Sunday, February 9, 2014

No Inert Writing, Please

Last week I read a few of the Insecure Writers posts and one blogger asked the question: "How do you know what good writing is?" (paraphrasing, probably, so forgive)

My answer was quite simply I write what I like to read. Or, rather: I write what I would like to read. There aren't that many authors out there that please me. I do not like boring books. Well, who does. But what I mean is, I don't like boring plots. I have to be fooled at the end, even if I think I know what's going on, or who done it, you'd better by golly pull the wool over my eyes in some way, shape or form.

My other mainstay is: Have fun while writing. 
Yes. Otherwise what is the point of it all? If I'm not having fun, if my characters are boring me to death--I chuck it. If my characters don't pop off the page--same thing. Something is wrong. Each one of your characters have to not only look different, they should talk different. They shouldn't always get along with everyone, either. Maybe some little thing they do bothers the other character (a partner), so, you need to mention that. It doesn't have to go into great detail. A line here or there will do.

Case in point, in my current WIP, Dhampir Legacy, My detectives are different as bananas and oranges. Vince Tobin isn't absolutely straight lace, but deep down he's a cop. His hero is John Wayne. He has quit smoking, and yet holds on to his Zippo lighter and he likes to snap it open and shut every now and then. Another nervous habit is snapping his fingers.

Meet Detective Jan Vladislav. Romanian/Gypsy. The serious end of the spectrum. He doesn't smile a lot. Doesn't joke around much, he's hard to get to know, and even harder to understand. He is Tobin's partner, but they get along because Jan has uncanny ways of knowing where a crook is and what he is doing. He does have sixth sense and it spooks most people, but his abilities have saved Tobin more times than not. So, they get along.

Now, for the more crazier side of the spectrum of characters there's Phil Green and Dr. Herb Rubin. Phil has left his hometown to get away from his past, he was dumped by his former girlfriend at the time, but more importantly, he was attacked in his church by a vampire who killed a deacon right in front of his eyes. But he returns to Lockwood because things are happening again. People are being abducted, his church was burned down, and he knows, or suspects, who is behind it. He wants to know the identity of the master vampire, and go after him, and his minions. Now that he's become wise in the ways of dispatching vampires over the last 20 years.

Dr. Herb Rubin, retired from vampire slaying, has taught Phil everything he knows about vampire slaying, and knows a lot more about the lore than you can poke a stick at. Phil has called him to Lockwood to help him out.

Here is a scene between these two who get along somewhat like an old married couple. It's a humorous addition to a book that would get overly serious if I didn't add something to lighten it up. Phil and Herb do just that.

Herb has been called and he knocks on Phil's hotel room door:

It was after six when the knock came to his hotel room door. A square of pizza balanced on thick fingers, Phil got up from the bed, and went to the door. He peered out the peek hole. The grizzled bearded man standing there looked out of sorts and impatient.
Phil opened the door to Dr. Herb Ruben.
Hi, you just get in?” Phil asked, taking two strides back to allow him room to come in. The short, portly man limped in, a cane in one hand and a large carrying case in the other.
Yes. Someone helped me get my luggage to my room. I'm downstairs.” He gave Phil an up and down look. “I see you've dressed down in my honor?”
Phil stood in a T-shirt and black silk briefs.
Oh, yeah.” Phil shut the door, gripped the pizza wedge by the teeth, and grabbed his jeans off the chair. He hopped around, putting them on. “I didn't know when to expect you,” he said, after taking a bite out of the pizza.
And do you usually open the door in your underwear?” Rubin asked, the sound of the football game surged, nearly drowning out his words. “Does that have to be on?” Herb shouted, pointing at the TV.
Phil quickly grabbed the remote and turned the TV off. “It's off now.”
Herb turned away, shuffled toward the bed and set the cat case down.
What's rattled your cage today?” Phil asked, bending down and looking into the cage. He poked his finger into the dark hole and was rewarded with a cat's claw slicing his fingers. He yanked his fingers out. Examining them, he found blood beading on his middle finger, and put it to his mouth. “I expected you earlier.”
I got a speeding ticking, if you must know,” Ruben growled.
Phil chuckled and sat on the bed, ate the last of the pizza in his hands and sucked at the sauce on his fingers.
Not funny, chum. That's why I'm late. One hundred bucks—you'd think these guys would have something better to do than prey on law abiding citizens,” he grumbled, his face still ruddy, and the contrast against his white hair and beard was startling. He looked like a disgruntled Santa at the moment. His normal color was returning gradually to a lighter pink.
Uh, law abiding?” Phil flopped back on his bed and leaned back into a pile of pillows to prop up his back, and crossed one leg over the other—exactly where he had been before the knock. He grabbed another piece of pizza from the box and took a huge bite. “You were speeding, weren't you?” he said through a mouthful. “Pizza?” He gestured.
Herb grimaced. “No. Thanks.”
Why didn't you call me from your room?” Phil asked.
I thought it best to come directly to your room, since they put me on the first floor and you're on this floor.”
And you brought your furry little friend with?” Phil glanced at the cat carry-all. The striped gray feline was twenty pounds of nasty cat. He could give “Grumpy Cat” a run for his money. They say that a person's pet matches him—this was proof positive.
I ordered a pizza.” Phil said, pointing to the pizza box. The pizza was half gone all the corner pieces left, of course.
Looks like you've enjoyed your two-thirds.” Herb grimaced. “I need to watch my cholesterol. Besides, this barely passes as food,” he added.
This has every major food group!” Phil retaliated. “Look, you've got your bread—right? Cheese, which is your dairy. Then your vegetables, like onions, peppers, artichokes—”
Artichokes? Who puts artichokes on pizza?” Herb argued.
I do! They're great! And there's tomatoes in the sauce, of course.
Tomatoes aren't a vegetable.”
What? They aren't?”
No. Tomatoes are a fruit. They grow on a vine.”
Well, see? I've got fruit on my pizza too. Plus all kinds of protein from meat and cheese. Unless you've gone vegan on me, this is a great pizza!”
What sort of meats?”
Pepperoni—” Herb grimaced. “Ham, Italian sausage, bacon. And four cheeses, carefully blended.” Phil took a bite of the pizza. “Mmm! God! You've gotta try a piece.” He leaned over the pizza box. He pointed to a middle piece. “Here. Take that one. It's loaded. Take a bite.” He picked up a large middle piece.
It has pepperoni. I don't like pepperoni. I'll have flatulence if I eat that.”
Live dangerously for once. Whatever. Here.” Phil plucked the round of pepperoni off and then passed it to him. “Now you won't have flagulance, er whatever.”
Flatulence. That's intestinal gas,” Herb said, taking the offered piece and bit into it. Chewed. His head bobbed a little, conceding that this might be good after all. Phil's smile deepened under the bushy mustache.
Good, huh?” Phil said, smiling his goofy closed-lip grin.
It's fine. What do you have to drink around here?” He looked around as if he'd find a bar in the corner.
I've got pop.” He held up his can of soda. “You want one?”
Gosh, no. I'm trying to quit.” He gave him an exasperated hiss, waddled to the chair and dropped into it with another gush. “So, you've found a nest of vampires, did you?” He took another bite of pizza and glared at him through his thick glasses.
Phil leaned over, still holding a wedge of pizza in one hand, and reached to the other side of the bed. He grabbed the folded up newspaper and flung it to Herb who caught it against his paunch. He unfolded it with one hand and began reading.
St. John's Church burnt down, too,” Phil said.
Shhh!” Herb said, waving him off while reading.
Phil turned his attention to the game. “Aw! C'mon, Cutler. You can do better than that!”
After five minutes Herb said, “You said something about last night you found one?”

Yeah. History. Dusted.”
Well, you get the idea. These two seem to rub each other the wrong way, but they get along because they're on the same side. They are vampire slayers.

The whole idea about "good writing" isn't just the mechanics. Mechanics can be fixed. That's just one ingredient in your writing. In order to bring it all together the work has to bring in characters who shine, who sometimes disagree--in some cases like these two, but it's humorous. I don't like to read books that are so stiff I yawn and have to put it down. I just read a police procedural that nearly had me putting it down, except the author made me care about the characters. It was a long book and it was more of a "man writing for men" type of writing, but I weathered through it. Had a lot of police jargon I could note down for my own work, that was the one reason I read it.

So, if you are writing along and wonder "What can I do to make my characters more interesting?" you want to see if you have made them get along too well. If so make your characters disagree on things. Have them get into an argument here or there. Not always, because that gets a little much, too--unless they are enemies, of course. Don't miss the opportunity to give them an opinion that might not agree with others. Give them annoying habits--they chew their nails, bite their lip, twirl their hair--this gives them personality traits and also the reader can "see" this happening. It makes your character pop a little.

Okay, that's my wrap up for this Sunday. Hope you're all dealing with the winter well, where ever you are. I'm sick of it, myself.


  1. I've found with my best characters, they develop naturally. I have a character for whom snappy dialogue requires no real effort. When it's his turn to speak, he opens his mouth and the words are there. I've enjoyed writing him so much, I decided to team him with a favorite female character from one of my past books.

    If only she weren't still hung up on her ex-husband....

  2. Ah, yes. We sometimes have no control over them, Norma (^;

  3. Oh, I do like that passage, Lorelei!

  4. It was fun, wasn't it, William?

  5. I had to put in a couple of fun characters, since Jan, my MC is so serious.


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