just as much believability. Go Batman. In the ’60s comics, he was written as The World’s Greatest Detective, kind of Sherlock Holmes in a cowl with a cool car. The character’s real surge came when writer Frank Miller tuned into the underlying subtext of Batman’s vibe: He’s a billionaire with Daddy issues who trains himself to become a psychotic badass vigilante who won’t kill, but he’s no boy scout, either. That’s much more interesting than relentless virtue.

My hit man is obsessed with movies (just like me). Movies are our society’s touchstone, so Jesus has seen the same movies you’ve seen and sees the world through that Hollywood prism. He not only wants the Happily Ever After ending; he thinks he deserves it. Through movies, I make readers share a common interest and knowledge base with a hit man.

Consider Elmore Leonard’s characters: They’re often a bunch of criminals doing crazy things you’d never do, but some of their traits remind you of your crazy, racist Uncle Larry or that nutty girl you shared a room with in second semester before she dropped out to go to Art School. Flawed characters are people we know and believe because we’re surrounded by people who are flawed.

Resist the urge to make your characters better than human. In fact, we’ll like and believe them more if they aren’t perfect.

For more tips, inspiration and motivation for National Novel Writing Month, check out Crack the Indie Author Code and Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire, on sale now.

~ Robert Chazz Chute is the author of Crack the Indie Author Code, Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire, Self-help for Stoners, The Dangerous Kind & Other Stories, Bigger Than Jesus, Higher Than Jesus and Sex, Death & Mind Control (for fun and profit).

BONUS:

A fresh podcast is up at AllThatChazz.com which explains how you can get free ebooks. 

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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.

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

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