Posts Tagged ‘learning’


Although I try to keep this blog strictly related to writing, sometimes I like to veer off track a little. A couple of things have combined to inspire this particular post–mainly the passing of my thirty-sixth birthday a few weeks back–which apparently has caused me to ponder some things.

I don’t have children, and that is a choice I made at 22. At that age, doctors (or at least my doctor) refused to give me the snip despite my certainty that I’d never change my mind on the matter. I’ve made no effort since to get the cobra de-venomized–mostly out of laziness–and gratefully, I’ve fathered no children–that I’m aware of–in the meantime. That was almost 15 years ago, and I still haven’t changed my mind–but I will admit to having a kind of biological desire to pass something on.

So… on this long, hot, boring day, I’ve made a list of things I’ve learned–both from experience and from the experiences of others–that I’d like to think I’d take the time to teach my child–if I had ever had one.

Don’t judge me. Raising rhetorical children is no easy task. Why, I’ve spent almost an hour and a half on the little bastard today alone. This is my imaginary child, and I will raise it as I see fit.

But seriously…

101 Things I’d Like to Teach My Child

#1. Never let anyone tell you something isn’t funny. If you’re laughing, it is, in fact, funny.

#2. Age and wisdom are not necessarily synonymous with each other.

#3. Blood isn’t always thicker than water.

#4. If you set out to “get even,” don’t expect it to go as planned.

#5. Anyone who tries to isolate you from your friends and family is giving you the first warning of abuses to come.

#6. Insecurity is the root of the majority of all character flaws.

#7. Next to an absolute refusal to fail, integrity will take you further than anything.

#8. There are just as many people who will help you as there are who will hinder you.

#9. If you have no self-respect, it’s your own fault.

#10. Inspiration is a flake.

#11. Responsibility is a verb. Admitting fault is just the first step. Fixing the damage is key. If the damage is irreparable, accept that and learn from it.

#12. Never let anyone threaten you. And veiled threats are still threats.

#13. The underestimation of others’ intelligence is the ultimate practice of stupidity.

#14. Don’t maintain relationships with people who have no loyalty to you.

#15. Insecurity is absolutely a choice. And it’s a lazy choice.

#16. Yes, there are such things as grown men who need to talk to their mothers every day, and no, you do not need to be one of them.

#17. If you want to be respected, do respectable things.

#18. Before you criticize another person’s behavior, be sure you’re not guilty of the same thing.

#19. No matter how many times you watch a bad movie, it will still suck.

#20. Listen to people when they speak about their relationships with others. People tell you all the time who they really are.

#21. Choosing your company wisely isn’t self-righteous. It’s vital to good health and an industrious life.

#22. People come and go. Let them.

#23. Never think you’re so unique that the rules don’t apply to you, and never think bad people will make exceptions for you.

#24. If you want something, expect to work damned hard for it.

#25. There is a price for everything. Everything.

#26. If someone hurts you and apologizes for it, let the hurt go and forget the incident. If they do the same thing a second time, they are abusing you.

#27. Forgiveness is not saying something is okay. Forgiveness is the choice to let go of resentment.

#28. Sometimes you have to remove a person from your life in order to forgive them. That’s okay, but always forgive.

#29. You don’t owe anyone anything, and no one owes you anything.

#30. Don’t accept gifts from anyone who wants something in return.

#31. Envy is ugly at best and cancerous at worst. Never indulge in envy.

#32. You are not responsible for anyone’s feelings but your own, and no one has so much power that they should be allowed to dictate yours. Own yourself.

#33. Never let anyone tell you what to believe. Be silent, ask tough questions, and trust your instincts to tell you the truth.

#34. Make friends with people who possess the qualities you want for yourself. Step up, not down, and never let anyone tell you that’s arrogant or judgmental.

#35. Never let anyone invade your personal space, not even me.

#36. There will come a time in life when you’re given a choice between doing what others expect of you and choosing to be true to who you are. Choose to be who you are. It’s harder, but you’ll never know personal fulfillment if you don’t do it.

#37. It’s none of your business how people perceive you.

#38. Flattery only works when it’s genuine.

#39. Happiness is a feeling, and all feelings come and go. Acceptance is the closest you’ll ever come to a permanent sense of happiness.

#40. You don’t have control over other people and only fools think otherwise.

#41. There is a different between ignorance and stupidity. Ignorance is the lack of knowledge. Stupidity is a decision to remain ignorant.

#42. No matter what you love to do, there’s a way to make money doing it.

#43. You cannot control what other people think of you.

#44. Love is as much a commitment, a decision, as it is an emotion.

#45. Being at the mercy of your mood is one of the most self-defeating habits one can adopt.

#46. Never allow your children to openly criticize other adults. It makes everyone look stupid.

#47. Just because you have the constitutional right to express your opinions doesn’t mean you have to. Never let anyone tell you that you’re obligated to any cause.

#48. Life has enough drama. Avoid people who bring chaos and upset into your life.

#49. People who aren’t secure enough to introduce their friends to each other are questionable.

#50. You have control over your actions… and nothing or no one else.

#51. Don’t assume you can disrespect a person because they are in your house, and don’t allow anyone to disrespect you because you are in their house.

#52. You are not responsible for anyone’s actions but your own.

#53. Be leery of anyone who tells you how nice and trustworthy they are.

#54. The choices you make every day–large and small–will determine how your life turns out and who you become.

#55. If there is a devil, fear is his greatest tool, and if there is a god, forgiveness is his.

#56. Sometimes the line between honesty and cruelty is a thin one. Err on the side of kindness.

#57. Open as many doors for other people as possible. This is the best way I know of to get ahead.

#57. Addiction doesn’t die, it simply changes form.

#58. Always sincerely congratulate others for their successes.

#59. Very successful people have worked hard for it. Never assume they got lucky.

#60. Never say you don’t have time to read. We all know this is bullshit.

#61. Never, ever complain about your spouse. It makes you look foolish.

#62. Never assume doctors have your best interest at heart.

#63. There are things you can change about yourself, and things you can’t. Determine the difference and accept yourself.

#64. Never assume anyone is wiser than you.

#65. Figure out who you are before you’re thirty. Being a lost soul at fifty is laughable.

#66. Bitterness is a choice.

#67. If you work hard and accomplish your goals, the fear of age will not own you.

#68. You can’t replace a person with anyone else.

#69. If you feel like no one ever listens to you, try doing what you say you’re going to do. People hear integrity.

#70. The ego is weak, ineffectual, and it cannot sustain you. Go deeper.

#71. Humility is an indication of intelligence.

#72. You cannot be good at everything, nor do you need to be.

#73. Don’t enable others, and don’t allow others to enable you.

#74. Whether or not God exists, prayer works.

#75. Fear lies.

#76. Exercise is not over-rated.

#77. Soulmates exist.

#78. The universe is on its own time-frame. You won’t always get what you want when you want it.

#79. Don’t pick and choose biblical references. If you’re going to bring the bible into it, bring it all.

#80. There’s no such thing as casual sex.

#81. Before you set out to “teach someone a lesson,” ask yourself when the last time was that someone taught you a lesson.

#82. Make a list of daily goals and adhere to them. Over time, you’ll be amazed.

#83. Revenge only works on TV.

#84. Don’t throw the first punch… and don’t hold back once it’s been thrown.

#85. People know when they’re being manipulated.

#86. Think critically before forming an opinion. That way you won’t be that dumb ass who can’t seem to make up his mind about even his most basic perceptions and beliefs.

#87. If someone takes an interest in you, rest assured they want something, but don’t assume it’s something entirely self-serving either.

#88. The world will always want fantasy, glamour and romance. There are a million ways to work that to your advantage.

#89. Know the difference between business and pleasure and don’t mingle with those who don’t.

#90. If you want to go places, find out what people want and deliver it.

#91. Life is approximately 5% chance and 95% free will.

#92. The best way to age gracefully is to make it your goal to be a better person this year than you were last year.

#93. There will always be someone in your life who thinks everything needs to be done their way. Let them. It’s fun to watch them gape in stupid surprise when no one obeys.

#94. “Brushing your teeth” is a figure of speech. You need to clean your whole mouth.

#95. Trying to be unique is anything but unique.

#96. Don’t rush to lose your innocence. Once it’s gone, it doesn’t come back.

#97. People who have no heroes are either entirely without direction, or way too cynical.

#98. No matter the price, never let anyone own you.

#99. There’s always a choice. Always.

#100. Better to be naïve than jaded.

#101. Don’t allow people to misuse you. Simply don’t stand for it.

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     A few years back, I attended a writing workshop where I met some of the most unusual and memorable people I ever have. It was there that I first heard one of the most preposterous and, I soon found out, common, writing faux pas’ that exists. When the workshop facilitator asked us what we liked to read, the gentleman next to me spoke up and stated he did not read anything. The room turned its head in unison to blink at this guy. “Why… don’t you read?” asked the facilitator.  The man next to me proudly explained that first, he did not have time to read, and second, he avoided reading anything because he was afraid of unconsciously plagiarizing whatever authors he was reading. There was a long stretch of silence before the facilitator ushered the topic into new territory.

     Reading is the first reason I ever had to write at all. I have never met a credible author who wasn’t also an avid reader. I was surprised by a writer who didn’t read, and apparently I was not alone. It made me wonder what kind of writer I would be if I didn’t first have a profound love for reading.

     One of the first books I ever remember loving was Howliday Inn by James Howe. I was intrigued by the humanization of Chester the cat and Harold the dog. Chester and Harold has this very Holmes/Watson kind of relationship which showed me very early on the importance of character contrast. I submerged myself in the Bunnicula series for the next couple of years and from there, I remember reading And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. This style of writing kindled my intrigue with murder, mystery, suspicion and suspense. It showed me how characters are used to move the story forward. Also, Agatha Christie wasted no words, so from her I learned the importance of getting to the point. By the time I was in fifth grade, I was reading mostly adult fiction. Granted, I was only ten and there were many things I didn’t understand about the things I was reading, but I believe beyond doubt that these books are what shaped me into the kind of writer I am today… warts and all.

   

     In Stephen King’s book, On Writing, he talks about reading actively. What this means is that first, you must read, and second, you must be conscious of what you’re looking at. Pay attention to what the author is doing and what emotional response his words are invoking within you, the reader. I began practicing active reading immediately and have since trained myself to read this way almost solely. It has its pros and cons. On one hand, it will absolutely hone your own writing. On the other hand, it makes reading less enjoyable because you are often too focused on the technique to experience the story. Over all, it’s worth it though. In reading actively, I have learned many things that can not be taught otherwise.

     I suppose it’s possible to be a great writer who doesn’t read anyone else’s work, but personally, I can’t imagine it. I think it’s important to learn from the greats. Not just the classic, historically cemented, old-time writers, but the contemporary writers who are experiencing the success you are striving for. Yes, writing is absolutely an art… but it’s also a business, and that business doesn’t have much compassion for writing that relies too heavily on an authors need for self-expression. And there’s a lot of self-expression out there.

      To be great, I believe, you must first learn what great is. From there, you must determine specifically what makes them great and how that greatness was translated onto the page. Then, you must try to find your own greatness. You must know your strengths and weaknesses and find creative ways to capitalize on both. You must be willing to sacrifice snippets of your own brilliance for the overall quality of your story. You must be willing and able to take criticism, insult, and ignorance. You must be willing to place your ego on the chopping block and allow complete strangers to take turns bashing it to bits. But above all… you must continue learning and getting better, and I can think of no other way to do this than by learning everything you can from those who’ve traveled the path before you.


     It’s been over a week since I wrote anything in An Evil Heart, the collaborative novel I’ve been working on with my mentor, Kim.  At first, this just seemed like a little break and I thought nothing of it.  The last couple of days though, when I sit down to write, a strange thing happens: nothing.  It wasn’t until today that I realized why.

        Kim and I sat at the coffee shop, where we’ve been meeting on Saturday mornings, and began to discuss our progress.  I, of course, admitted to having made none.  When she asked me why not, I was a bit surprised to realize I hadn’t given any real thought as to what was hindering me.  I thought about it for a while and then stumbled on my answer.  “Because,” I told her, “I am starting to really like Sterling (the antagonist and my main character) and every time I try to write him, I find myself wanting very badly to redeem him, to make him a nice guy somehow… and I know I can’t do that.”  Kim agreed that no, I can not suddenly make Sterling into a good guy.  Doing so would only throw the story entirely off course, not to mention, be wholly unbelievable.  So I know that’s not an option, but my sudden change of heart is a perplexing shift that has thrust me, yet again, into foreign and bewildering new territory.  I suddenly feel kind of like I’m in the middle of the ocean without a life raft… a feeling that is becoming all too familiar in this whole writing thing.

     In the beginning, writing Sterling was fun.  He is all the terrible, nasty things I could never be.  I never admired him by no means, but it was a fresh, albeit horrific, new perspective that invigorated my sense of adventure and truly moved me outside of my own way of thinking.  It was fun and it worked because I hated this character.  Whenever I would think of him, I’d get little chills of distaste all over my body.  The things he did made me feel sick sometimes.  I despised him.  But now that we are more than half-finished with the novel, a baffling thing has transpired:  Sterling has grown on me.  I seriously like the guy… despite his wretchedness and hideous proclivities.  This should be a good thing, but in this case, I’m not sure it is.

     I’ve spent many hours this afternoon rethinking Sterling and re-planning my approach.  Here is what I’ve surmised:  I don’t have to like this character or dislike him.  I have to love this story though, and if I change this character, I have to change story, which A) in this case, isn’t entirely mine, and more importantly, B) would ultimately be a great disservice to the story’s integrity.  Simply put, you can not set out to write a reprehensible, psychopathic character and then develop of conscience mid-stream.  So… I will maintain Sterling, warts and all, and let him tell his story, terrible though it is.  In the end, I know I’ll be glad I did.

     That being said, some definite good has come from this.  I’ve learned that even I have a fundamental desire to find the good in things, even the most vile things.  I’ve learned that with the dark and destruction comes also the light and the creative.  Perhaps above all, I’ve learned that what’s most important to me after all is the integrity of a good story, and that raises my faith in my own ability to continue on this path.


     There is a famous adage in the writing world that says, “write what you know.”  I hate that adage.  It suggests that we never move outside the confines of our current knowledge and that, in essence, we reiterate and recycle that knowledge for all our years.  It prompts a timid and all-too-cautious approach to writing that is the ultimate cause, in my opinion, of very boring material.  But I do see the point.  After all, if you don’t know anything about football, writing a story about a professional football player’s anxiety over the big game is not going to come off well.  It will be superficial and ultimately, unconvincing.  That’s why I think that whoever first made the statement, “write what you know”, really should have said, “know what you write.” 

     And that is where research comes in.

     Research for me is mostly a proactive practice.  Although sometimes you are limited and must do a lot of reading on a subject, I think it’s important that, as often as possible, you experience the things you are writing about.  For me, this has meant some very interesting and mind-expanding adventures.  Most recently, for the sake of an idea I have for an upcoming story, I have made great friends with the nicest little Jehovah Witness woman.  She’s got to be a hundred and twelve years old and she is probably the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen.  I invite her into my house and listen to her stories, all the while trying not to stare too intently at her eyebrows which, bless her ancient heart, she is no longer able to paint on straight.  We know each other on a first name basis now, and although we more often talk about her past than the Kingdom of the Lord, I fully enjoy her company and have come to consider her a great friend.

    For another project, I spent some time in a Catholic church.  I wasn’t raised Catholic and so I knew nothing about the religion except what I’d seen on television.  Attending mass, I was surprised by how aerobic being a Catholic is. Sit, stand, pray, repeat!  I left exhausted, understanding not only why their services only last about forty-five minutes, but also why they give you a cracker at the end.  Later, I had a friend of mine who is educated on the religion go with me to the cathedral and explain all the different meanings of the trinkets and shiny things therein.  It was fascinating!

     Probably the most compelling experience I’ve had in research was my exploration of the BDSM community.  I was writing something that needed my understanding of the dynamic between Masters and their human slaves.  I spent a year searching for the local kink subculture before, quite coincidentally, finally happening upon it.  I was informed of a local fetish website, which I joined and soon began making friends.  Eventually, I realized that kink was all around me.  They even have kink classes at the local university!  Soon, I was invited to an actual “play party”, which is where kinksters get together for a night of fulfilling their fetishes.  I connived some friends of mine to go with me as my human slaves.  I wore eyeliner and dressed my pets in next to nothing, put them on leashes on headed to the event with an odd mixture of trepidation and awe. Had I been more practiced, I suppose the four of us would have even gotten in and out of narrow doorways with a little more grace, but hey… I dare you to try toting two women and one man around on leashes in a cool, debonair manner!  For the most part though, we fit right in and I was able to meet some of the most fascinating people I ever have, some of whom I remain good friends with to this day.   I saw all kinds of things that fueled my imagination.  I was hesitant about participating much, with the exception of letting a trusted kinkster hit me with a bamboo stick, (yes, Martha, I did!), and I left with a deeper understanding of and respect for the community and it’s practices (as well as a big bruise on my ass).

     Perhaps hardest of all, is the research I have been doing for the project I am currently working on.  I’m writing about a narcissistic serial killer who was abused severely by his mother and later, his foster-father.   Since it’s in no ones interest for me to experience this stuff first hand, I have been doing a lot of reading on the minds of serial killers and the lives they lived.  It’s disturbing and  hellish and I am eager to be done with it.  I have learned things I’m not sure I ever wanted to know, but it’s important to me that I understand the characters I write. 

     So no, I don’t believe in only writing what you know, but I do believe in knowing what you write.   Research is a necessary part of writing, the great myth being, of course, that it involves hours of tedious reading about dull subjects.  In truth though, research is, in some ways, the best part about writing.  Something I have come to understand is that there’s a big difference between knowing a thing on an intellectual level, and truly understanding it.  I think that in order to write a convincing account of anything, a writer must possess full comprehension of his subject.  When you write something without that base understanding, readers know. 

     A lot of writers take the liberty of assuming a position of superiority.  After all, writing is a one way form of communication; you can not be interrupted and argued with mid-sentence.  But, what writers should realize is that, in truth, the reader has the power.  All he or she has to do is close the book.  And this knowledge is what prompts me to continue knowing what I write.


     I’ve finally moved past a major roadblock in An Evil Heart.  “Evil Heart” is the working title of the joint-effort book I’ve been writing with my friend and mentor, Mimi (Kim Williams-Justesen – check her out at http://kwjwrites.wordpress.com/). 

    The problems I kept encountering were aspects of the main characters past and how they served to motivate him in the present.  The trouble was, what I’d come up with so far didn’t make sense to me.  I didn’t believe that the things this guy had experienced in his life would prompt him to be such a monster.  After all, this guy is a narcissistic, nearly sociopathic, somewhat-obsessive-compulsive serial killer, so whatever he’s been through in his life (if the reader is going to sympathize with him even a little bit), it must have been some pretty hellish and dreadful things.  I didn’t want to simply slap a psychological disorder on him (although I’m certain there’s a little of that going on too), so I had to do something that was harder than I thought it would be:  I had to conjure up some of the most terrible things you could put a child through, sift through those hideous scenarios and apply the ones that made the most sense to the story.  Granted, this is not a story about a mans troubled boyhood, so I don’t have to spend a lot of time there, but it is important that I (and whoever might one day read it) understand why this man is the way he is.

     Mimi and I have been meeting on Wednesdays and Saturdays to work on this book, so this week when she came over, we spent several hours talking about this guy (his name is Sterling) and trying to determine the horrors he must have endured as a young boy.  Success in this incites a terrible contrast of emotion: you are giddy… because you have just concocted the most awful kind of abuse you can think of.  This is one of many unexpected and uncomfortable surprises I have encountered in this whole fiction writing thing.

     I am continually amazed and thrilled by the things I am learning in this.  There seems to be an endless reservoir of things I still don’t know and want desperately to understand, and what I’ve just recently learned is that it is impossible to write a character and his or her story if you don’t fully understand who he or she is.  It’s not one of those things, unfortunately, that you can make up as you go.  If you do not know where a character is coming from, it’s impossible to understand where they’re going.  The characters I have written before this one have all been pretty well-developed.  They were very old and I’d spent a couple of years mulling over them before I sat down to write their story.  In that time, without even meaning to, I came to understand them all quite well.  But this guy is new, so this is, in a sense, an entirely new experience for me.  Not to mention, this is the first character I’ve written (on this intimate of a level) who is this dark, this heinous… this capable of such wicked things.  It is enough that I sometimes squirm under the wretchedness of this guy.  But overall, it is good for me.  I want to learn to write diverse characters and the one I’m writing now is, no doubt,  going to extend my skill, burst my comfort bubble, and teach me new methods of execution.  It is an intimidating and frightening thing to see the world through his eyes, and should this book ever reach publication, I have no doubt I will be crucified by the critics… but I have avoided it for too long and I am coming to understand that this is what it’s all about: that willingness to reach into the deepest recesses of psyche and dark fantasy…

     As Mimi continually reminds me, “You have to be willing to dance with crazy.”  Now… I understand that.


     I’m learning that character development is less about conscious endeavor and more about letting your characters “tell” you about themselves.  When I first heard other writers talk about this phenomenon, I thought it was silly.  I couldn’t understand how a character could make their own choices, choose their own voice or, in more extreme cases, shape the plot according to their own agendas.  I feel very differently about that now.  Now I understand exactly what other writers are talking about when they say things like, “Oh, my characters just kind of take on a life all their own,” or, “Well, I intended to kill so and so, but the bastard simply refused to die!” 

     When a character begins to tell you his or her own story, it is an experience that borders on being eerie.  It’s foreign.  It is an almost supernatural anomaly.  After all, when a person that you created begins dictating to you what needs to happen, you tend to question your sanity.  For the most part, however, I’ve come to understand this as a natural, albeit strange, part of the creative process.  Once you get past the surprise of being given orders by an imaginary personality, and if you dare to let it take you where it wants to go, it won’t matter anymore where the “voices” are coming from; all that matters is that somehow, it works. 

     That being said, I also know that I must keep a close eye on my characters.  You can’t let them run the show entirely.  Some of them are helpful to the plot while others are untrustworthy and will manipulate the story to become all about themselves.  I try to let the characters do a lot of the talking while simultaneously keeping a close watch on the plot to be sure we don’t veer too far off into left field.

     Overall, my experiences with the characters tops the list of my favorite things about writing fiction.  I love the little surprises each character brings to the story and nothing makes me happier than when one of them does something so off the wall that even I didn’t see it coming.  I am a little bit in love with all of my characters and I think that’s important.  If you are writing a novel, you will be spending an awful lot of time with each of these guys, and if you hate them at a base level, it’s bound to be a most unpleasant experience.

     Right now, I am writing the most difficult character I’ve ever had to before.  He goes by the name of Sterling Bronson and he is violent and dark… he is all of the things we are taught not to be.  Since my time with this character hasn’t reached completion, I am currently blind to the methods with which I will have to deal with him.  So instead of focusing on him, I will go back to the major players of The White Room, where I can, in hindsight, more clearly give a brief synopsis of my experience with each of them.

     Cadence Walker ~ This is probably my oldest character.  Although he has evolved substantially since then, he was first conceived of in the mid-nineties when I first began trying to write fiction.  He was also my easiest character and I think that’s because he’s a lot like myself.  I had no trouble finding, and for the most part maintaining his voice once I sat down to write the story.

     Brooks Jacobi ~ Brooks is by far my favorite character.  He seems to be a kind of hybrid between my best friend growing up, and that more irresponsible, less stressed side of my own nature.  The first scene I ever “saw” from The White Room was one of Brooks’ scenes, so in a sense, he kicked the whole project off and got the ball rolling.  For the story’s sake, Brooks had to be Cadence’s polar opposite and I worried that they might somehow bleed into each other and become indistinguishable, but Brooks maintained his integrity throughout, making my job a whole lot easier.  I feel there is a lot more to Brooks than I was able to cover in the span of one book, and since writing the words “The End”, I have been unsuccessfully trying to find ways of revisiting him.

     Aunt Mimi ~ In spite of being a religious zealot as well as a forgetful and hopeless alcoholic, Aunt Mimi is a basic, static character set in place for the sole purpose of moving the plot.  What’s interesting about her is that she was a complete surprise.  I didn’t write her into the outline but when she showed up, I just felt I needed to trust her and I’m glad I did.  She was the most fun to write.  If anyone close to me ever saw me typing and giggling away at my laptop, I would personally guarantee it was an Aunt Mimi scene I was writing.

     Sheila Leventis ~ Like Aunt Mimi, Sheila was a surprise.  Her main purpose in this story was to support the main characters and the plot.  I deliberately gave her no real zest.  She was a quiet character who let the story work around her.  Even at the end, she was probably the only one who really never knew what was going on.

     Michal ~ This was the hardest character for me.  I had a hard time keeping consistency with him.  At times, he was this hip psuedo-cowboy type while at other times, he was a kind of wise, fatherly type.  Of all my characters, Michal was the one who, more than once, forced me to rewrite entire scenes.  In the beginning, he spoke in articulate, proper sentences.  By the end, he was like, “So, hey… ya wanna talk?”  It wouldn’t do of course, so I ended up having to revise him to the point I really just kind of wanted him to die.  But I love him… he ended up being a good character.

     Winter ~ This guy was awesome.  Winter just kind of came to me fully-formed one day and said, “Hey, here I am.  Do something with me.”  He became an integral part of the story on top of being a lot of fun to write.  Winter gave me no grief.  He was compliant, professional and well-rounded.  Of all the characters, Winter is the one I could most easily and naturally continue with.  He seems to have a story all his own and I think he wants it told.  Maybe one day…

     Gretchen ~ While Michal was hard to write because his personality was difficult to pin down, Gretchen was hard for very different reasons.  She came to me a long time ago, fully-formed and ready for action.  Her original purpose as far as I was concerned was to simply make an appearance and die in a way that moved the story into the more multi-layered recesses of plot.  However… that’s not at all what happened.  This character was one the ones I warned you about, one of the untrustworthy ones.  Persnickety to the point of maddening, Gretchen gave me more hell than any other character.  For one thing, she went through about seven name changes before finding the one that “felt” right.  Secondly, she nearly became the central figure of the story, moving the plot this way and that until it was so tightly wrapped around her that I had to consciously reel it in and redirect my focus.  In short, Gretchen is a diva and given an inch, she would have taken six miles.  I had to limit her voice while at the same time recognizing the value of the places this character wanted to go.  Although she evolved into much more than she was originally intended to be, and moved the story into entirely unexpected directions, it ended up being okay.  But I was wise to keep her on a short leash.

     Sebastian ~ This guy was fun.  I don’t remember exactly where he came from but shortly after Gretchen was developed, he was there, waiting to be heard.  Sebastian became an important player in the plot and he was natural and easy to write.  I like characters like him.

     Jazminka ~ It all started with the boots.  About fifteen years ago, I had this strange dream about a woman wearing the most insanely strange pair of thigh-high boots I had ever seen.  Among their other oddities, these boots had sharp, steel heels that made these incredibly ominous thudding sounds when she walked.  I never forgot those boots and when I first contrived the character Jazminka, I thought it would be awesome to put her in them.  Shortly after that, it occurred to me that these boots would make great weapons.  One of the first things I knew about Jazminka was that she could kill a man in less than seven seconds without spilling a single drop of blood… with her boots.  So Jazminka was easily designed around that deadly footwear I dreamed of as a teenager.  It was nice to pull something from a dream because I didn’t even have to think about it.  Her hair, however, was another story.  I wanted to give her a crew cut but was promptly told, “hell no”, and “don’t you dare”, by the few (and the brutally honest) who were critiquing my manuscript as it was being written.  Reluctantly, I gave her an ’80’s bouffant.

     Angel ~ This character was just full of surprises.  He began as a kind of filler, just there to people the story and then BAM!… he became something I hadn’t at all intended.

     Veritas ~ There wasn’t really much room for this poor guy.  He was well-formed in my mind but unfortunately didn’t get much of a part, although the part he did get was definitely memorable.

    Mahallia ~ My least favorite character.  Mahallia was an afterthought and I never liked her.  She came to be because Veritas’ part was so suddenly minimized and I needed a way to move through the end.  If this book never sees the shelf of a bookstore, I will always blame Mahallia…

     And so… this has been my experience in character development thus far.  I am still learning and growing and it’s my hope that I will continue to have as much fun in the future as I continue on this journey.  I understand fictional characters in a way I never thought I would.  The ins and outs of the people who drive our stories surprise and delight me at every turn.  As I said, getting to know the characters is my favorite part about writing fiction.  The characters will make or break a story, they will surprise us by playing parts we hadn’t intended.  Some will bring value to the story while others, if allowed, will sabotage it… but of all the things I’ve learned about character development, what surprises me most is that, crazy as it sounds… they really do have minds of their own.