Six F-words for Compelling Characters

Got you at F-words, huh? That's okay. All these f-words are fine to use in whatever company you happen to be in right now. No one will wrinkle a brow once they get past the title, so there's no need to angle your screen or slouch and look over your shoulder. In today's world of publishing, catching—and keeping—a reader's attention is rarely easy. Today I'm sharing six words to help you craft characters that no one would dub as "cardboard." Incorporate as many of these ideas as your story can handle, and you will also create backstory and plots that readers can identify and connect with, no matter the genre you write. Failures: Whether it's in the past or the present, or looms in the immediate future, failure is a shared human experience. Whether it's the fear of future failure, the frightening effects failure can have on a character's life (can you imagine a lawyer's failed arguments that send an innocent client to Death Row?), or failure in the past that affects a characters belief system or perspective, failure has many degrees and always carries unseen ramifications. Flaws: From minor to major character flaws, everyone can sympathize or form opinions of a character based on their flaws. When these flaws are skillfully revealed through backstory,…

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Host Your Own Writers’ Retreat

It's been almost ten years  since I hosted my first writers' retreat. It was a low-key get together for my five-person critique group, which had been meeting for just a few months.  We already met weekly for face-to-face chapter critiques, but we wanted time to discuss writing, trade ideas and things we'd learned from books, conferences, and hard work. I volunteered my house and the food (breakfast and lunch). I made sure all the food was prepared—a quiche and fruit salad for breakfast and a salad bar for lunch, with chocolate goodies for dessert. I wouldn't have to spend any time "in the kitchen" other than to set out our meals, and I knew everyone would help. It turned out that life interrupted and only two of us ended up spending our writers' retreat day together. That turned out to be a really good thing. At that time, Laura Drake and I didn't know each other that well. I'd gone through my library and pulled out the craft books that I had duplicates of. I also had a Goal-Motivation-Conflict poster board, gridded off for placing sticky notes for plotting. I piled up my stack of RWA chapter newsletters, a couple of thesauruses, a dictionary and notes with craft and industry tips. Laura brought craft books she no…

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Best Memory Ever

Today I'm sharing an emotional memory, a memory that I recalled while working on my WIP. For me, connecting with my past feelings can really open up my writing by connecting emotions with my characters. I received my best Christmas present years ago. My father went to Chicago on business the week before Christmas. He bought a fake-fur-lined hat that had ear flaps, along with a pair of gloves, and a heavy coat for the trip. It's the only business trip he ever took, and I was a devastated five-year-old Daddy's girl when he left the house in a taxi. I'd never seen a taxi before that night. My mother had to have earned sainthood that week. All I did was ask how long until Daddy got home. I used to run out of the house when my dad drove in the driveway, home from work. He'd pick me up, ask what was for dinner, and carry me up the four stairs to the front door. Every day he was gone, I waited for him to drive up the driveway. My mother and I baked Christmas cookies for him. A lot of cookies, a batch everyday he was away. Amazing, I didn't eat any of them. I saved them all for him. Finally…

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Crossing Lines

I've always obeyed the rules. As a child I told my parents when I did something I wasn't supposed to do. But crossing the line—or several lines—is different. I've always been a boundary pusher. (Please note: The views shared in this article are entirely those of the author.) Many of the boundaries in the Young Adult genre are there for a reason. Young Adults are, by definition, not yet adults. Experience and wisdom earned by years of life give adults a different perspective on what happens to them, while to young adults, most of the growing up and coming of age trials are present and raw. When I was a junior in high school, I "really liked" my chemistry lab assistant, a cute senior guy whose best friend lived three houses from mine. I spent too much time walking my dog back and forth in from of my neighbor's house when my lab assistant's car was parked in front—just to get a glimpsed of him when he was leaving. Was I ready for a sex scene in a book? Not a chance. Was I ready for reading about longing for a boyfriend? Absolutely. But society—and books—are different now. Sex is one of the big lines in a YA. Books range from no mention of sex…

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Write My Story!

I didn't set out to become a writer. And when I started writing that first story, which became a book, it was only for me. I never intended to publish anything, except the math textbook I co-authored years ago. I remember talking to an English teacher friend who'd lured me away from reading only science fiction to reading science fiction romance. For three months, every night when I went to sleep,  characters came to me, and it was like I was watching a movie. I'd watch the previous night's scenes, revise them and then see what the new scenes brought until I fell asleep. I thought maybe I was going just a bit crazy.My friend suggested that, since the characters were "sticking around," maybe I should write their story, which I did. When I saw her once a month at a state education committee we both worked on, I'd take the chapters I'd written to her. She read them when she got home. The third month she called me the day after we'd flown home. The previous night she'd taken my pages to bed. When her husband was ready to go to sleep, she wanted to keep reading, so she went into their bathroom and kept reading…until there were no more pages. I'd…

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O’Neill’s Story

Normally I wouldn’t worry when my dad is overdue from one of his explorations. But tonight my grandmother flew her skimmer alone to the Citadel, the building my father and I live in, and females don’t go anywhere alone on Prism. She came to tell me that my father sent a mayday when his skimmer was losing power over an unexplored crystal field, then his com system died. (more…)

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My Stint at the Convent

This story is about my experience living in the Mother House of an order of nuns while I taught a ten-day seminar to nearby hard science professors from three universities about the writing process. The course was a rousing success. My life in the convent, not so much. "It's like being at summer camp. It's on a lake. I went there last week. The food was great." That's how the coordinator from UC Berkeley sold me on ten days in a convent. The taxi halted in front of an old, stone ivy-covered building that was four or five stories tall. This certainly didn't look like any summer camp I had been to. The place looked deserted. I had to haul two pullman suitcases, packed with books and clothing, up twenty or so stone steps. As I fought open the massive wooden door, one of my suitcases fell. "Damn," I muttered, stooping to retrieve the errant strap. Rising, I saw a huge crucifix attached to the wall. Oops. Crisp footsteps sounded on the highly polished wooden floor. I looked to my right. Nothing. "Welcome, my child." I swung to the left. "Uh, yes. Excuse me." I had caught the skirt of her habit with my suitcase. Yes, some nun's still wear habits, particularly in their…

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Strength

Tightly gripping her father’s muscled arm, waiting for the music to change, she stood in the vestibule of the church. His tender smile floated down to her upturned eyes as he patted the long-fingered hand that wrapped itself around his forearm. Her body, held in check, waited. Her mind raced.That first kiss, after her seventeenth birthday. The joy of a long-waited-for boyfriend and the smugness of being squired around campus by the captain of both the football and the wrestling team. Learning how to surf tandem, in his way-too-big wetsuit so her parents wouldn’t find out. The senior prom. The images reeled by as tiny frames on a silent film screen in her mind.Her brown eyes closed, squeezing off tears before they could be recognized. Her carefully-shaped coral lips thinned, pressed together in the tiniest smile, silently calling his name for her, his Pink Fairy Princess. Sometimes the address on his letters to her bore this instead of her name, a remembrance of the willowy pink chiffon and satin prom formal. She should have addressed his with Harachi. Monty had tried to upset her that night by wearing his tuxedo with sandals made from a tire.Her father patted the hand that had a stranglehold on his arm. He probably was thinking about the worry…

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Why do I Write?

I have loved stories all my life. Listening to them, reading them, telling them. And writing them. I was a voracious reader and still would be, if writing didn’t limit my reading time. Writing, for me, is the ultimate indulgence. I construct a world, make rules for its inhabitants, and throw thunderbolts at my characters. Wow, that last sentence makes me realize that maybe I have a God complex.  But then, if I do, so does every other writer, published or unpublished. I used to write only in times of dire stress. The process of putting words on the page and making order of my thoughts and feelings helped me through many situations that may have, otherwise, turned out badly. Luckily, life is more settled these days and my writing is more a creative outlet than a valve to let off steam. And I have a whole lot more fun telling the stories of the characters who show up, wanting to share their lives. Which is not to say it’s all joy and light, as any writer would tell you. Sometimes just the right word is elusive. Sometimes the characters steal the story and I have to work really hard to make everything fit neatly together. Sometimes the business side of writing brings…

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Jericho’s Story

My father, Gatfield Montgomery, finally agreed to let me present a bid for the translithium shipping contract with Prism. I'm on my way there aboard the Freedom, our FTL yacht. It will take three months to reach the prison planet, but rather than spend that time in cryo-sleep, I'm putting together a plan that the convicts won't refuse. There is very little information about life there, but I've been reading my mother's journals from twenty-three years ago when she accompanied an archeological expedition in search of ancient alien artifacts. Nothing was found and there's been no interest in exploiting anything on Prism except the translithium mine the prisoners discovered a year after the failed archeological dig. Translithium is Earth's major source of energy, and control of the semi-annual shipments from Prism are awarded to the corporation that wins the shipping contract. If I can win the deal for Montgomery Conglomerates, I'll earn my first billion before I'm twenty-five. But more important, I'll earn my father's respect and prove I'm ready for a larger role in the company than  division head for fashion and entertainment. From the stories my mother told me when I was young, Prism is a harsh world, but beautiful in a stark sense. She died last year so my uncle gave me her journals to read…

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Athena’s Story

We’ve been fighting the war against Keep for four years now. I’m leaving tonight with my squadron for Stonehenge Point. If we can take the jump point, we may have a shot at winning the war. The betting money offplanet didn’t think we’d hold out this long. We don’t have a choice. If we lose, we’ll end up slaves to the Keepers.

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