Later than usual and soooo sorry about that. We had a rough storm yesterday morning around 5:00 A.M. that left us with hurrican force wind gusts and no power....
So here I am, late and apologetic.
Okay, the last time I posted I gave you permission to take some time off, enjoy the holidays, bless your family with your full presence, yaddi, yaddi, yah.
Which gave me time to get a jump start on January and out-pace all of you to various winners’ circles.
Nya, ha ha!
Kidding, of course. With six kids, several spouses (not mine, theirs, I’m having enough trouble with the one I’ve hung onto for thirty-plus years) one fiancé (who isn’t used to us yet, poor boy) two grandchildren (amazing when I look so young) two more on the way (more amazing yet, right????), a host of Golden Retrievers and one lop-eared, 3-month-old, sixty pound (you read it right, don’t bother to check) Great Dane puppy, I had my work cut out for me so I spent just as much time away from contests, WIP’s, e-mails, etc. as the rest of you did.
But it’s January now, time to get your butts out of bed, put your running shoes (or slippers) on, and sit yourself down in that chair and write.
Housecleaning can wait. The house ain’t goin’ nowhere, now is it? When was the last time you saw a house get up and walk away?
And no one needs that much sleep, even in the dark days of January. Please. Invest in higher watt bulbs, ignore the shortened days (they come every year, get over it already) and flick a switch, flooding your work area with light.
Grab a diet soda or something not flooded with calories to make up for the cheesecake, cannolis and roast turkey and stuffing you delighted in two weeks ago, put your hands to the keyboard and GO!!!!!!!!!!!!!
That’s it. You’ve got it. Watch those fingers dance across the keys, creating words in a fashion that matches no other.
You go, girl! You go, boy!
Okay, enough of that. I’m making myself gag. Not pretty.
We talked about dialogue two posts ago. Sharpening it, making it match the moment. Today I want to talk about characters.
I love characters. Every town has characters. Big cities, small towns, it doesn’t matter, characters run rampant everywhere you go. They prevail in the grocery store, the classroom, the elevator. How about the old woman who always sniffs her vegetables, then puts them in her cart or back on the shelf of the produce aisle? The guy who wears his faded Yankees ball cap, circa 1942, everywhere he goes. The young mother with bad acne and a coat that’s way too big, who’s carting a little kid around the metro system and you have to wonder if she’s homeless or sick with the flu because she’s red-eyed and sneezing…
For a lot of writers it’s easy to develop your main characters. You know them and love them. Their tweaks and twitches, facts and foibles are the basis for your story so you’ve layered them and shown the reader that there’s a reason for why they do the things they do.
But a good book (in my humble opinion) has the same depth of feeling for the supporting cast, the Joan Cusacks and Rita Wilsons of this world. The ‘Melanies’ (Gone With the Wind), the ‘Beths’ (Little Women), fun if stereotypical Jewish fathers (Judd Hirsch, Independence Day), annoying sisters and super-annoying mother (Pride and Prejudice, A&E version).
The strength of your supporting cast is important even in a romance novel that concentrates its merits on the romantic relationship. The undercurrents that flow from well-developed characters and story lines are what separate the men from the boys.
Okay, the women from the girls, most times, because most romance writers are women. And just studding your work with notable characters isn’t the answer. There needs to be a reason they appear here and there, something that eventually holds meaning or reflection to your protagonists.
If Elizabeth’s younger sister in Pride and Prejudice wasn’t portrayed in book and film as being a totally boy-happy ditz, then her leave-taking with Whickham wouldn’t have been as destructive because it would have seemed gratuitous, a plot twist thrown in at the last minute to add angst to the lives of dear Eliza and wickedly good-looking Mr. Darcy. And if Mary hadn’t been the dull, insipid, book-worm sister, her boy-crazed siblings wouldn’t have shown quite so annoyingly bright to either the reader or the viewer.
Vivid characterization can be subtle or in-your-face, depending on the book and circumstances, but how often do you read a book that just slightly misses the mark of being really good because the writer/author didn’t go to the depth you wanted, expected and deserved?
You can avoid that mistake by making sure that every word you use to set up your characters works on their behalf. Keep the script strong and tough or sweet and gentle, but don’t overwork your product or toss it in casually. Good characters are prevalent. Most published novels have ‘em. Great characters are the ones we remember through time, even before the advent of Hollywood.
Speaking of Hollywood, picture Doc Hollywood. Fun movie, typical romance theme, boy gets caught in wrong place, wrong time, meets girl who can’t possibly fit into his world and doesn’t want to, boy must leave, then realizes life’s all wrong without her and comes back.
With a pig.
Not for nothin’, but adding the entire town as supporting characters, and the PIG, was a stroke of brilliance that brought a typical date movie up to the standards of fun, memorable romantic comedy.
Not to mention Ellen and the Pakistani man.
Push yourself that little bit harder to step back and envision the town/city/suburb of your setting and add in splashes of color through the strength of characterization of your support staff. I promise you won’t regret it.