OMG WRITING Y’ALL (or not another con report)


Whew to the Dragoncon.

I miss it. I miss my peeps. It is always awesome seeing my fellow magical words family although Dragoncon is SO busy we only get to spend minutes together. (Lucienne, I still owe you that drink and AJ I didn’t even SEE you) But after Faith and John ‘s excellent con reports I have decided that this will NOT be about Dragoncon.

Instead I am going to talk to you about writing. (Inspired by a panel at Dragoncon)

I know, crazy right?

Let’s talk about character. Character is story. Some of you are looking at me going: “No James, PLOT is story. Characters are the subject of story.”

You’re kinda right, but not really. You see your plot is determined by your characters decisions. Every character, from the main protagonist to the most minor walk on character can radically change your story if they make their own independent decisions.  Imagine if that nobody character, the one who exists in your universe as a one-paragraph-appearer had their own story they were acting out and decided to walk up behind your main protagonist and shoot them in the head.

It could happen. My character Deacon Chalk is a hero….if you are on the right side of the story. On the wrong side of the story, he’s a monster.

I address this in CIRCUS OF BLOOD. There is a moment wen Deacon is in the medical office where the local lycanthropes go for their medical care, because if you have a supernatural disease that transforms you into an animal you cannot just roll up to your local minute clinic and get some help. You need a specialist who knows about your condition.  He’s in the waiting room, surrounded by lycanthrope mothers and children and he realizes they are all looking at him strangely.

A moment of clarity dawns on our big damn hero and he understands that while he has saved some of these people a lot of them know him as the one who comes to kill you if you step over the line as a lycanthrope and become a danger to humans. Somewhere in each of their experience he has shown up to kill one of their relatives that have lost control.

To them HE is the killer, the murderer, the MONSTER.

Now what if one of them (one whose name you never even know) decided Deacon needed to be killed, pulled a gun, and shot him in the back of his head?

BANG! totally different story.

Often times as writers we get our plot in our heads and we push play, forcing our characters to act against the personality we have established for them because it fits the plot. We have to be able to make our plot more fluid to make it conform to the decisions our characters would make. Don’t toss it out, but if you want your book to really feel organic and complete, allow yourself the ability to adjust events according to the personality of the characters involved and you will see a cohesion and a magic occur that you have missed before.

Plot rocks.

Characters rock harder.

Go forth and be successful. Write your asses off.




10 comments to OMG WRITING Y’ALL (or not another con report)

  • “But,” he blubbered through the agony of the hot dagger, “We just came here! Just staying little while!”

    “Oh, to the hells,” the cloaked one in chainmail said. Vugg’s racing mind fought more than usual to piece together their words. The figure smelled of hateful elves. “Just kill it and we’ll find the treasure room with the dwarf and that rogue we picked up in Norsvale.”

    “No,” the scar-faced brute holding the still glowing knife growled. “It’s going to tell us. This stinking thing knows where the evil one resides in these catacombs.”

    Vugg knew for certain where the evil one resided. Right in front of him, the searing blade poised for another slice.

    The bulky dwarf in the armor and pale blue robe of a cleric of Rashar stepped forward, hefting a huge mace. “Let me just bash this wit’ me mace an’ rid the world o’ one more evil stinkin’ goblin.”

    Vugg shook his knobby head violently, still holding out hope that these horrible people would leave his family be. They only came here a few moons ago, trying to escape a group of elven raiders. A sudden thought came to him. He’d found a pit trap recently. Just maybe…

    “I can!” he almost shrieked as the blade was drawn back for another round of torture. “Can take you! I know way!”

    The brute eyed him, likely trying to decide whether to stab him anyway. Then he said, “Fine. But one wrong move, and I’ll have the elf there slit your throat for the good of the land.”

    They jerked Vugg from the floor, setting him on his feet, though he was still bound in the tight ropes that dug into his skin. It was a desperate move, but he hoped it would work. He had to do it for his dear Grenla and their seven children.

    Even if he had to spring the trap himself.

    It would be worth it to save his family and send a few evil adventurers to the abyss.

  • I miss all you guys too, James!
    And yes. What he said.
    I outline to within an inch of my life, but when the character says to do something different and presents his case with force and logic, I have to give in and change plot. Sometimes even change the entire series direction.
    I did it in BLACK ARTS, my next Jane Yellowrock book. Sigh. Big surprise there. The series will not end where I expected it to. Dang it.

  • Daniel R David – Goblins, the on-line comic – just saying:

  • Heh! That is pretty amusing. I gotta stop reading though. These revisions aren’t going to do themselves. 😉

  • I am also a plotter/outliner, but it all comes down to characters,

    Take your plot, take your situation that happens and put a math whiz in the middle of it, then put a firefighter in the middle and then put a single mother in it and Bam, three different stories.

  • Ooh, this just clarified something I’ve thinking about for my own WIP. My character has always thought of herself as the hero, and in her new role is realizing that others see her as the monster. That’s what I need to make clearer, now that you’ve helped me articulate it! Back to revisions.

  • Haha, I like the inverted story… sounds like a good basis for a murder mystery 😀

  • Razziecat

    James, you been rooting around inside my head? (Sorry about the mess in there). ‘Cause this is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I’ve had it happen before, that a so-called minor character suddenly begins doing things I never planned on..and it WORKS. Plus, I’m working on some new people and places, and I have this constant refrain in my head going, “Characters drive the plot…what do these people want?..” One of the best parts of writing is when your characters grab hold of the plot and take it places you never imagined it going. It’s crazy-making, yeah, but so exciting, and so much fun.

  • Oooh, this is really great food for thought, James. I’m going to see how I can apply it to the piece I’m working on right now, since I have the general plot, but I need to figure out the two main characters a bit more, and I don’t want to rely on teen angst alone. 🙂

  • ajp88

    I know I’m days late (moving, new semester began that has me taking 15 credits while working two jobs!) but I had to comment. Did this post remind any else of the current reigning TV champ, HBO’s The Wire? If you’ve seen the whole series, I’m thinking of a certain beloved character’s fate. Dealt arbitrarily by an unknown, completely minor (heh) character out of the blue.

    It was such a wild, unexpected twist. And yet in the violent world of the show, wouldn’t it make sense that chaos would catch up to one of the leads?