Characterization Fine-Tuning

Humans react to adversity in many ways. Anger. Depression. Denial. Many give up. Others accept the challenge and move on. How your characters respond in critical moments adds depth and realism to any plot. Two dragons guarding the damsel in distress? Watching the protagonist solve the dilemma reveals traits without placing a sign on him/her. “I’m brave.” Or “I’m afraid.” The essence of any character lies in their response to all the obstacles you make them overcome.

Imagine yourself as the character. What’s your motivation for reacting to the road block the way you did? In that moment, what’s driving your engine? Remember that success without struggle is boring. For example, having “said” dragons decide they don’t like the princess anyhow and leave, won’t endear yourself to your readers. And not only that, but you took away a chance at character development.

It is so important to remember WHAT your character wants and WHY he or she wants it. Is he in love with the princess? Did the dragons kill his parents warranting revenge? Is there a sack of gold waiting for him when he returns her safely to the castle? These things are often dealt with by writers in backstory, but they must be considered in the moment of decision as well. These factors will determine if and how a character conquers the odds. The characters’ choices should dictate traits revealing inner strength or hidden fears, for instance, rather than the writer spending time describing them. Twist a character’s desires/goals against them sometimes just to see how he/she might react. Let them develop organically. Then their personality might emerge as a revelation rather than a manipulated attribute.

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Against the Odds

Rejection is all around us. “Please don’t sing. You sound like you’re in pain.” Or how about this one? “I can’t go out with you. You’re not my type.” 

With approximately 155,000 successful writers in the world who make, on average, 55K a year, the odds are definitely against us. As I stare down this reality with confidence I’m going to add to that number one day, I know my chances aren’t good. So, why do I keep writing? I keep reminding myself of some of those successful writers who crushed those same odds years ago. Of course we all know J.K. Rowling’s story, but did you know that Evanovich wrote for over ten years before being published? Stephen King was rejected 30 times for his first book, Carrie

A Wrinkle in Time- 29 rejections. Gone with the Wind- 38 times. C.S. Lewis received over 800 rejections. An estimated over 3 million books get published in the world every year. Yikes. How’s that for insane competition? A poll done in 2011 showed that 80% of Americans would like to be an author one day. 

Please don’t be discouraged. Feel blessed you received three full requests for that latest manuscript or had 300 family, friends, and neighbors buy your books. All of this is more than some people experience in their writing careers. 

King Salmon face an uphill battle swimming against the current, but you know what? They almost always get to their destination. Just set a realistic one. We’re not all destined to be the next J.K. Rowling, but success can still be ours, whether we’ve quit our job and make a nice living writing or publish a book or two a year. Remember your WHY. Write to affect humans, help them escape for a few hours, make them think. I pray that’s what I’ve done here. The odds are against us. So what. Just keep swimming. Uh, I mean writing…

NO SUCH THING…

Most writers understand the complexities of writing a novel. Even those who find success admit that they never stop learning and growing in their craft. I used to believe that one day I’d have it all figured out, but I’ve reached a dramatic conclusion: There’s no such thing. Why? Well…I’m convinced that there’s a huge gap between the creative and the editorial mind-set. Here’s what I mean.

Creativity might get you through an agent’s or publisher’s door, but there’s no guarantee for success WITHOUT an editorial mind-set. Sure. Some writers just have a knack for editorial issues in a manuscript, but I think that’s rare. For example, I’ve been teaching for 24 years and have Grammar Nazi tendencies down pat, but those mechanical errors aren’t necessarily the make or break element for success. It’s those BIG PICTURE elements a fresh set of eyes catch that often transform mediocre into good and one day good into GREAT. Therefore, I have some suggestions I’ve picked up from my editor and other sources I’d like to share.

  1. Check your dialogue. It’s insane how many times I’ve found people talking in my novels just to talk with NO plot advancement or character revelations.
  2. Check your dialogue tags. Are your substitutes for the word “said” appropriate for what’s being communicated? Ex. “I’m lost,” she proclaimed. Why would she proclaim this? What’s so critical about being lost that she has to announce it?
  3. Overuse of metaphors/similes. Some writers are brilliant, comparing things in such unique ways. But don’t overburden the reader every page just to prove how clever you are.
  4. We ARE visual people. However, our worlds consist of ALL our senses. Therefore, exposing the reader to 360 degree sensory details cannot be overlooked. For example, how many times has a smell brought back a memory? A taste? I remember coming home from school and smelling my mother’s home baked bread. And Sunday afternoons when she’d cook dinner for the family always made me feel like the most loved child of all. (She loved us all, but I was spoiled.)
  5. Finally, I’ve read many novels where the writer failed to ground the reader in the setting, both place and time. Readers want to know when and where things are happening. If there’s a huge gap of time between chapters, the writer is making it difficult for the reader to accept the false reality. You know what I’m talking about. Those times when you stop and say, “Wait a minute. How did the protagonist get from point A to point B so quickly? I never saw him leave.”
  6. I hope these simple suggestions give you something to consider BEFORE hitting send. I will add a few more in the days ahead. May 2018 be your year!

A little help here…

Writers are a different breed… Whether you are one or not, you can sometimes spot a writer in the crowd because their minds are usually rolling down a different alley, strolling down the unworn path, climbing the “Plot Twist” mountains, or generally ignoring you. NOT because they think you’re boring; you’re just not quite as interesting as what’s happening in their minds. Please take no offense because most of the time our lack of interest isn’t intentional. Transferring a story premise into a book is HARD work.

Attempting to unearth the magic in your brain isn’t always easy, is it? I’ve spent nearly five years embracing my sponge-like mannerisms, thriving on websites, blogs, and webinars to help me understand my craft. I have run across excellent advice along the way from people like Brenda Drake, for example, and a special agent Jessica Sinsheimer, with her Manuscript Wishlist and Manuscript Academy. But today I want to share another wonderful resource: Kim Weiland’s terrific articles for writers. I guarantee you will find something to challenge your writing mentality and take you to the next level. And not only that, but she’s a wonderful person too. Click on the link. You won’t be disappointed. Blessings!

https://www.kmweiland.com/book/outlining-your-novel/

Faithless Surpasses First Two

Listen up! While my first two books have been successful, readers must have the REST of the story, right? Faithless answers many of your lingering questions such as what happened to Faith, will Rico survive without her, can Marek and Dredge stop World War IV, and will Resh Baldori counquer earth? I know I’m the author,  but Faithless will take you on adventure after adventure. Yeah, I know, sometimes the third book of any trilogy isn’t as good, but I’m asking you to trust me. Thanks to all my fans who gave this newbie writer a chance. Stay tuned for the release announcement and something truly different in my next book. Blessings!

Neither Moth nor Rust

Neither Moth nor Rust

 

Philippians 4:12-13- I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

 

My father was a starving musician for over 60 years. Probably the most gifted violinist I’ve ever known, he gave up fame and fortune to raise his six kids. Sacrifice. I understand what God did for me and would never minimize it in any way, but my father’s forfeit of a lucrative career is a standard for me as well. As the cliché goes, we didn’t have much growing up, but I remember one special Christmas that helped me appreciate the things I did have more than the things I didn’t.

At 13 years-old and the baby of the family, I asked my dad to buy me a guitar for Christmas. You know, something a bit more sophisticated than a dime store version that almost never stayed in tune. Even though I’d asked for it, I knew money was tighter that year because my mom had been in and out of the hospital, so I wasn’t counting on finding it under the tree.

As it turned out, I didn’t. I remember a few pairs of underwear, a flannel shirt or two, and some candy in my stocking but no guitar. Disappointment hounded me most of the day. In fact, for a majority of my Christmas break, I’d sulked around the house.

It seemed to me that Dad had been away a little bit more playing a few extra jobs over the holidays trying to make extra money, so the denial of my request befuddled me. I was the only one who showed any interest in pursuing music and following in his footsteps. I sang in the choir at school and wrote poetry and lyrics all the time. Why wouldn’t God honor my wish?

I think it’s in these moments of doubt that God truly shows up and teaches us what’s really important. My birthday was around the corner in January, and although Christmas had come and gone, my disappointment lingered like a musty basement stench. I stopped writing and even listening to music, and that’s when everything changed.

Dad woke me up early on a Saturday morning with a big grin on his face. He wanted me to go with him to meet one of his musician friends; he didn’t want to go alone. So I jammed a couple of pieces of toast in my mouth and ran out the door. I had no idea his friend owned his own music store on the east side of Cleveland. There were several guitars just calling my name, but I picked one labeled Aria (a long accompanied song for a solo voice). My father chose the same guitar for me and had been making payments on it for over a year, but it wasn’t paid off at Christmas.

All in all, what did I learn? “Every perfect gift comes from above, from the Father of Light…” My timing and God’s don’t always line up. He knows that sometimes we settle for the mediocre, trying to do things ourselves, when His best gift is yet to come. Now every time I want to force God to respond in my favor, I catch myself. I could have had a bargain store variety guitar, but He wanted me to have something much better.

I taught myself how to play and went on to write many songs to touch other’s lives, including winning a GMA national songwriting competition with a song entitled “Daddy, Where’s the Lamb?” Ironically, a song about Abraham and Isaac. Halfway up Mount Moriah Isaac stopped his father and asked, “Daddy, where’s the lamb?” He was completely unaware that he was the intended sacrifice. But just like He always does, God tested Abraham’s faith as He tested mine.

My dad sacrificed so much to buy me that guitar, and I’ll always remember it. Whatever we perceive to give up when we accept Christ as our Lord and Savior is replaced by what truly matters. Things never satisfy because joy has one eternal source. I don’t know about you, but that’s what I seek more of now. I loved the guitar, but embraced the joy on my father’s face when he heard me sing and play my first original song. And that’s something that neither moth nor rust will ever decay.

SNEAK PEEK…

For those who have finished NINE, my debut YA/Sci-Fi novel, I have a sneak peek at the book blurb synopsis for SOULLESS, book two in the trilogy. Feel free to comment with questions, but keep in mind one thing: I won’t give you any spoilers. 🙂 Tentative release is December. So excited to reveal the cover as soon as it gets finished.

Book Blurb Synopsis:

SOULLESS Book Blurb Synopsis:

Faith and Rico have escaped the crash but peril is lurking. Stuck in the mountains with no weapons but themselves, the bears aren’t their sole obstacle. It’s the pod people or podders, as Faith likes to call them. Soulless human creatures who have reverted back to their animal instincts to survive. Getting their real souls back and exposing Azuna’s takeover plans may have to be put on hold as Faith combats the elements and herself. Both pose enough of a threat to keep her from her ultimate goal. She’s changing, and not for the better. More powerful than ever, but that’s not a good thing. Or is it?

For the rest of the world, accepting a Niner influx is drastic but what choice do they have? The day Chancellor Stevens gave Azuna and Demas the keys to the Cadillac was the beginning of the end. Add the on-going threat of a diabolical Niner invention known as the Pro-Em, and the only possible result will be tragic.

In this sequel to NINE by D.M. King, Faith’s choices seem clear, but there’s more to lose now than ever. It’s no longer just about regaining the best part of who she is. It’s about saving humanity without losing any more people she loves. Living minus her soul is one thing. Living without the truth is another.

 

FREE 500 word critique

I admit it. I’m BIG on having the first pages capture my attention forcing me to read on through the night or day. So–I want to help out THREE lucky YA writers with a FREE 500 word critique.

I know what you’re probably thinking…who is this guy that he thinks he can say anything about my baby? I am a published writer, which doesn’t mean as much these days, but I also have over 20 years teaching experience reading amazing, semi-amazing, and really good writing from my 8th grade students/high school as well as thousands of YA books over the past ten years. I know for me, sometimes it takes a different set of eyes to see your baby from a new perspective. I’d LOVE to be those eyes and voice for you.

So how will I pick the winners? The first three people who follow me on twitter, Facebook, and on this blog will win. Pretty simple. I will contact you if you win with information on how to email me your sample page.

What will I critique? Hook–did you make me want to read? Plot– is it unique or something I have seen many times before? Characters–do they live and breathe and sound like real people? Style–do you show rather than tell? Are there enough details and a true voice? Pace–does the pacing keep my interest?

Good luck! I look forward to reading and reacting to your babies. Remember; from one writer to another, take what I say with a grain of salt because I’m NOT smarter than you. However–if there’s ONE thing I say that helped, PLEASE let me know about it.
Blessings,
DM King

Define Surreal…

Surreal–strange, freakish, bizarre? Or dreamlike, having the qualities of the uncanny or unreal.

I remember having an infatuation with Salvador Dali, the artist all through high school. I doubt any of my friends or family even knew of my obsession with his surrealism. To this day when I stare at his paintings, I am not sure what drew me to them. Many of them resembled a bad nightmare or a reflection of someone who’s lived a tortured or nightmarish life. I’d like to believe it was Dali’s choice of colors or, to use a thousand dollar art term, his juxtaposition of things that just didn’t seem to go together. For instance, bananas lounging in a hammock between two trees. Why? Well–I guess the real question is why not?

So, what does any of this have to do with writing or the writing process? I don’t have a ton of experience yet, having just published my first novel, but I’m sure I’ve dreamed up some rather odd characters or scenarios, thinking they were way too freakish, bizarre even. However–it’s in those times I must ask the same question. Why? If I can’t come up with a legitimate answer, I follow it up with why not? The sky is most definitely the limit when it comes to characters, plots, settings, and creativity in general.

Let me toss a tidbit your way for the 3rd book to my NINE trilogy. What does it take to create the perfect villain? All the easy stuff’s been done before. Make him or her so evil they’re hated yet cause readers to develop some sympathy as well. There is a formula, right? So–let me hear from all of you on what it takes to break that formula. I want you to go all Salvador Dali on me. Juxtapose and brainstorm traits and concepts not usually explored. Some might think I’m attempting to get all of you to do the work for me, but that’s where you’d be wrong. I KNOW where my new villain is headed, and I can’t wait to put him in a hammock in between two oak trees to confuse the bejeebers out of all my readers. So much fun. Kind of surreal. Like the fact that it took me four trunk novels to finally get published. If it’s all a dream, and I wake up soon, I’m going to be ticked. 🙂