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Author Archive

The Care and Feeding of Minor Characters

coal-miner

A miner, not a minor.

Let’s talk about minor characters.These are your protagonist’s family members, friends, and coworkers. Important enough to have a name, but definitely not an above-the-title name. They mainly exist to help move the plot along, often being on the receiving end of your protagonist’s witty dialog or exposition. “OMG Amber, let me tell you about what happened this summer at camp! You’re gonna freak out!”

They can also be plot devices: getting abducted, being diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses or accused of a crime, forbidding the protagonist to do what they want to do, or betraying them in some way. Nearly every cop’s wife in Western literature exists only to a) complain that the cop is never home or b) get threatened/abducted/killed.

Your protagonist lives in the world with other people, and how she interacts with them both humanizes her and gives your reader clues as to the kind of person she is. A hard-nosed business tycoon can show her secret tender side when she visits her grandmother in the nursing home. The nanny who is all sweetness and light with her charges may have a dark side that she explores in secret sex clubs.

Regardless of what purpose they serve, you should make sure your minor characters stick in your reader’s mind as people, not set-dressing. They don’t need to be as fully fleshed out as your main characters. In fact, to give them too much page space or backstory may indicate a higher importance to your reader than you’re going to deliver on. That’s not to say you can’t give a character more real estate than makes sense in one story because you’re setting him up for a larger role in the sequel. I had this conversation with my editor, Marti McKenna, while we worked on Griefed (Lexy Cooper #3).

Marti: I’m not quite sure why this Archie Wolfe guy is getting so much screen time. There’s not really a payoff…
Me: He’s important in Lexy #4.
Marti: Aha!

Let’s now make a distinction between the minor character and the “extra” or “walk-on.” These are characters that appear briefly to serve a specific purpose and then disappear. A taxi driver that gets your protagonist from point A to point B and maybe delivers one piece of news. A bartender confirming the alibi of a suspect. A beat cop who makes an arrest.

They are necessary to move the action along, but they don’t need backstory, motivation, or even a name. (Unless they do. If that bartender is supplying a false alibi because she’s sleeping with the suspect then she’s not a walk-on, she’s a minor character and she’s gonna need a name.)

Here’s an example of when not to name the baby. This happened during the editing of Glitched (Lexy #4)

Harper showed the letter to the only lawyer she knew—Xenon’s corporate bulldog—and she suggested that Harper zip her lip and try to move on…

Marti: I suggest giving the corporate bulldog a name to avoid pronoun confusion.

But, this bulldog will not be seen again until Lexy #6. I don’t want to commit to a name this far out, and more importantly, I don’t want to give readers the impression that this character needs to be loaded into memory yet. The problem was easily solved by the elimination of one letter. “She” became “he” and poof! No more pronoun trouble.

pronountrouble1

Don’t litter your book with a cast of thousands. Your reader can’t keep track of that many characters unless each and every character stands out. I bet if I name an obscure character in the Harry Potter series, fully half the world’s population will know who I’m talking about. Because Rowling paints a vivid—though sometimes brief—picture of every character and each serves a purpose.

For the rest of us? My best advice is to keep the cast lean. Only write characters that you need. And only give them names if you want your reader to recall who they are later in the book or series.

Billable Hours – A Writer’s Day

Okay, novelists don’t really have billable hours. I worked in a PR agency for a brief, miserable period and keeping track of how much time I spent on every little thing was a massive pain in my ass. That 15 minute chunk of time when I was staring out the window watching pigeons have sex on the neighboring roof? Which client can I bill that to?

Anyway, I got to thinking, now that I’m only working for me (and my readers), what if I had to account for every quarter-hour of time? So, today, I kept track. Submitted for your approval, my non-billable hours or

A Semi-Productive Day in the Life of a Novelist

8:30 – 8:45 Screw around on Facebook. Check email. Read over yesterday’s work. Post Instagram of Hiatus Project.
8:45 – 9:00 Select and post a snippet from Glitched on Lexy’s FB page

9:00 – 9:15 Source reference photos for Hiatus Project
9:15 – 9:30 Write Hiatus Project
9:30 – 9:45 Watch Magic Mike XXL trailer.
9:45 – 10:00 Tell reader via Instagram that Glitched will release March 31

Magic Mike XXL10:00 – 10:15 Send email to editor and proofreader about trying to hit March 31
10:15 – 10:30 Log into Lexy’s twitter account and follow-back new followers. Also, post Gronk photo.
10:30 – 10:45 Write Hiatus Project
10:45 – 11:00 Research makes and models of Mercedes-Benz sedans (for project, I swear!)

Gronk spike

11:00 – 11:15 Realize plot of Hiatus Project has similarities to popular 90s film. Text best friend to confess.
11:15 – 11:30 Curate appropriate playlist to inspire Hiatus Project writing. Fall down a “Stripper Anthem” rabbithole.
11:30 – 11:45 Fold laundry while pondering the temperature of imminent Hiatus Project sex scene
11:45 – 12:00 Write Hiatus Project

Gronk shirtless12:00 – 12:15 Realize this is an early release day for school. Panic.
12:15 – 12:30 Write Hiatus Project furiously until mind starts to wander…
12:30 – 12:45 Watch YouTube videos of Gronk spiking footballs
12:45 – 1:00 Rewrite chunk of chapter two of Hiatus Project so chapter nine won’t be fucked up.

IMG_09311:00 – 1:15 Google “Gronk shirtless”
1:15 – 1:30 Write Hiatus Project
1:30 – 1:45 Eat lunch while playing Kim Kardashian: Hollywood
1:45 – 2:00 Write this blog post

2:00 – 2:15 Kindergartner arrives home. Work day is finished.

All in all, I did get some stuff done. I wrote 1,948 words on Hiatus Project, my editor says March 31 is good with her (still waiting to hear from my proofreader), and I totally Gronked out.

Arrive Gronk Leave

In the Beginning – Starting a New Novel

-it-was-a-dark-and-stormy-night-pin-2120-pMy ninth book (Glitched) is with my editor right now and so, it’s time for me to start writing the next one. Book number ten will be the second in the Mike Malick series, and it’s unique in my experience for one reason. I don’t really know what it’s about.

Here’s what I’ve got:

A title: You Go To My Head (yes, another Sinatra song).

A pretty solid cast of characters.

A reference photo for the cover art.

Reference for the cover art. You Go To My Head...get it?

You Go To My Head…get it?

And a news story about a real crime that gave me the germ of an idea. I’m not linking to it, obviously.

Other than that…I got nothin’. Every other time I’ve actually sat down to start placing words one by one into a coherent story I’ve had a pretty fleshed-out plan in mind. Sometimes those plans change. But this is the first time I’ve sat down to a fairly rasa tabula.

So what now? I’ve got to turn this

In the beginning blog post

I do this bit right after finishing the prior book. The satisfaction comes from adding the newly-written one to the “Also by this author” list.

into a full novel that

  • Gives readers what they’ve come to expect in a Malick novel: snark, crime-solving, waitress-banging
  • Tells a compelling and complete story from the discovery of crime to the solution of whodunit
  • Touches on and advances the subplots and story arcs in the series
  • Feels familiar but not too similar to the first book Summer Wind

Where do I begin? I start with a victim. Right now I don’t know the name, gender, or method of murder. All I know is why the person was killed and who did it. But this dead body will put Malick and his partner Cricket Yi on the train that will carry them to the end of the story, some 300 pages away.

It’s unfamiliar and sort of scary but also a bit liberating. BRB, gotta go kill someone.

All About That Pace

keep-calm-and-pace-yourself-24Let’s talk about pacing, i.e. the action in your novel. Does it start slow and build to an action-packed climax? Do you hit on your main themes in a regular pattern? Do you sprinkle humor here and there?

I wasn’t sure how I did it. I’ve had readers comment that they like the pacing in my books, so I guess I was doing something right. But to be honest, I don’t consciously think about pacing much. Well, except for the first Lexy book in which I was convinced each chapter needed to be 5,000 words and I distinctly remember saying to myself, “Hmmm Lexy hasn’t gotten laid in a while. Better fix that.”

But I know that pacing is important and I was curious to see what exactly I’m doing and when I’m doing it. So, as I reviewed and revised my new book Glitched, I kept track of certain elements of the story and where they appear. This is what it looked like:

Glitched Pacing

There were quite a few pacing relationships I was particularly interested in. Sex vs Romance is one of them. Maybe they’re not different for you, but they are for Lexy. At least in Glitched.

Also, Sleuthing and Skills. This fourth Lexy mystery is different in that alternating chapters are not in Detective Malick’s POV. In fact, the murder isn’t even Mike’s case. This is the first time that Lexy is actively trying to solve a murder. Now, she hasn’t hung out a PI shingle, and she’s still working at Xenon full-time, but neither is she stumbling on evidence or just lending Malick a hand. In this book–and going forward–it’s important for Lexy to have agency. For her to do things on purpose with intent instead of have things happen to her. Ergo, sleuthing is when she’s investigating the case: talking to witnesses, doing research, staking out a location. Skills is when she’s purposely trying to improve her sleuthing. Mainly recalling something she’s learned from Malick about being observant or getting reluctant witnesses to talk.

stake out

Then there are the ongoing story arcs: her relationships with recurring characters. So, Romance hits on her interactions with a certain character (no spoilers) and Rivalry hits on her interactions with Agent 54.

When you’re writing a series there is also a fair amount of Backstory or references and reminders to what has happened in previous books, and Set-up, laying the groundwork for the next book: introducing characters and situations who will be important in Lexy 5.

A couple other things I tracked were Humor and Trouble. Humor’s pretty obvious, and there are funny (I hope) Lexyisms throughout, but these were situations I included solely for comic relief. Trouble refers to situations when Lexy purposely does something knowing it will get her in trouble or stir the pot. Just because she’s Lexy.

Chowder

Lexy’s new roommate?

I also tracked her use of drugs and alcohol, and her smoking. She’s always been a closet stress-smoker and when she’s upset she indulges. If you check the grid, you see that she smokes less as the story continues. Is it because I forgot to put a cigarette in her mouth? Nope, it was that she was busy chasing baddies and had other stuff on her mind.

Looking over this, it occurs to me that I did a pretty fair job pacing this without much planning. The question is, do I want to track as I go with the next book (potentially leading to “hmmm Malick hasn’t gotten laid in a while” thoughts) or do I just keep on keepin’ on?

The Sleepless Nanny is FREE

The new cover by Sara Nicholson

The new cover by Sara Nicholson

My first novel, The Sleepless Nanny is free to download this week on Amazon.com. I wrote this book a long time ago and shelved it for almost as long. Then, with the arrival of the Kindle Direct Publishing platform, I unleashed it on the world in 2011. I wrote about that long lull here. Since then I’ve written and published seven more books with another due to hit in a couple of months. This book changed my life. Your mileage may vary.

BTW that new cover design is by the super talented Sara Nicholson who also did the cover for my book Summer Wind.

Snap up this free novel by January 30, 2015. Happy reading!

Finishing touches: Getting your novel in top condition

This post isn’t about that final-final review when your manuscript has already gone through professional editing and proofreading. This is about getting your manuscript ready for the next step, whether that’s beta readers or your editor.

Getting to the end of the first draft and typing “The end” is a fantastic feeling and nothing should diminish that sense of accomplishment. But you’re not done yet. At least I’m not. Because I’m the kind of writer that appreciates momentum over all. If I’m writing a scene, I don’t like to stop and look up a fact, ponder a new character name, or go back through my story to verify a date or time. I type XXXXXXX and I move along.

So, once I’ve written my final scene, and after some celebration, I need to go back and fill in those blanks.

Filling in the blanks

Since I use the multiple X convention, all I have to do is search for it in my document and there’s a list of all my unfinished business. I can methodically go through and replace X’s with the good stuff. (Here are some tips on character names, btw).

Next up–and this is especially important in the mystery genre–is making sure all my dates and times match. Ensuring that the Time of Death pronounced by the medical examiner in the beginning of the book is the same window in which my suspects must account for their whereabouts. In short, if the victim was killed between midnight and four a.m., my sleuth doesn’t need to check alibis for noon to three p.m. To that end, I created two calenders: one shows all the action in the book by chapter and the second shows the details of the crime. What happened when, where each suspect was, and when evidence is revealed.

It's blurry by design. No spoilers!

It’s blurry by design. No spoilers!

Sometimes the facts that need checking are of the real world and not the fictional world I’ve built. For my upcoming book, Glitched, I’ve verified quotes from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Supertroopers, names of Pokemon characters, the color of Top Pot Doughnuts carry out boxes, tracks on Frank Sinatra’s In the Wee Small Hours album, the number of city blocks between Pioneer Square and the Seattle Police Department headquarters and whether one says “on Maui” or “in Maui.”

And, of course, as I go through this process (printing out chapters, making edits in pencil, and then doing corrections in the Word doc), I find stuff that bugs me. Awkward phrasing, or unnecessary sentences. Other times I make additions that clarify the action or make it more powerful.

This is the part of the creative process that feels most like work, but in the end will make my book better. And may even save me money! The less time my editor has to spend checking my facts and cleaning up sloppy shit, the fewer hours she’s going to bill me.

The most important part of this phase is to stay focused. Here are my top three techniques for the finishing touches:

  1. Bite-sized chunks. I do three chapters and then take a break.
  2. Block out the real world. Noise cancelling headphones, isolation booth, hotel room.
  3. Be extra nice to your spouse/housemates/friends. When you’re not hunkered down, nose to the grindstone with music blaring in your private headspace you’re probably thinking about the book and not really engaging with your humans. You are kind of an asshole right now. Once you hand off to your editor, please cook your people a nice meal, take them to the movies or otherwise reward their patience and understanding.

Stop saying this shit in 2015!

speak-no-evil

“The feels” 
Example: “All the feels” [link to kitten video or other heart-string-tugging media]; “This got me right in the feels” What it means: “This provoked an emotional response. Emotions remind me of being a child, so I will use toddler-esque language to express myself.” Grow up!

“Nailing it/Killing it/Sedating it, cutting it up and burying it in a shallow grave”
A sloppy fallback that implies perfection when it’s not what the user means. Also, the world is pretty violent already. What say we go easy on the bloody imagery?

“Because ____.”
This sentence fragment needs to fuck off. Especially “Because reasons.” It’s tired. It doesn’t make sense. If you don’t know the answer then say so. If you do know the answer fill in the fucking blank with a complete thought instead of the equivalent of pointing and grunting.

“You’re doing it wrong.”
Hasn’t this died yet? Fuck you. I’ll do it how I do it.

Hyper-hyperbole
Examples: “The greatest video you will ever see in your life.” “This wins the Internet forever.” “This photo of Jennifer Lawrence is EVERYTHING.” Clickbait headlines are the main culprit, but I see it creeping into regular use. “I’m dead from the cute.” “The feels have ended me.”

This post just killed. It’s literally the last thing you’ll ever need to put in front of your eyes. If it doesn’t hit you in the feels you’re doing it wrong. Because reasons.

Top Reads of 2014

I read 118 books this year (and I’m fairly certain I’ll squeeze one more in before midnight tomorrow), and here’s my take on best of the best, the disappointments, and the surprises.

First off, the best books I read this year

The ones I didn’t want to finish. The ones to which I gave five stars without a moment’s hesitation.

The Secret PlaceThe Secret Place by Tana French. It’s the fifth in her Dublin Murder Squad series, but you don’t need to have read any of the previous books to thoroughly enjoy this. It is a rare book that I linger over, wishing it wouldn’t end. The Secret Place is one of those rare gems. There’s a murder mystery involving a boarding school in Ireland, but there’s so much more. There’s so much meaty goodness about adolescence and human interaction. Tana French is freaking brilliant. I would put this book up against any Booker Prize nominees.

Station-ElevenStation Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. I normally avoid anything post-apocalyptic, but this book was fantastic. It takes place about 20 years after a flu decimates the population and there is some of what you’d expect about a world without electricity or government or gasoline or modern medicine. But there is also –I want to call it magic, but it’s not that kind of book– stunning writing about art and literature and music and what of human genius is worth saving. There’s a lot of hype about this book, but it’s well-deserved.

Big Little LiesBig Little Lies by Liane Moriarty. I read this because my friend adored it. I just finished this one last night and I’m still thinking about it. I think it was especially wonderful for me because it’s about a group of parents united by a Kindergarten class in an upscale Australian beach town. It hit all kinds of nerves with me about class, jealousy, the working moms versus the stay-at-homes, the secrets behind the seemingly perfect families. It’s a fat book, but will fly by because the writing is so good. Excuse me while I go read everything Liane Moriarty has written.

the-martianThe Martian by Andy Weir. I don’t usually read sci-fi. I gave this one a chance based on the enthusiastic recommendation of a friend, and I’m so glad I did. You know what it’s about: a mission to Mars destroyed by a dust storm. One astronaut gets left behind. It’s the ultimate desert island story and it was gripping. Every time it started to veer into too much technical detail (I TOLD you I’m not into sci-fi) the narrator would have a funny very human moment and I’d be completely on board again. Don’t wait for the movie. Enjoy it for its tension and ingenuity and the unique loneliness of being the sole occupant of a planet 140 million miles from home (On average. Don’t go all perihelion/apihelion on me).

 

Other books that thoroughly satisfied me in 2014

WonderLandWonderland by Stacey D’Erasmo. It moves slow and well, not a whole lot happens, but it’s fascinating nonetheless. Sex and drugs and rock-n-roll. The way she describes the almost otherworldly yet visceral process of creation is right on the money.

 

 

Golum and JinniThe Golum and the Jinni by Helene Wecker. This is a book that created a world so ordinary with characters so extraordinary. Literally, a golum–a woman made from mud and magic, and a genie–a male spirit. The way they find themselves in turn of the century New York and how they make a place for themselves is very compelling.

 

Beautiful RuinsBeautiful Ruins by Jess Walter. Just a great story. Imagine if the titular postman from Il Postino had harbored a young starlet on the run from the set of Cleopatra. Yes, Liz Taylor and Richard Burton are in this story and the book is funny, touching, and exciting all at once.

 

The Guts The Guts by Roddy Doyle. I should reveal that I would read Roddy Doyle’s grocery list because I’ll bet it’s poignet and hysterically funny. His dialog is just…perfection. This book is a sequel to The Commitments and Jimmy Rabbitte is now nearly 50 with a houseful of kids and a dose of cancer. It’s not maudlin though. It’s funny and life-affirming and as Jimmy and his mates would say “fuckin’ brilliant.”

Biggest disappointments

These made me sad because I expected better whether due to the author’s previous works or recommendations from friends.

murakami-usColorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami. I have loved all of his previous books, and I literally counted the days until the release of this one. I have recommended his masterpiece Kafka on the Shore to dozens of people. I even sort of loved that crazy meandering mess that was IQ84. But this one…. Can you hear me sighing? A soul-deep sigh of sadness and just what the hell? Nothing happens in this book. I kept thinking Okay, things are gonna pick up any minute now. A cat’s gonna talk or an extra moon will appear in the sky, right? And THEN we’ll get going. But nothing ever happens. It’s terrible. I’m so annoyed by this meagre effort that when I see something pop up in my newsfeed about Murakami I actually say “fuck you!” to my screen. Murakami-san is going to need to step up his game big-time to win back my affections.

Redshirts_800Redshirts by John Scalzi. Don’t scream at me. I know you loved this. You’re a Star Trek fan and you loved Ready Player One and you wish you were twitter buddies with Scalzi and Wil Wheaton. But this book didn’t work for me. I was along for the ride (literally, we listened to the audio book on a cross-country drive) up until [SPOILER] they went back in time to Hollywood. I lost all interest in the story at that point. If I’d wanted to read a book about show business hijinks, I would have chosen one with lots of sex and drugs and scandal. I can see how this book could be amusing, but to me it had no heart. I could not care about any of the characters. This would have made a delightful sketch on Saturday Night Live, but as a novel? Nope.

Dark and Twisted TideA Dark and Twisted Tide by Sharon Bolton. A friend turned me onto the Lacey Flint series. She’s a police detective with a super fucked up past. I was super into this series of books and not only looked forward to this most recent title, but squirreled it away to savor when I needed a treat. Well. This was seriously disappointing. Lacey has become the least interesting character in the cast, and I cannot express how head-smackingly frustrating it is to read about a smart, well-trained cop doing stupid shit. Repeatedly. There were at least four and maybe five times in which Lacey goes off investigating something without calling for backup and gets attacked. I think she may even have done it twice in one day. The underlying mystery is interesting and the book ends with a great twist, but goddamn, Lacey! You suck! I’m taking this nearly-unfinishable piece of crap as a cautionary tale for my own mystery series. It’s a warning to let Lexy be Lexy, but at least let her make mistakes in a variety of ways.

Runner-up disappointments: Police by Jo Nesbo which confirms for me that detective Harry Hole has run his course, and Identity by Ingrid Thoft. Her debut Fina Ludlow novel Loyalty was so strong, I had to wonder if she was pressured to knock out a sequel before she was ready. This was monotonous and bummed me out.

Surprise Delights

I don’t read much non-fiction and celebrity memoirs always seemed like the sort of dreck that dried-up prom princesses read at the hair salon. But whatever. I read three this year and they all made me smile and laugh out loud. Maybe in 2015 I’ll branch out to celebrities about whom I did not have squalid teenage sex fantasies.

rob lowe Stories I Only Tell My Friends by Rob Lowe

 

 

 

as you wish As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of the Princess Bride by Cary Elwes

 

 

 

late late at night Late, Late at Night by Rick Springfield

 

Why holiday birthdays suck big boughs of holly

christmas_baby_2-wideI was born on Christmas Eve. Just an hour and 45 minutes later and I’d have been a full-on Christmas baby, so it could have been worse. Here are the top five suckiest things about a Christmas birthday.

1. You will never ever have a real birthday party on your actual birthday. People are spun up about holiday stuff and ain’t nobody got time for you. Not when you’re eight and not when you’re forty.

2. Your twenty-first birthday will not involve bar-hopping and drunken debauchery. Because no one will go out on Christmas Eve! Sure, grandma might finally let you have a glass of wine, but you can forget about tequila shots and table-dancing. You know where I spent my 21st birthday? At dinner with my then-boyfriend’s family in Jackson Heights, Queens where all the New Yorkers examined me like a strange specimen from the wild west.

3. Gift-fuckery. I.e. everyone and their dog will give you joint gifts. Which is a goddamn rip-off. “This is for Christmas AND your birthday!” they say. And you will thank them and mutter to yourself. Okay, I’ll just screw YOU over when your birthday arrives in June. “Hey, remember that Christmas gift, buddy? That was for your birthday too! Wheeeee!”

4. Everyone who sees your identification will coo “Ohhhh a Christmas baby!” I know it’s not terrible, but it gets old.

5. No one will ever forget  your birthday. Even when you’d like them to. It’s too memorable. So for the rest of your life people will remember that it is your special day and yet will not celebrate with you and probably give you a bullshit joint gift.

To all my fellow sufferers, I feel your pain.

 

Series Fiction: What I wish I’d known at the start

long gameI’m in the final stretch of writing the fourth book in my Lexy Cooper mystery series. Now, I’m certainly nowhere near as prolific as many writers, but by the time you get to Book 4, you’ve built up a pretty substantial cast of characters, a history, and a world. Here are some of the things I’ve learned along the way and wish I’d known when I was writing the first one.

Consistency in World Building

Just because I write books set in modern times in the “real” world doesn’t mean I haven’t done some world building. It’s not Middle Earth, but Lexy Cooper’s fantasy world mapRedmond and Seattle are not exact replicas of the real thing and those subtle differences need to be consistent. Sometimes I run up against a perception I had while writing earlier books that cause me to hesitate and stumble writing later books. Take the Redmond Police Department headquarters, where Detective Malick does his murder-solving thing. When I wrote Schooled I had a very vague idea of what it looked like: a lobby where a desk sergeant sits, desks where cops do their work on battered government-issue desks, a conference room where the cops can gather to brainstorm, and an interrogation room for grilling suspects. That’s all I wrote about, because it was all I needed. Then in Pwned, I added another interrogation room and now there’s “Interview A” and “Interview B.” Each book has added new areas as the story requires them. By the time I wrote Summer Wind, in which Detective Malick gets his own series, the building is three stories high and has a computer lab, briefing room, Chief’s office, gym, and impound lot. The good news is I never said, in Book 1 that the station was small or one-story, or lacked any facilities. So looking back, is it better that I was vague in the beginning, or should I have mapped it out with a little more diligence from the get-go?  Vagueness has allowed me to get what I need from that location, but every time I send Malick up a flight of stairs that wasn’t in my head during the previous books, I feel a little bit guilty.

ss-100512-laworder-01.grid-8x2

The Trouble with Character Names

There are two male cops in my series: Mike Malick and Mark Rogers. In the first three books Rogers was always “Rogers” because he’s a young cop still in uniform and Mike is the star. But by Book 4, Rogers has a new job in a neighboring city and is a detective. Now equals–mostly–“Mike and Mark” are so close it sounds lame.

name gameWorse yet are rhyming names. Lexy’s brother is Kent and her cameraman is Trent. I never even noticed it until the two characters have a scene together in Book 4 and I had to write around putting their names next to each other. Meanwhile I cursed myself for my foolishness for not noticing in Book 1. Another example? Kenny Longworth and Kent Cooper don’t share a scene in the first four books, but that too, could be problematic in the future. And then I have to wonder: What’s with the “Ken” thing? Why did I choose those names? I don’t think I even know anyone named Ken.

Now I’m being much more careful in naming new characters. In book 4, Lexy’s friend Harper Cole (who appears in Pwned and Griefed) is a major player. When it came time for me to introduce a new character, I wanted to name her Hopper after Grace Hopper. But Hopper and Harper? That’s a no-go. So right now her name is Borg after Anita Borg, but I don’t think I can get past the Star Trek association on that one and it will most likely change again.

Now here are a couple of things I think I did right. And I did them right because I was slow and careful about what I was doing. I’m going to avoid spoilers as much as I can here, but if you haven’t read Lexy 1-3 and are super sensitive to vague hints about the plot, you may want to skip this bit.

The Long Game

If you’ve got the foresight to plan the major plot points of the books in your series, it’s very effective to lay the groundwork early for the biggest payoff. So there’s a bad guy in Book 3. Now I could have created a new character to do the bad things, but instead I played the long game. Knowing all along what I was going to write in Book 3 (at that time the end of a Lexy trilogy) I introduced the character very casually in Book 1. This character was so minor he or she may have mostly gone unnoticed. But then he or she became more important in Book 2. So by the time Book 3 rolls around and he or she does the bad thing it is a shock and betrayal to both Lexy and the reader.

See also: Foreshadowing. This character offers hints of what he/she is capable of in the first two books. What you’re going for is either a “I felt like there was something weird about that person!” or “Why didn’t I see that coming!?” So hopefully, a person who read Book 3 could go back to Book 2 and smack themselves for not realizing this character was trouble.

Another example: In Summer Wind (which is Malick #1 but also Book 3.5 in the Lexy series), I introduce a character who is not really going to be very important until Book 7. But when she becomes important she won’t have dropped out of a clear blue sky. She’s already been established in the cast and the world.

Incremental Change

It would have been easy to begin the series with Lexy Cooper–community manager by day, kick-ass vigilante detective by night, but let’s face it…that’s not really believable or relatable. Instead, Lexy learns new skills as the series progresses. Not because she has an end-goal of being some sort of Dirty Harriet, but because she has reactions to the things that happen in her life. Possible spoilers For instance: In the first book, something happens to Lexy that makes her interested in finally learning to handle a firearm. So in Book 2 she learns to shoot. In Book 2 and then again in Book 3, she is in a situation where she has to run to safety. And her speed and endurance fail her. In Book 4, running has become a priority for her. She’ll be ready for the next time. And at this point, she carries her Glock everywhere. By Book 4 or 5 readers will not be shocked–or skeptical–if Lexy outruns an assailant or uses her gun because these are skills she’s worked to acquire and not superpowers she’s granted when she suddenly needs them.

The Downside

The downside of the slow build and the long game is that readers can’t see inside your head and may get impatient as they wait for your heroine to “grow up.” I have had feedback about how Lexy often gets rescued in early books, or that she’s immature or didn’t have a big enough reaction to the tragic events at the end of Griefed. All I can say to that is: keep reading.

 

 

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