29 September 2013

So Close, Yet So Far Away

Continuing along the vein of #BeMeanToCharacters, I was thinking about other ways in which authors could/should do this.

We’ve already established that characters should have bad days and they should have to face their fears. Sometimes they should fail miserably. Sometimes they get to win. Sometimes their fears should propel them to worse things than they ran from before.

But today I’d like to delve into a different realm.

What about ALMOST giving them what they want?

I mean really, how does it feel when you get within striking distance of your dream, and it gets snatched away from you? Ask anyone who’s played in a championship sports game. Especially if it was a good game, and their team lost at the last minute to some crazy Hail Mary play that actually worked.

Talk about not cool. And talk about mean!

You see? Are you with me? Let them get close. Let them taste it. Then, snatch it away! With viscous glee. Then let the readers see them cry. Not always literally cry, but have the characters go over the edge.

How do you feel when you get so close to something, then lose it? Amp that up about three times, which is how the reader will connect with the character, and go for it.

Think of My Best Friend’s Wedding. The main character doesn’t get what she wants. And the story is better for it. She’s better for it, but for a while, she’s sure it is the end of her life.

Even in The Fellowship of the Ring, when the Hobbits get to Rivendell. They think they’re safe and will be able to return to the Shire…but NOOOooo. Some crazy heroes decide they need a Hobbit, and the rest of the story ensues.

Both Cool Runnings and The Cutting Edge also display this kind if disappointment. These are used as drivers to propel the rest of the story. Just one way to do it.

This isn’t super easy to pull off, but it’s really effective. Dangle the carrot, then snatch it away. Or turn the carrot around to reveal that it isn’t a carrot, but a three headed monster that wants to eat your socks for lunch…with your feet still in them.

This is just one more way to #BeMeanToCharacters!

Carry on, everyone.

26 September 2013

Don't Let Them Out of It!

Earlier this week I hopped up onto my soap box and ranted about being mean to characters. I am going to continue along that vein.  Although I’m not bringing out the actual box this time, because it’s small, and I get excited and when I throw my arms out in a moment of particular passion, I lean dangerously to one side.  Plus, even on the stupid box I’m still not very tall, so I’ve decided to sit here on my comfy couch and type.  I can rant from here. Trust me.

I’ve been reading a book.

Hey, don’t look at me like that. I do read books. Yes, without pictures. Sheesh.

What was I saying? Ah yes, the book. It’s a good book—so far I like the characters and they plot is full of fun and adventure and even a little bit of romance.  Go author of said book.

Anyway, about half-way through the story the main character comes face to face with his greatest fear.

Literally face to face with the most terrifying thing that this poor character could possibly have ran in to.

I was excited. (Please don’t bother with the gasps of appalled surprise.) Here it was, the perfect place to be mean to a character!  I was like, “How is he going to handle this? Will he run? Will he do it to help the others? Will he cry like a little girl? Scream? Let everyone down?”  There were so many possibilities!

I hunkered down into the couch, brought the Kindle closer to my face, and read.

About ten seconds later, I blinked, went back and read again.

Sure enough, I hadn’t read it wrong.

The character, when faced with the most terrifying thing in their life—a scared since childhood sort of thing—had two lines of inner dialogue adding up to “I guess I’d better do this,” and that was that.


The perfect place for a character to fail, which would have added so much depth to the story, and the author breezes over it with nothing more than two lines of thought.

I’m still sad about it.  And as I’m pounding out my outline and rough draft of my work in progress, I have vowed anew to be as mean to my characters as I can. Make them face fears, let them fail, let them live with consequences and figure out how to redeem themselves.

I need to make myself a sign that says:

“What’s the worst thing that could happen right now?”

I’ll hang it next to my computer and glance up at it when I’m being too nice as an author.

I’ll also have to take down the snide remarks that my husband will surely put up; things like “zombie apocalypse, alien invasion, Dr. Pepper shortage” and one that I refuse to put on my blog.

Boys are so strange.

Anyway, if you’re an author, don’t let those characters off easy! Go broader, go deeper—keep them jumping. And how they react will make them even more memorable in the reader’s minds.

Okay, everyone, go #BeMeanToCharacters !

22 September 2013

Don't Flinch

Most people who are trying to get better at something go through phases.

Take most sports players, at one point they all go through a chunk of time in which they work on footwork. It’s what gets you from one place to another, and if you do it wrong, really bad things can happen. But when executed well, footwork can be the difference between scoring and not scoring.

Obviously I’m simplifying, and yes, I realize that not all sports require foot work. Don’t be so picky!

Writers/Authors are no different.  We have phases. Right now some are focused on grammar, other plot or description or pacing or not using the word “was” ten times per page.  Everyone is at different levels, and everyone has a different focus.

For me, right now, it’s being mean to characters.

They’re like my kids, (not that I have kids, which may be why I have characters) and while I want to tell a good story, I don’t want to hurt them too badly. As an over-protective mommy/author, I feel the need to keep them as happy as they can be.

This is bad.

My husband (just got married, so you might hear a lot about him for a while) has no such qualms about being nice to people. Even real people, when they give him a good reason to eject them out of the friend pile.  He’s been a good (er, bad?) influence on me in this category.  As I embark on the rough draft of the sequel to New Sight, he’s helped me to be way meaner to my characters.  Way meaner.

Sometimes I have to tell him he’s gone too far and that I can’t possibly do “that” to them.

The reason that he can suggest I start killing everyone, is because the characters aren’t his. He has no emotional attachment to them.  That’s why he can be so mean to them and only shrug when I give him the “You can’t be serious” look.  He usually grins and goes even one step farther (further? Which one is it??) into the realm of character torture.

So that’s my focus right now. I’m even starting a little Twitter and Facebook handle of #BeMeanToCharacters. Toss up how you’ve been mean to your characters today. Or the ways in which your favorite author has been mean to characters.

It makes a story so much better, because the meaner the author is, the more the characters have to struggle, and the more the characters struggle, the more the readers route for them, and the more the reader is drawn in, the more they’ll love the book and tell their friends about it.

Really, it’s a win, win!

Except if you’re a character. Then…not so much.

What areas have you had to focus on in your hobby or career of choice?

12 September 2013

The Samaritan's Pistol

The Samaritan's Pistol
By Eric Bishop

Book Blurb:
Even among his small town neighbors, Jim is a content man. Despite the emotional baggage from his time serving in Desert Storm, he successfully runs a ranch, owns several beautiful horses, and makes extra cash as a wilderness guide for wealthy tourists. He's a modern-day cowboy. That is, until he runs into an ongoing mob-hit while riding in the mountains. Now, his most beloved horse is bleeding to death, three mobsters are dead from his smoking gun, and a wounded criminal is begging for his help. Jim has to make a decision. He can either high-tail it out of there, or accept a tempting offer made by the criminal-a promise of millions in stolen mafia cash for any help he gives. Of course, only an idiot would turn down such an appealing offer when they're marked for death anyway. Besides, Jim's good nature cannot allow him to leave someone for dead, even a criminal. Soon, Jim finds himself on a trip to retrieve a truckload of stolen money near the Las Vegas strip, right under the Mafia's nose. But even if they escape with the cash, will Jim's conservative neighbors provide sanctuary for their local Samaritan, and how far will the mafia go for revenge?

Why did I read this book again?
Okay, so I read the book because I signed up to have Eric as a guest blogger.  I kind of knew what the book was about before I started, but was pleasantly surprised I enjoyed it so much.

4 out of 5

Each of the characters had a distinct and interesting personality.  This is a first book, so there was a lot of ground work laid for some of the more minor characters, which was a little distracting, but I know that it will all come to fruition in the subsequent books, so I was okay with it. The main character, Jim, is a guy you would hope to have at your back in a fight.  His ranch hand, Brody is the guy you NEVER want to come after you (and not just because he's old and grouchy) and Larry is the guy who can always make you smile.  

4 out of 5

Did I care what happened?
Yes, I did care.  I may have been the most upset when Jim had to shoot his own horse, after that I was more than happy to read on and find out what happens to the scum mob guys who killed the horse. Jerks.  And Jim makes a great protagonist to follow. He's not an angel, but he's a good guy who makes smart choices. At no point in the book did I want him to die, which is great! ;)

5 out of 5

Plot Holes
No plot holes that I recall. No thing that screamed at me. Like I said, there was a lot of ground work laid for the rest of the series, so the end of the book felt incomplete because a few of those threads just got started and certainly didn't have a chance to go anywhere. But no holes.

4 out of 5

How many times did I yawn?
When the tension was there, it was awesome. Part of the appeal of the book is that Jim lives in the middle of nowhere Wyoming, so it's pretty relaxed. It was kind of fun to go from one extreme to the other. There were a few places where I thought the relaxed went on a little long, but I'm an action girl.

4 out of 5

Cool Factor
Not a whole lot of "wow" stuff going on in this book, it didn't need it.  The characters really drove the plot, which is a refreshing change from most of the movies I've seen lately. So I can't give this a 5 or anything, but Eric wrote a story that didn't need wow.

4 out of 5

The End
Ah, the end.  Well, the climax of this book was awesome! All sorts of manly-ness getting flung around while there were bullets and cars and all sorts of cool things.  Jim is one guy I would mess with. Loved how the conflict between Jim and the mob boss got packaged up.

Climax good. But I felt like the book went on a little too long after that. I expected more mob guys to jump  out and attack, but they didn't.  The wrap-up was nice-everyone got their time and resolutions-but in my opinion it was too long. 

3 out of 5

Overall Enjoyment
I honestly didn't think I'd love this book, but I did!  Like I said above, the main character and two of the side characters pulled me into the story. I just got married (hello distractions) and I still finished this book in good time. The writing is great.

4 out of 5

That's 32. A brown belt!

If you like a little action, with some western, some thriller and even a bit of romance in your stories, check out this one!

09 September 2013

Meet Eric Bishop

Hey everyone,

We have a guest today. So please be polite, listen carefully and try not to text while you're reading.

Meet Eric Bishop
Author of The Samaritan's Pistol (which just came out and which I highly recommend) and in general, a pretty good guy.  He answered the questions, anyway. :)

<>  If you could eat anything for breakfast, what would it be?

It depends on the morning. Usually I eat a bowl of Wheaties with some uncooked oats. If we have bananas that are still tart, I’ll slice some chunks for the top. They have to still be a bit green or it won’t happen. If uncooked oats are good enough for my horse, they might help me live longer than bacon for breakfast.  

<>  Do you prefer leather or cloth seats in cars? Why?

I’m a cloth guy. Leather is like sitting on an ice block during the winters in Northern Utah.

<>  If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go? Who would you take with you?

My wife and kids and I would spend two weeks on a Grand Canyon float trip again. We did it in 2009, after I waited fifteen years to get a permit.

<>  What is the most interesting job you've ever had to this point?

I went to work on a dairy at fourteen. Each night my best friend, Wayne, and I would milk fifty or so cows. We were in charge of cleaning the equipment, monitoring the milk tank, the animal medical needs, feeding calves and dozens of other necessaries. The responsibilities placed on us, made me realize what I was capable of. The milk parlor smells, the sound of the cows hooves on the cement, the weight of the Folgers can of grain in my hands as I gave each cow it’s ration to bait them through their headstall visit my dreams over thirty years later.  

<>  Tell us about a strange writing habit that you have.

I critique lots of other writers, especially published authors. When I see something I would have written differently there’s this thing I call a “hypocrisy alarm.” A sledgehammer of a voice that says, “Okay Eric, you sanctimonious, self-serious writer, if you’re going to nitpick someone else’s words, you first must admit you did the same thing on a specific place in your novel!” There’s nothing like it to help me find my own mistakes.

<>  What is your favorite quote/saying about writing? What does it mean to you?
Mark Twain wrote, “The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter—it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” I could try and improve on this but would fail.

<>  What scene of this novel proved to be the most difficult for you to write?

When the protagonist, Jim, shoots his horse to end the animal’s suffering.

<>  What scene turned out exactly as you imagined it?

I love the scene when the elderly ranch hand, Brody, kills three gangsters in the barn. At the time I was working hard to show people a character through their actions. This scene shows readers exactly who Brody is.

<>  What aspect of your life has most influenced your writing?

I’m a total people person. I can be wiped out, not willing to do anything. To recharge my exhausted energy stores I’m sure I’ll have to sleep around the clock. Then I meet someone or an old friend stops by—and I can visit for hours. Tasks sap my energy, but interacting with people is my never ending energy source. My favorite part of writing is spending time with the characters that are combinations of people I know.

<>  Why should people read your book? What does it have to offer them?  (This is the part where you brag it up!)

Critics have called The Samaritan’s Pistol genre defying, and bending. While writing, I wanted to author a western that crossed into crime, thriller, inspiration, adventure and romance. I love when a reader tells me they caught the spiritual undertone or the complexities of the characters. I also love it when someone says they didn’t think they’d like my story, but then couldn’t put it down. I’m a reader and a writer and yearn for books that move fearlessly in unexpected directions.  

<>  If you could write a spin-off novel about a side character, who would you choose?

I actually have one planned. My publisher has asked me to finish The Samaritan’s Pistol trilogy. Then I’ll write a prequel centered on Brody, the elderly ranch hand. Why he came west as a teenager and has been hiding in Wyoming his entire life.

<>  Tell us why you love this story.

As my first novel, it’s reflective of my writing journey. The five years of writing and rewriting has been as fun as anything I’ve ever done, with the exception of the 2009 Grand Canyon float trip with my family!

So there you have it!
If you like thrillers, and maybe some western bad a**-ness thrown in, check out The Samaritan's Pistol by Eric Bishop.

And if you want to stalk Eric, which you should (every author longs for stalkers) here you go!

04 September 2013

The Point When I Couldn't Look Away

I do apologize, but we’re going back into the realm of Pacific Rim today.  Again, not a review.  More like me trying to glean how this could have been a great story.

I’ll keep it short.

There is a woman in the story that desperately wants to be a pilot of the giant robots. The general (and pretty much her adopted father) won’t let her. The first time she gets the chance to pilot with our main character, they link their minds in the drift and we get to see why.

When she was a girl, one of the monsters attacked the city she lived in. Somewhere in Asia, can’t remember where exactly.  We enter the memory after she is alone and crying in the dusty streets, carrying one of her red shoes and wearing the other.

It’s kind of amazing how they make a giant monster invisible in the canyons of the city. The monster seems to be stalking this little girl, who screams and runs as fast as she can.  She makes a few turns and dives first into an alley then behind a dumpster.

The actress that played this little girl was amazing. She looked terrified—shaking and crying with a glimmer of hope in her eyes that the monster won’t find her.  Her gasping and holding onto her shoe had me squeezing my poor husband’s hand to death.  (Don’t worry, he can take it. I think.)

The tension in this scene was by far the best of the whole movie. And it didn't come until over half-way through.

Sure, there was plenty of suspense during the 2 ½ hours of fighting, but nothing like this—raw, emotional terror.

Right before the monster gets her, the general arrives in his robot and beats the crap out of the monster.  Her savior, and the reason she will do anything he asks of her.

And pretty much, she was the only person in the movie I cared about after that.  The general a little bit, because he was bad a**, but the main character didn't draw me in like this.

The thing is, he could have.  His brother died while their conscious’ were still linked. He felt his brother’s fear, pain and death.  If I’d gotten that, then I probably would have cared about him more. I may have been concerned when he went through the crack in the ocean floor.

Why? Because it was then personal. I understood why this girl wanted to fight so bad. Whereas the guy was a rock star, then lost it all, then went to the dumps and came back. Which we saw none of, by the way.

Okay, I’m rambling. But do you see my complaint? Dave Farland often talks about broadening and deepening your plot. Pacific Rim went broader (the world and aliens) when it would have benefited from going a little deeper, and not so wide.

01 September 2013

I'm Pretty Sure it was Supposed to be Bad

Pacific Rim

Yes, the movie.

Some have called it Mecha vs. Monster porn.  I can see that. Others simply called it bad. I can see that too. The “live Anime” tag is pretty accurate as well.

I’m not going to review Pacific Rim, I’m going to rant about a few things.  Problems that I see in a lot of stories today, and especially in action movies.

Plot.  Oh for a plot!

Pacific Rim had a plethora of interesting hooks and gotchas:

There are huge monsters coming from a crack in the ocean floor, attacking major cities
Humans built giant robots to combat them
Because the interface with the robots is so intense, it takes two humans to pilot one robot
The two humans have to share a consciousness in what they call the drift
The monster attacks are becoming more frequent and more powerful
Our main character’s brother dies at the beginning of the movie—they were still linked
The main character pilots his heavily damaged robot by himself (supposedly not possible)
The governments shuts down the robots and starts to build a gigantic wall along the entire Pacific coast—both sides
There is an entire black market industry around the monster leftovers
We have a general who is dying and is the only other person to pilot a robot solo
There is a girl the general rescued years ago who desperately wants to be a pilot
There are pilots from different countries who have different experience as well as egos
We have brother and sister pilots, father son pilots
Two cracked scientists figure out part of what is going on, and they are willing to do whatever it takes to figure out the rest
The monsters are going to kill us all if these pilots don’t stop them

You see, there are a lot of interesting hooks in there, that could have taken awesome twists and turns. Just think about the repercussions alone of sharing a conscious with another person...

But NOOooo…

We get the very simple plot of “Monsters are going to destroy the world unless we beat them up a lot” glued together by pretty much what I typed above.  Given in just as much time.

My question is this…when will the movie-goers of the world rise up in retaliation and ask for 15 more minutes of plot and that much less CG action?  Focus, curse you!

The same is true in books, and most venues for stories.

My hope as both a writer and a reader is that this trend will change. It’s not just great action or a great voice or a quirky character that makes a story, it’s a balance between them all that gently leads the reader through the plot and delivers them at the end with a new perspective on some aspect of life.

Giant monsters vs. huge robots is cool, but if I don’t care about why they’re fighting or the people involved, then I’m going to change the station.

Although I do have to admit that Pacific Rim did wash away most of the girlie-ness that I accumulated over the two months before my wedding. So I guess it did it's job.