We all seem to be doing something special here at MagicalWords.Net. We didn’t plan it. Really. It just happened, which is the serendipitous joy of a project that involves multiple writers. Every once in a while things just come together, like biorhythms or the tides or the way your alphabet soup letters line up in to a word.

Last week I introduced Swing Tips. Not an alphabet soup word. That’s my topic. The next two paras are from last week, just because I’m too lazy to rewrite them and come up with something new and fresh.

>>Swing thoughts are the few, important, special things a golfer keeps at the front of his brain before and during each shot. It might be, “Pick a target, let it happens.” . . . For the purpose of this group of blogs I’ll be blending the concept of swing thoughts with writing tips, and will call them swing tips, just because I like the way it sounds.

>>. . . I keep (these swing tips) close to the forefront of my mind when I write a scene, any scene. . . Because I have goals for every single scene I write.

In a comment to last week’s blog, Catie (our own C.E. Murphy) said she doesn’t have thoughts like mine. She just writes. But Catie does have thoughts that likely go like: “This has to happen now or it gets boring.” Or, “This to happen now or scene two in chapter 14 won’t work.” Or, “What the *&#^% can I do to make this zing? It feels bland. Ah! (golden moment) That’s it!” Or whatever. For her, those are swing tips. I’ve been breaking down my own writing for so long that I’ve come up with names and tags for my swing tips. Last week we covered three out of this year’s Big List.

Big List: BIC. Hero? Intensity and POF. Kill A Character. No Duh. BS (not what you’re thinking). Ruthless Words. Transitions. Five Senses. Immediacy. No Excuses. No Fear.

Last week I covered: BIC. Hero? Intensity and POF (presumption of failure)

This week will be: Kill Off A Character. No Duh. BS.

1. Kill Off a Character: I’ve shared this one here before. It always gets a laugh. But I mean it utterly and seriously. It is a major swing tip for my AKA Gwen Hunter, and is becoming pretty big for me in writing fantasy. Injury and / or death of someone close to us in RL is the most fearsome and awful and terrifying possibility. We hug our loved ones when we part, hoping and praying that we’ll see them again. We call in the middle of the night when we’ve had a bad dream to make sure it all was just a dream. We slow down and stare at a car wreck, read the grisly details of a murder in a news feed, are hooked on reality Dancing with the (not quite) Stars to see if someone falls and goes splat. But when a writer has done his job, and created that believability factor, and when a character (especially an important secondary character and not a stranger to the main character) dies in the middle of a story, it then becomes a part of the reader’s reality, part of his RL. It changes the relationships between the remaining main characters. It ratchets up the intensity (see last week). So I often ask myself,, “How long has it been since someone died?” If it’s been a while, then my character is getting complacent and so is my reader. Things are too easy. In any novel, Rule of Thumb is, “Never make things easy on a main character.” Which takes us to number two today.
2. No Duh: Duh Moments are the result of trying to make the primary conflict easier on a character. Making things easy on a character is *not* my job as a writer. It might be part of a job description as a parent, a social worker, cop, whatever, but *not* as a writer. If I spot a Duh scene, moment, conversation, whatever, I rewrite and make it harder for the character to resolve the primary conflict *at this time*. Resolution is for the end of the book, not the middle. The middle of a book is for the conflict to get more difficult and dangerous and impossible. Some writer/teacher/book/ once said (and I’m paraphrasing, obviously) that a writer’s job is to bring the main character as close to ruin—baring death—as possible. Now, I’m not talking about apple cart scenes. Apple Carts are scenes called that from the scenes in movies where the antagonist is running away and the protag is chasing and they keep hitting things in the street—fire hydrant, kite shop, cabbage stand, apple cart. No Duh rule relates to things and scenes that apply *directly to the main conflict*. Hanging from a cliff by his fingertips while dragons roar below and an advancing army approaches from the front, and army ants rush in from behind, and a tornado nears from overhead, and the princess is stuck on a tiny island below with the dragons, in the only magical stasis bubble left form Merlin’s magical reign, and the bubble only has fifteen minutes to failure. That kind of impossible conflict resolution. Make the conflict nearly impossible to resolve at every bend and twist of the plot line. It seems counterintuitive, but the best resolutions come when things are more difficult for the character. No Duh.
3. BS – Believable and Sympathetic: See. I told you it wasn’t what you thought. My character has to be both Believable and Sympathetic, BS, yet, in today’s market has to be different, unique, and well, just this side of weird in come cases. Think of Monk. In the mystery market, editors are looking for strange/weird/odd main characters who can still be BS. The same can be said for main characters in the dark urban and urban fantasy realms. Different, yet the reader has to care about him/her at all times. This caring part is easy to do if the character in question is a baby being held for ransom or a writer held against his will by a deranged woman. But what about the main character who is solving a crime or rescuing the princess? How do we make the character BS? I do it with A.) Conflict and B.) Traits.

1. Conflict
1. conflict in the character’s past that is so strong it
2. affects how he does his job and lives his life now and
3. pertains to the current plotline making it harder for him to solve the current main conflict.
4. Not really a *d* but just an example from one of my AKAs books, Shadow Valley. Mac’s daughter has been kidnapped on a photography shoot in the mountains and Mac was beaten half to death and left buried under a cairn of stones and she fought her way free of the stones but not of the ropes binding her hands and she makes her way on foot down the mountain to get help and (despite her damaged hands) joins the search and rescue. Her ex-husband who was physically abusive, joins the scene, and is part of the situation. Caleb is the main tracker and his son was lost on a mountain and never recovered. He lost his son, then his marriage and his job in his obsession to find his son. If you apply *d* to a, b and c, it all comes together. The main characters’ past conflicts affect the current main conflict—to save the daughter from the man who has her. This gives you both sympathy for the characters and makes you believe the way they work and act during the book.
2. Traits (we’ll look at Caleb)
1. Human and natural traits, AKA selfish traits. Caleb wanted to save his son, and then to find his son’s body. He couldn’t. He had no remorse for his wife who was also suffering. It wasn’t right and good of him, but it was part of who he was at the time, when he left her. He now has a cold and unfeeling side when it comes to the people who have lost the loved ones he is searching for. They don’t matter much. Only the objective—the lost person.
2. Typical traits. Caleb has excellent eyesight, tracking skills, wood/survival skills—the stuff you expect.
3. Individual traits. He is unbearably lonely. Caleb is indefatigable. He never never never stops or gives up. He is good with horses. He pushes his searchers and himself to the brink of exhaustion.
4. Moral or social traits. Caleb will give his life to save a child, even not one of his own.

All this gives us a lot of BS. (Sorry. Couldn’t resist.)

Do any of you have comments or more swing tips you’d like to share? Post them here and let’s chat!





12 comments to SWING TIPS Pt II

  • I try to throw in some big trauma periodically as well — a death, a fight, a wound, a shocking plot twist. But — and I know that Faith is with me on this — it can’t be a trauma for the sake of itself. Everything we do as writers has to further our narrative progression and/or our character’s development. There has to be a point. We can’t just throw s*%t at our characters because the action is flagging. It needs to be part of cohesive whole. And this is another of my personal swing tips: Keep the narrative focused.

  • Totally, David. Totally. Otherwise it’s an apple cart moment which I hate.

  • I’m currently making a To Do List for all of the things I will be doing to one POV character of mine to take him to his breaking point. It will provide those moments of peril and drama and action, as well as make his catastrophic act understandable (at least from his own perspective).

    Fun stuff.

  • CE…(laughing) Fun stuff. Yep, you’re a writer! Taking that character to the breaking point is, indeed, sooo much fun.

  • Sarah Adams

    These are all helpful, but I think the one that has been hardest for me to learn is the one about making life hard for my protagonist. It’s always been hard for me to really beat the tar out of a character. Now that I’m getting better at it, however, it’s weirdly more fun than letting the characters get away too easily.

  • Sarah, I’ve always thought the best writers are a little evil. We have to be to do what we do and enjoy it so much.

  • Faith Hunter >> Sarah, I’ve always thought the best writers are a little evil. We have to be to do what we do and enjoy it so much.<<

    I have heard some authors claim to be scared of the characters that they write. They are not physically scared out of fear of the characer suddenly coming to get them (unless you are Stephen King *haha but I digress*) but scared in that when you write a character you have to mentally become that character. If you are writing a truelly demented guy/gal, it can mess with your mind to allow yourself to think like a maniac.

  • sirayn

    Interesting posts. Got me thinking about my own swing tips. I’m trying to beat my redundancy and over-explanation problems, so:

    RUE = Resist the Urge to Explain. If you write something well, the implication should already be clear to the reader. If it’s not, imply better.

    Once and Well = You can only do a thing once, and you have to do it well. Each scene, each revelation, each sentence … once and well.

  • Swing tip: a tried and true one, very basic

    Am I showing the reader a scene or telling them about it? I need to be showing them.

  • Mark, I have a pal who won’t write in the POV of one of her characters for just that reason. It’s makes her think too crazy, dark, cold. The one time she tried it, her family could see the difference in her personality — and this is a strong-willed woman. The character is just to potent; it tanints her whole mind.

    Siryan, I love these and may steal them!
    RUE = Resist the Urge to Explain. Is a lot like David’s swing tip of over explaining. And it is a hard balance to reach, that of explaining enough to keep the readers reading, but not so much thst they lose interest.

    Once and Well. You are right. Every word, para, scene hs to be the right one at the right time.

    MoonDuster, I used to think I was waaaay past telling the reader things, and then one book about three years ago, it caught me again. I had to totally rewrite/restructure/and throw out whole sections of a novel. It was amazing how quickly I fell into a faulty pattern.
    Thanks Y’all!

  • I still have to learn to be more evil to some of my characters. It works fine with a number of them, but there are a few who get off too easily so far (yep Alastair, don’t think I can’t come up with more stuff to throw into your way, besides the death of your brother, captivity, having to betray a man you like, and half of your clan rebelling, mwuahaha). 🙂

  • mikaela

    My muse gave me the opening scene to an idea that have simmered for 6 months or so. I love it. In the opening scene, my MC witness how something sucks his grandma dry. And, when he call the cops, he got the response: We have a traffic accident. You are a CIS. You can process the scene…
    And that’s just the beginning…