Posted in Writing

Break a Leg!

arrow to the knee

Before Gregory leaves for war, he’s a happy, upbeat boy. He loves singing and drawing and hanging out with his little sisters. He’s active and chipper and never misses an opportunity to make someone laugh.

Gregory leaves for war.

Gregory returns 5 years later.

Gregory hasn’t changed. He’s still a happy, upbeat boy. He loves singing and drawing and hanging out with his little sisters. He’s active and chipper and nev-



Is it just me, or is there something completely and totally WRONG with what I just wrote?

Let’s try again, from after our hero, Gregory, returns:

Gregory is no longer a boy. He doesn’t talk much, he doesn’t sing, and when he tries to draw, all he can picture are images of his dead comrades; his dead friends. He still hangs out with his little sisters (who are much bigger now), and even though he tries to make them laugh, they notice that his smile doesn’t last as long as it used to.


I’m feeling much better now, are you?

Poor Gregory (what is up with me torturing Gregory in my blog posts?) has been through the ringer and we can clearly see that, because of his experiences, he has changed and developed as a character. 

One way any book can make me a cranky-pants (who leaves lengthy, impassioned reviews on Amazon) is by not realistically portraying  a character’s development or by not forcing characters to face consequences. 

Here’s the dealio:

Characters need consequences.

Characters need development.

Also, shit happens.

Break a leg! A character’s leg!

Character arcs are important.

If 6 beloved characters roam into a war-zone, I honestly wouldn’t expect all 6 to come out unscathed or unaffected, or ALIVE even, in some cases.

Innocent Gregory isn’t going to waltz into battle and walk out the other end the same Gregory he was, you know, unless he’s insane, and then our wonderful Gregory has other problems to deal with.

How would you have felt if Frodo got home after his traumatizing hike across Middle Earth and just… went back to normal as if nothing had happened? Even if he had stayed in the Shire, the people who knew him would have been faced with a new Frodo. Yes, still the Frodo they knew before, but a Frodo with some weight on his shoulders.

PSA: I’m not against happy endings! I’m nit-picky about happy endings that portray the character as unaffected from all the crap a writer just put them through.

I’m gonna name-drop two series that I think do the whole consequences and character development thing really well:

Game of Thrones –

Seriously. If anyone is a master at letting his characters face consequences for their choices and actions, it’s George R.R. Martin. As much as I hate it sometimes (and cry over it and throw things), he really knows his stuff. Don’t read the next part in this section if you don’t want potential spoilers.

One specific character that comes to mind is Oberyn Martell. He duels a man he has a vendetta against, and when he thinks he’s won, he begins boasting. The big surprise for Oberyn? The “defeated” man darts up, grabs him, and basically pops Oberyn’s head between his gargantuan hands in a scene that will haunt my dreams for the rest of time.

Now that you have that image in your head, let’s move on to…

The Hunger Games

Okay, not my favorite series ever, but Suzanne Collins does a fantastic job of showing Katniss’ slow journey to her breaking point.

The point is this – at the end of your story, your character should not be the same as they were when you started out. You don’t have to break their leg. It could be a positive change. Maybe they learn to love. Maybe they learn how to sew (hey, I have no idea what you’re story is about). Maybe they learn to be a soldier.

If your character is stagnant, you lose the opportunity to connect with your readers. You lose the opportunity to make them go “OH MY GOD WHY IS GREGORY DOING THAT THING?”

A stagnant character does not an emotional connection make.

Break a leg, or, you know, teach your character how to swing dance or make a really tasty pot of tea.

Give them something they didn’t have before… or take something away. 






Posted in NaNoWriMo, Writing

What’s the Worst That Could Happen?

what's the worst

You’ve finally reached the scene. The one you’ve been waiting for.

You’re sitting in front of your computer, coffee on one side, cookies on the other, writing so fast you can barely see your fingers.

Your characters are doing the thing! The thing that will change the very course of your story or novel! The thing you’ve been planning since the very beginning.

You type furiously for hours. You lose track of time. Someone has probably texted you, but you don’t care.

No, you’re a writer. You are one with the words. The words are one with you. Nothing can interrupt this perfect moment.

When you finally finish your fated scene, you high-five yourself, let out a heaving sigh, and that’s when the panic hits you.

You have no idea what happens next.


I recently completed my July NaNoWriMo project, a novel titled The Alabaster Heir. I wrote a little over 88,000 words in 17 days, and people keep asking me, “Do you ever get stuck? How on earth do you recover so quickly?”

The answer?

I ask questions.

Keep in mind that this isn’t a foolproof way of salvaging every plot, but it’s gotten me out of quite a few holes that I joyfully dug myself into.

What are the questions, you ask? There are several, but my all time favorite is:

What’s the worst that could happen?

Oh, aliens? A dinosaur attacks the village? Starbucks goes out of business?

Okay, cool.

Make that happen.

Keep yourself on your toes.

Generally when I get stuck, it’s because I’m bored with the story or I have no idea what happens next.

Someone told me once, “if you’re bored writing it, your readers will be bored reading it.”

I’m an extensive planner when it comes to my novels and stories, but sometimes I still have to drop in the unexpected to get the plot moving again. Even if that means wandering away from my outline for awhile.

What’ll happen if you try this out?

  1. It’ll get your plot going again, hopefully.
  2. You may end up with super interesting content that you didn’t expect.

Also, keep in mind that whatever you write, you can always go back and change later.


Let me give you an example of how you can use questions not only to get yourself unstuck, but to build a basic (or maybe not so basic) plot.

Allow me to set the stage.

Meet Gregory Williams. Gregory is at work. It’s Friday night and he is dying to get home and see his wife. It’s their first wedding anniversary, you see, and he bought her the most glorious bouquet of white roses, which just happen to be her favorite.

The clock finally hits 5 PM, and Gregory is out the door in a flash.

Now at this point, you can ask, “what’s the BEST thing that could happen?”

Gregory gets home in one piece, the bouquet hasn’t been damaged, his wife tearfully accepts the roses, surprises him with a home-cooked meal, and then they spend their evening enjoying some good ol’ Adult Hanky-PankyTM.

I guess if you’re writing a warm and fuzzy feel-good story/novel, then that could work, but I generally ask myself the first question so I know exactly what I’m trying to prevent.

So, let’s ask another question.

What’s the WORST that could happen?

Gregory’s car breaks down, Gregory drops the bouquet, Gregory gets an emergency call from a family member.

Or even, “what’s the most BIZARRE or UNEXPECTED thing that could happen?”

Gregory is abducted by aliens, Gregory gets stalked by a vampire, Gregory meets his doppelganger and they have a death match in the alley.

Poor Gregory. Whenever he figures out how to overcome the obstacles you drop in his way and FINALLY gets home, you can ask the questions again, or you can figure out how to tie things together and end the story.

What happens to Gregory? Up to you. Personally, I kinda dig the doppelganger idea.

The point is, keep yourself interested in the story, and the words will come to you. Let it flow, take a chance, ask yourself questions if you get stuck, then act on the answers.

Besides… what’s the worst that could happen?








Posted in Writing

I Cannot Be Held Responsible for My Characters’ Actions



Around three weeks ago I received a call from one of my beta-readers. She was about 75% through my novel Set the Circus on Fire and wanted to let me know her thoughts, which I was both anxious and excited for. While she had many positive things to say, the conversation ended in a rant about my main character Capella, and how she (my beta-reader) thought that I should stop forcing Capella to make tremendously bad decisions.

I laughed.

I choked on my coffee.

I laughed some more.

And then, as gently and as trying-not-to-sound-incredibly-crazy as I could, I attempted to explain to her just how this writing thing works.

Before I get into the nitty-gritty, I should probably let you know that this post may or may not make me sound like the most mentally unstable person you’ve encountered on the internet today.

That being said, let’s move this train right along.

I’ve heard other writers mention that having characters is much like having children. You create them, you give them a name, you bake them cookies at 2 AM in the morning because they broke up with their boyfriend Fred.

I don’t have any children, but I agree with their sentiments.

Much like a parent, you watch your character grow, you watch them go through struggles, overcome, fail, succeed. You cheer with them, cry with them, and yell at them. You get frustrated. You forgive (most of the time). Sometimes you have no idea why the hell they’re doing what they’re doing.

Sure, I can set the scene, I can drop in random elements of chaos, but when it comes down to it, my characters are living, breathing people that are quite capable of making their own decisions and mistakes without my input. While it’s slightly disturbing to think that I have a bunch of independent people jammed inside my brain, it’s also a comfort. I would feel empty without them.

That doesn’t mean that I’ve completely lost control (I say to myself stubbornly). I still make decisions, I still lead the plot along, but sometimes I am just as surprised as the reader when Character X decides to kill Character Z because Character Z stole his girl.

So, I say this in defense of all my writer brothers and sisters:

Please don’t hold us (completely) responsible for our characters’ actions.

Don’t yell at us. Bring us cookies.

Maybe pie.

Chance is, the writer of a story is feeling the loss and/or bad decision of a character on a much deeper level than the reader ever will. Either that, or they’re cackling through it… it can go either way, really.