Thursday, September 29, 2011

I’ve Got Rhythm – Random Thoughts on Writing Dialogue

I think most of you know I am a classically trained musician. The fact I see and hear rhythm in the written word is a carryover from the hours and hours spent studying rhythm, counterpoint, dynamics, tempo and all of the things which transform words and music into art.

In opera (Don’t run away screaming. Opera is our friend.) the portions which are not arias or ensemble pieces are called recitativo – a style of delivery in which the singer is allowed to adopt the rhythms of ordinary speech. It is still sung. There is still music with the words. The music may be sparse - recitativo secco ("dry", accompanied only by continuo) or it may be quite lovely, full and reflect what is being sung - recitativo accompagnato (using orchestra.) This is the main difference between opera and musicals.

What does all of this have to do with dialogue? Quite a bit actually. In going over judges’ sheets from the contests I’ve entered over the years, I’ve discovered the one thing I actually do pretty well is dialogue. And here are some of the things I think have helped me tremendously.

RHYTHM

For me, words have always had a musical rhythm to them. When I write a long passage of dialogue, I read it out loud. If I stumble, if the words don’t flow, then I’ve done something wrong. I read it again, find the word I stumbled on and try to find another word that completes the rhythm.

“Yes, well were I luckier in love she would have enjoyed my favors long enough to complete the roof.”

“If you were truly lucky she would die and leave you everything.”

Cain snorted. “That will never happen. I have it on the best authority she intends to take everything she holds most dear with her.”

“Everything?” Barclay glanced in the general direction of Cain’s groin.

“Why haven’t I fired you?”

“You can’t pay my severance.”

“I knew there was a good reason.”

This exchange has a give and take rhythm between the characters. It has minimal tags, but you get the relationship between these two men. And a lot of it has to do with the rhythm of the exchange, especially those last three lines.

CHARACTER

This one is easy. Male characters, especially alpha males, speak in short sentences. They use strong verbs. They are opinionated. They are definite. And the only time they stammer or get tongue-tied is when the heroine makes them that way.

Female characters speak in longer sentences. They explain more, usually because the hero is kind of dense. Their language is more creative, more emotional (not overly so, I hate mushy, whiny heroines!) and the only time they stammer or get tongue-tied is when the hero ticks them off.

Most important, the dialogue must match your hero or heroine’s character. If you know your characters really well you will discover they have patterns of speech. Stick to those. You created them when you created the character and they really help!

When you read through you dialogue and something appears wrong, it may be you’ve put words in their mouths they would never say. They hate it when you do that. And sometimes they get so ticked they stop talking. This is bad.

STUDY, BABY, STUDY!!

This is the fun part! If you want examples of great dialogue put on your favorite DVD and pay attention to the dialogue. See if you can catch the rhythm of it. Better yet, read some of your favorite books – the ones where the dialogue makes you laugh or cry. What kind of tags were used, if any? What patterns of speech?

Julia Quinn has done a workshop on dialogue at RWA Nationals a couple of times. If you can, attend the workshop or listen to it on the CD’s. It is a marvel. Read any of her books, especially the Bridgerton series, and you will see exactly what she is talking about.

Do any of you have any tricks or methods you use to keep your dialogue fresh? Any masters of dialogue you want to recommend in either films or novels?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

What Genre do you prefer?


What Genre do you write or read?

Why?

For me there are Four main categories to choose from (with all sorts of delightful sub genres!).

1.Contemporary: This is set in present day with realistic situations. This can be category and single title romance, suspense, mystery. There isn't a lick of the odd in there at all...unless of course its all about the psychological.

2.YA: This covers everything, contemporary, paranormal, fantasy. This market is exploding because they like to read!

3.Historical: You name it, medieval, regency...if you're a history buff this is your niche. You can write or find romance, adventure, you name it.

4.Fantasy/Paranormal: This all your other stuff, Urban Fantasy, high Fantasy, horror. It can be set in contemporary times, in the past, you can create worlds or just have that odd Aunt in your story that does the weird, but accurate, tea readings. There are all sorts of delicious things you can do in this genre. (Yes, I do have preference for it)

I have tried to write many different genres, but the one that I keep coming back to is Urban Fantasy. It appeals to me because you can weave in all sorts of things and I don't have to force a Happily Ever After, but a satisfactory ending. (Don't get me wrong, I love HEA's but sometimes I like the HEA's to be a bit edgier). There can be romance, but the best part is I can write a Hero as tough as I want them to be and Heroines as flawed as I like them to be.

Funny but before I realized what I really liked to write---I tried contemporary. I tried writing a Blaze. --There is a joke among a few of us, we all talk about our "Blaze book" everyone has tried to write one. I thought I could do it, but no...I had to put in something fantastical, that Blaze book turned into an Urban Fantasy. (Side note: That's not saying that Blazes are easy, they aren't I have a whole new respect for those writers.)

I even thought about writing a contemporary for the Mills & Boon contest. I even had a plot, characters...but the reality is, it was only one book. I love writing Urban Fantasy, for those of you who know me and now those that don't. I have notebooks and folders on my computer filled with story ideas: Fantasy, Urban Fantasy and yes some horror. Only one contemporary. Not a good thing.

So I sat down and thought about it. Writing is hard for me, but I love the genre I chose. Its one of the reasons I keep writing.

So my suggestion to you is to think about the genre you write? Do you love it? I hope so. Tell me about it...and why you like it.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

How Sweet It Is!

Our Southern Magic chapter is extraordinary. The friendships, support, and shared knowledge. Short programs, jammed with new information, or all day workshops like yesterday's with presenters with hands-on, been-there done-that experiences critical to making our fiction as real as possible. Sometimes, just chatting through lunch yields that one particular nugget of information you didn't even know your pail was missing. And then there's even more.

Last month I won one of the door prizes. As most of us are, I'm a voracious reader (even cereal boxes are fair game) so choosing a book for my prize was perfect. Completely clueless as to plot or even genre, I chose The Iron King by Julie Kagawa. (I liked the cover.) Well, can I just say - Wow! My only previous experience with YA paranormal/fantasy had been Twilight. Not anymore. I am now the proud owner of all of The Iron Fey novels and eagerly await The Iron Prince out this October. Each one has been a blast to read. I now have a whole new genre to explore. Hunter Games, anyone?

And how tremendously inspiring. To strive to be that writer who creates a new world and a set of characters so magical and enjoyable that not only did I hate for each book to end, but I couldn't wait to go out and buy the next. No matter the genre, how awesome is that?

So thanks, Southern Magic. Once again.


Friday, September 23, 2011

Research that finds you

Two weeks ago my wife went into a rehabiliation center following total right hip replacement surgery. Today I was told that her recovery could take two or more months. I went into the finance department to make long term arrangements with her health insurance carrier. It turned out that the financial aid person was related to someone I have known for more than nine years.
During my interview I mentioned that I write supernatural thrillers and I wanted to know how my future income from writing would affect my wife's benefits. The lady told me she was starting a book about her husband's family who were some of the original settlers in Cullman.
This was fate interviening on my behalf. My current book in progress takes place in present day Garden City, Alabama. I have been to libraries in Cullman county looking up the county's history for accuracy in my book. One of my trademarks is having my characters sorting through historical records to solve a current mystery.
My now new found friend volunteered to sit down with me and give me the historical information I need in exchange for my reading over her story and giving her pointers. I mentioned RWA and the two chapters SM and HOD. She expressed an interest in visiting us .
As for my wife. She will be in rehab for at least another month while I seek financial aid.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

E-Reader Revolution Killed My Shopping List

Giving books as gifts used to be my thing. I loved finding a book for a friend or family member as a Christmas or birthday present that would introduce them to a new friend or world. I would spend the year trying to get signed books for a gift basket. It was my quest. My mission.

Then came the Kindle, the Nook, the iPad and the digital revolution. It swept me away. I'll knife you if you lay a finger on my Nook Color. All my books are in one place. No piles toppling off the nightstand. No lost paperbacks on trips. Everyone in my family is on board. You know the revolution is in full swing when my mother and mother-in-law both have e-readers.

But what can I get people for presents if they are going to electronic books? Gift cards? I can hear my grandmother tisk-tisking at that idea right now. It feels like cheating. Maybe I could wrap the card in a suggested reading list.

I can't be alone in this dilemma. How do you plan on adapting to the digital revolution when it comes to sharing your favorite authors and stories?  

Monday, September 19, 2011

What's first-hand research worth?

I was nearly finished with my absolute final round of revisions on the climactic scene when I decided to double-check a few facts.

I sent a bit of backstory and a list of questions to crimescenewriters.org, an excellent yahoo group in which professional public safety and law enforcement officers help writers get it right. And then I headed out for a break: the 9:30 conditioning class at my local city gym.

At 10:10, the resistance band wrapped around my foot slipped off in mid-leg lift and the hard plastic handle slingshot into my eye. I went down; somebody went for ice; the instructor told me to stay on the floor and keep my towel pressed against my face. That’s when I discovered that the half-inch cut on my brow bone was spurting enough blood to distress the rest of the class.

I was way more frightened about my left eye’s hazy vision, but I didn't say so. I didn’t want to worry all the folks now showing up: the front desk clerk, the fitness center manager, the trio of fire and rescue first responders.

One of the awesome Gulf Shores rescue crews

Yep. In today’s litigious society, no one dares let an accident victim get away to (figuratively) lick her wounds in private.

The young hunks who arrived to assess my condition took a look at the cut and announced that the bleeding had stopped. But they have a protocol to follow, so they checked my vital signs. In case you haven’t had this experience lately, that means blood pressure, heart rate and insurance card.

They asked if I’d passed out, if I knew what day it was, and if I knew who the president is. (I passed the cognitive portion of the test.) They shone a penlight into my eyes and asked if I’d ever been told before that the pupil in one eye is larger than in the other.

Uh, no. So now I’m terrified. I asked for a moment to take out my contact and see if a rinse would clear my vision. The paramedic handed me a quart bottle of sterile saline, and I trotted into the restroom to see if I could remedy the problem on my own. My contact came out with no problem, but my eye was so swollen the contact wouldn’t go back in. Without it, my visual acuity is so poor that I couldn't tell whether the haze was extraordinary, or regular nearsightedness.

I didn’t want to risk my eyesight. And I didn’t want to waste a writing day. So I climbed into the ambulance and, while the paramedic checked my vitals (same as above) I asked questions about firefighting, smoke inhalation, other possible injuries from a house fire, emergency treatments, and arson investigation procedures. By the time we reached the hospital, I had answers to most of the questions I’d posted earlier.

The easiest way to sum up the day is to borrow from that beloved credit card ad with a financial analysis.

Exercise class: $10.

Hospital co-pay: $150.

Cab ride* from hospital back to gym to pick up bicycle: $36

First-hand research: Priceless

*Another story for another day. Teaser: the cab driver is writing a novel about a womanizing 200-year-old undead bartender.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Author Interview: Frederick J. Arceneaux

We here at Southern Magic are always excited when one of our own finally makes it into the ranks of the published. Today, I'm interviewing our most recent soon-to-be published author, Frederick J. Arceneaux. He's  recently signed with Astraea Press's for his supernatural debut, MIRRORED. Set in Thibodeaux, Louisiana and the New Orleans French Quarter, the novel features demonic possession, Voodoo curses, creepy plantations, and two lovers whose unexpected romance is threatened by  evil forces. He says that his novel will have you searching your house every night before you turn off the lights. Keep checking Astraea Press's website for the release date!


 All of us at Southern Magic were excited to hear that you recently signed with Astraea Press. Could you tell us a little about the book and when it will be out?
 

Thank you Lisa. Everyone has been very supportive. It's a supernatural mystery thriller with a romance subplot set in present day Thibodaux, Louisiana. Our heroine Christine Albright has been hiding a dark secret from her past, being possessed by a demon. When her new lover, Johnathan Thibodaux, is stricken with a oppressive illness Christine must confront the demon or lose the love of her life.

Is MIRRORED the first book you wrote?

No, the first book I wrote eight years ago was a short spiritual autobiography. My membership in two chapters of Romance Writers of America has helped me grow as a writer.


Tell us a little about your querying process. Did you send out many queries before MIRRORED landed? Did you focus mostly on agents or editors?

Once I developed my voice and genre, I wrote MIRRORED. I immediately attended every venue that would allow me to pitch. Not stopping there, I sent out queries to both agents and editors who were looking for my genre and willing to accept new clients by e-mail. An average of three to six queries were sent out each month. My twenty first query was the winner.

So what's next for you? Will MIRRORED have a sequel? Or are you working on other projects?

MIRRORED is the first in a three part series. On my forth thru seventh book I will have a main character from the first book do a spinoff set in Baton Rouge, LA.

MIRRORED The Trailer - FREDERICK J ARCENEAUX

Congratulations on the book deal! We'll all be looking forward to seeing you in print.

Fred will be one of the authors attending Southern Magic's 2011 Readers' Luncheon-- and get this--he's donating two free tickets to the 2012 luncheon for two lucky attendees!  Be sure to get your tickets before the price goes up in October.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Some Inspirational Words

Good writing evokes sensation - not the fact that it's raining, but the feel of being rained upon. - E.L. Doctorow

All good writing is swimming underwater and holding your breath. - F. Scott Fitzgerald / Or doing a cliff dive!

Write like you're in love. Edit like you're in charge.

If you want to write you have to be willing to be disturbed. Kate Green

Don't concentrate so hard on your vision that you lose your sight. Stay tuned to unanticipated sparks.

Thanks to James Scott Bell for his encouraging Tweets!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Keep It Up

Shame on you if you think I was talking about ... well, you know. Instead, I'm talking about pacing. First, let’s look at what the Oxford University Press Dictionary tells us about pace/pacing.

pace: noun 1. speed or rate of motion, development, or change. verb 5 move or develop (something) at a particular rate or speed.
Of course, you’re thinking, “Say what?” Let me say I found that most writers agreed pacing is tied with how much backstory, dialogue, and action you include in your story.

So to slow down a story: include backstory, narrative, introspection, and long, complicated sentences. To speed it up: add dialogue (no boring greetings or exchanged pleasantries), action, plot or subplot turn points, short sentences and paragraphs.

Do remember that too much of one or the other can be boring or too intense. You can imagine if we read several paragraphs of introspection, such as how pretty the sunset is over the Pacific, we would lose interest. Or if we read scene after scene of car chases, foot chases, boat chases ... we would be panting from exhaustion. How believable could it be for the hero or heroine to never rest? Not counting that your reader would need a rest too.

Pacing can set moods. A few years ago, I read that the best way to make a scene more frightening was to have the scene before it to be mellow and slow such as a romantic moment.

Imagine that you’re reading a scene where the hero is holding the heroine in his strong arms and whispering in her ear. He tells her that he loves her and wants to live happily ever after with her. Then in the next paragraph someone crashes through the door and attacks the hero. I certainly would want to scream right along with the heroine who’s scrambling for a gun (well, my heroines do that). And I've seen something like that in movies. Think Desperado's scene where Antonio's character is in bed with Salma's and she's playing the guitar and then the men break into the room. The scene becomes more than another shoot'em up.

Here is a good link to check out more about pacing.  

What tricks do you use to keep the pace in your book going the right speed?

I looked for the scene, but couldn't find it by itself. But a small clip shows up in the trailer. Besides, any excuse to look at Antonio.  With Salma in it, even gives something for the fellows to look at.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Where were you when the world stopped turning?

Ten years ago today, nineteen terrorists killed 3,049 people in New York City, Washington D.C. and Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

It unfolded on live television, watched by hundreds of millions of Americans (and, indeed, people across the globe) cementing in the minds of the viewers the tangled, confusion, horrifying and, yes, even uplifting moments of that day.

I can't remember what I had for lunch yesterday, but I can remember where I was and what I was doing that morning. I was getting ready for work, watching Fox & Friends on the Fox News Channel.

At first, the thought was that a small plane had hit the North Tower. That was still my thought when John Scott, the Fox News commentator, said something like, "This has to be terrorism."

I remember thinking, no, it doesn't. It could just be an accident.

I left for work. By the time I got in my car, a plane had hit the South Tower as well. I apologized silently to John Scott and drove to work listening to the radio, my heart in my throat.

Twenty-five minutes later, I got to work and turned on the television that we never, ever turned on. (It was there to watch VHS tapes, back before everyone started putting videos on DVD).
We gathered in the conference room and watched the horrors one by one. The plane crashing into the Pentagon. The South Tower collapse. Then the North. Then we hear word that a fourth plane has crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

It was only later that we began hearing the small tragedies—and acts of heroism. Tragic farewells and self-sacrificial moments of great courage. I remember thinking, and have heard many times since, that the actions of the passengers of United Air Flight 93, in forcing down their plane rather than allow it to be used as a missile to kill more of their fellow Americans, was the first American victory in the war on terrorism.

As we commemorate the day in our own ways, I ask you the question that country music star Alan Jackson asked in his poignant, plainspoken song written in tribute to the losses and triumphs of that day: where were you when the world stopped turning?

Image shown: Ghosts of Manhattan, digital art I created shortly after the events of 9/11/01.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Snooty Toots and Catty Pants

I’ve been reading romance since the age of thirteen, when I discovered Georgette Heyer. From there, I moved on to Kathleen Woodiwiss, Rosemary Rogers and Johanna Lindsey, authors whose writing was a little more . . . shall we say, warm. They had SEX in them; actual hotty totty he-ing and she-ing and I LOVED them!

In my twenties, when I was a sparkly new lawyer, I will admit to being a little embarrassed at reading ‘that trash,’ as some people called it. Some part of me whispered that I ought to be reading something more intellectual, something more literary. Your mother’s an English teacher, for God’s sake, my inner nag would scold.

I shoved a hanky in her mouth and kept reading romance.

Thanks to a certain mischievous male colleague, I used to hide my romance novels in my desk. If I forgot and left them lying around, he would snatch up whatever book I was enjoying at the moment, and give a dramatic reading. To embarrass me, of course.

I cured him of that nasty, little habit by planting a Shannon McKenna book in my office. You should have seen his face when he opened up THAT one and launched into his usual theatrical recitation. My friend is a trifle staid, and Ms. McKenna’s works are closer to lava hot than ‘warm.’ Lots of ‘c’ words and damp,moving parts and . . . well, you get the picture.

But, by the time I was in my thirties, I figured, to heck with it. I like reading romances. This is who I am. Call me a mental midget or a silly romantic or sexually deprived. Whatever. I love romance, so booyah.

So, it was something of a surprise when I smacked headlong into the same old prejudice against romance and romance writers when I was recently invited to speak to a local book club. The meeting was held at a member’s home and there were 15 to 20 women present. Most of them I knew; some I didn’t.

When I arrived, the hostess ushered me onto a porch where a group of women were drinking festive beverages. No one offered me anything to drink, so I eventually helped myself to a glass of wine from the table. We had dinner, and then I spoke. It was an informal gathering and very off the cuff. Now, I love to talk about writing, so it was no strain on me to run on for an hour about my favorite subject. A number of people asked questions and the time quickly passed. At the end of the meeting, everyone got up and left without a word.

I departed with an uneasy feeling in my stomach. While I hadn't expected to be greeted with a great deal of fanfare, folks had acted a little odd and standoffish. Had I talked too much? Too little? Were they bored? As I drove home and thought back over the evening, it hit me. I’d been dissed. Big time.

Oh, it wasn’t anything overt. Heavens, no! Outright rude to someone? Perish the thought! These are Southern ladies we’re talking about here. It was a subtle thing, a pervasive atmosphere in the room, a curl of the lip, a blank expression, a general lack of enthusiasm.

"Well, this is the first book like THIS I’ve ever read . . . I read historical fiction, you see. Not historical ROMANCE. Oh, my, my, NO. I like to LEARN something when I read. But, . . ."

"I must say, your book is remarkably free of typos . . ."

"You’re a good writer. Why do you write THIS?"

And the piece de resistance, from my across-the-street neighbor, a seventy-year-old widow with a cultured drawl you could cut with a knife:

"Ah’ll say one thang for you, you sho’ do know mo-ah about sex than Ah do . . ."

Really? Really, Miz Sophy? You were married 45 years and have two grown children. The sex in my books is pretty straight forward: insert tab B into slot A and proceed until the denouement. What the heck do you think I do over there at my house, anyway? Dress up in a bunny suit and roll my husband around the yard in a wheel barrel and have hot monkey sex under the dogwood? Lord.

It’s called imagination. Fantasy. Escapism. Having a good time with a story about love and happily ever after.

I am from a small town in South Alabama with one gas station and a blinking light. I am NOT the Happy Hooker. I’m sure my poor husband wishes I were, but I wouldn’t even know where to begin.

And, while I do own a wheel barrel, the tire is flat and I’m fresh out of bunny suits.

In short, I was the turd in their bucket of literary buttermilk. They tolerated me because I’m a local author in a town so small you can fold it up and put it in your back pocket. I’d been published, which must be a kind of big deal, right? But, having determined that I write romance—ew, icky icky ninny poo—they dismissed me. After all, anybody can write that stuff.

In Southern terms, I got a big old 'bless your heart.'

What about you? Have you encountered prejudice against the romance genre, either as a reader or a writer?

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Derailment


It’s Labor Day as I write this. My weather radio has just screamed out a tornado warning and, for the fourth time, I had to cut power to my computer and head downstairs. I sat for a half-hour, impatiently watching it rain, and then returned to my desk to work until the next alarm. 

I resent the storms’ disruption of my work, but it's only when I click on my iTunes playlist containing ten (!) different versions of Pachelbel’s Canon—my ultimate “go to” music when I’m stressed and sleep-deprived—that I finally realize how ridiculous it is to let a thunderstorm's delay get me out of sorts. Something’s gotta give.

I stand at the junction of a bunch of train tracks with several engines barreling toward me at top speed. The carnage will be ugly, and yet I can’t compel myself to pull the levers that will shift the tracks and avoid an epic derailment.

Since I realize I have to scale back, like any good obsessive-compulsive type who plots her novels with meticulous precision, I make a list of my ongoing commitments and their deadlines. What brings in money, and what doesn’t? What has tangible marketing benefits, and what doesn’t? What am I morally, if not contractually, obligated to continue? What do I enjoy, and what is a time-suck? What am I hanging onto out of sheer Scots-Irish stubbornness?

What can I get rid of that will free up time to, oh, I don’t know, write this new freakin’ book that’s due to my publisher on March 1? The one I haven’t started? That one.

Here’s the problem. I don’t want to let anything go. Every blog commitment, every book review, every volunteer op, every freelance gig—I love each and every one. I feel blessed to have the opportunities to do so many cool things. I mean, how many people get paid to read Stephen King’s Dark Tower series over a two-year period and blog about it—how awesomely fun is that? How could I turn down the chance to copyedit paranormal romance novels for a new publisher, to watch these wonderful stories take shape and know I had a small part in it? How can I scale back on the book blog I’ve spent so much time and developing over the past year?

And yet there’s the new book. The deadline. The day job that, as much as I’d like to step away from it, is the least expendable of all (unless, of course, I want to write my next book on the back of a piece of cardboard while sitting in my new home under the I-85 overpass).

My first three books were written in a haze of innocence, for the fun of it, for the love of it. I wrote the first one to get rid of some residual Hurricane Katrina post-traumatic stress. I wrote the second because the first had been so much fun. The third? Well, it’s my problem child, and we won’t talk about it. I’ve locked it in the attic to deal with later, like the eccentric aunt the family wants no one to know about.

Now, suddenly, here’s number four. And for the first time, I have a deadline.

Here I am, metaphorical hat in hand, looking for ideas. How do you balance? How do you decide what to let go of, when you want to selfishly keep it all?  What criteria do you use to decide what to take off your overloaded plate when you're hungry for every experience?

Monday, September 05, 2011

Suffer in Silence or Wail at the Wall?

I recently read something that made me stop and think about suffering. Should we suffer in silence? Expect others to suffer in silence? Is it okay to wail at the wall? Is suffering truly optional? 

I pondered this question from my spiritual background which is Christian. However, I believe all religions carry a story that speaks to their believers about ultimate sacrifice and suffering. I welcome hearing and learning those stories. They enrich me. If you have a faith story that is different from mine, please do share it with me today.

Now back to my faith story. Biblically, Jesus asked God to take the weight of his known future suffering from him, then he said, "Not my will, but yours." He would suffer for God. For us. So He had to accept the suffering. Not by his will, but by God's. 

Now I am not a theology student. I know there are way more complicated layers to this whole God incarnate who came to earth to be human and suffer and die for us. God did ultimately choose to suffer for humanity. But there is another lesson here. That lesson of struggling with the pain one knows will come with the suffering. Crying out. Wailing. Praying for the burden to be lifted. 

This conclusion got me to thinking even more about what happened in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus prayed for the strength to get through this time. According to the scripture, he sweated literal blood that night. In showing us His struggle, I was taught a valuable lesson. I was taught that it's okay to cry, to fight the pain, to yell, to beg for another way, to express my fear, to express my doubts, to express my sorrow. 

Denying the struggle, denying the fear, denying the future suffering is not the same as being unwilling to suffer with grace, dignity, and strength. So when someone suffers, what am I supposed to do? What is the lesson I have learned from my personal spiritual story?

I have learned that when someone suffers, when they first are filled with fear, anger, frustration, doubt, suspicion, pain that I need to acknowledge those emotions. I need to do more than sympathize, I need to reach out and say it's okay to feel all the emotions and express them. It's okay to be sad, mad, angry, hurt. 

It is my duty to listen. Just listen. If in my listening my tears join the chorus, so be it. Or maybe my shared anger. I don't have to do or say anything other than mirror that person's emotional story and recognize the cloud creating a dark shadow over that person's life.

The capacity to give one's attention to a sufferer is a very rare and difficult thing; it is almost a miracle; it is a miracle. -- Simone Weil

To give one's attention is a rare and difficult thing. Wait before the words of comfort appear on your tongue. Wait to speak. Give attention. Full attention. It's not easy. Can't say I always succeed. But I try. I really try.

Then, after I've given full attention to the sufferer, only then can I say, "Look away from the shadow casting pain and suffering in your life. Look up to the sky and see that cloud. Look behind it. There is a silver lining. There is a blessing tucked in the shadows of the cloud."

Now we can smile, we can look for the bright spot, and we can see the rainbow together. Now the suffering is lessoned by the hope, the joy, the memories, the comforting deeds and words we share. Then we suffer with grace, dignity and strength. Then we are able to show that we are made better by the pain that is shaping our lives. 

It is highly significant, and indeed almost a rule, that moral courage has its source in identification through one's own sensitivity with the suffering of one's fellow human beings. --Rollo May

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Creating Believable Magician Characters


Today I've the pleasure of bringing you a guest post from author and instructor Rayne Hall. Rayne writes dark fantasy and horror, and has published more than 20 books under various pen names in different genres. Her stories have earned Honorable Mentions in The Years’ Best Fantasy and Horror. I was fortunate enough to be part of her Writing Fight Scenes workshop and loved it. She's a fab teacher. So when I heard she was open to guest blogging, I knew I had to bring her to Romance Magicians.

Creating Believable Magician Characters by Rayne Hall

Does your story have a magician - a shaman, a sorcerer, a necromancer, a ritual wizard, a theurgist, a miracle worker or a witch? The traits which make them effective magicians shape their personality. Here are ten tips for their characterisation. Your magician should have most - not necessarily all - of these character traits.

Although I'm using the female pronoun for this article, everything applies regardless of gender.

1. Intelligent

Magic requires a sharp intellect, critical thinking, critical analysis, the ability to make difficult decisions, and a good memory.

2. Creative

Magicians need to adapt existing spells and rituals to new situations.

3. Self-disciplined and focused

A magician needs to be able to concentrate and shut out distractions, even under difficult circumstances. A good magician possesses enormous self-control and is able to resist temptations. She is probably the kind of person who can stick with a diet and never goofs off to play computer games until the current job is done.

4. Patient

The study of magic requires endless practice and repeats, most of them boring, so impatient people drop out of the training before they achieve much. A good magician can spend hours sitting still, watching a candle flame or listening to the sound of the wind in the trees if that's what the spell requires.

5. Highly trained

Mere talent is not enough. Magic requires intense, prolonged study and practice. If she's a powerful magician, she has probably studied magic for many years.

6. Specialist

She is probably highly skilled in one particular area such as improving livestock, changing the weather, building wealth, protection, or healing.

7. Musical

Many forms of magic involve drumming or chanting; it helps if she has an ear for tunes and a strong sense of rhythm.

8. Spiritual

Most forms of magic are linked with religious practice. Your magician may be devoutly religious and begin every ritual with a prayer. Even if she's an atheist, she probably engages in spiritual practices such as meditation.

9. Studious

Magicians are always keen to learn more - expanding their own skills range, acquiring new spells, understanding other forms of magic, exploring natural and philosophical subjects. Whenever she can, she seeks instruction in some subject or other. She can often be found with her head in a book, and if your story is set in a pre-literate period, she listens avidly to bards and storytellers.

10. Well-organised and methodical

The best magicians always have information and ingredients at hand and know where to find them, and they have their equipment assembled before they begin the ritual. They keep careful records of the ingredients and exact wording used in every spell, and they measure the results.

11. Introvert

Most magicians like quietude and solitude. Given the choice, your magician probably prefers spending time alone in nature over partying with noisy crowds. After a night in close company with many people, she needs a day alone in nature to recharge her energies. She may even be a loner.

12. Ethics

Magic gives a person enormous power, and requires moral judgement to apply this power wisely and for the good. All magicians have ethic codes of conduct, and they take them seriously. These may be based on their religion, the principles of their form of magic, the rules of their coven, or their individual conscience. Modern magicians often follow the principles 'Harm none' and 'Don't interfere with someone's free will'. Some consider it wrong to accept money for magic. In other cultures and periods, other rules applied. If writing about a fantasy world, you can invent rules. You can create powerful conflicts if your magician's goal conflicts with her ethics. Perhaps the only way to help her child/rescue her lover/save the world is to do something against her conscience and against her magic's rules. Even the villain of your story, the evil sorcerer, abides by strict ethical rules. You can have fun inventing them, for example 'Be kind to animals' (hurting humans is ok), 'Never harm a minor' (wait until they're eighteen), 'Never sacrifice a virgin girl' (deprive her of her virginity first).

13. Sharp senses

Your magician probably has keen eyesight and good ears, and her senses of smell, touch and taste are more refined than those of most people. This natural ability has probably been refined over years of practice. Now she can recognise barks by how they feel in the hand, and identify crumbs of dried herbs by their smell.

14. Descended from magicians

Magical talent is often, though not always, genetically inherited. Perhaps her parents and siblings are also magicians, or perhaps her revered great-grandmother was a famous witch.

15. Psychic

Although magical and psychic gifts are separate matters, many magicians have a some psychic abilities as well.

16. Day Job

Few magicians can make a living from their magic. Most have day-jobs. Surprisingly many modern magicians work in the healing arts: nurses, doctors, aromatherapists, complementary medicine practitioners, massage therapists. Others are employed in scientific or engineering fields (using their analytical minds) or they work the arts (using their creativity).

All magicians are different. You can choose which of those traits suit your magician's character profile and your story's plot.

If you have questions creating magician characters, if you want feedback for an idea, or if you need help with an aspect of magic in your WiP, please ask. I'll be around for a week and will answer questions.



Rayne Hall teaches an online workshop 'Writing about Magic and Magicians'. Create believable magicians (good and evil), fictional spells which work, and plot complications when the magic goes wrong. Learn about high and low magic, witches and wizards, circle-casting and power-raising, initiation and training, tools and costumes, science and religion, conflicts and secrecy, love spells and sex magic, and apply them to your novel. This is a 4-week class with 12 lessons and practical assignments. If you wish, you may submit a scene for critique at the end of the workshop.
The next dates for this workshop are:

October 2011: Celtic Hearts RWA
March 2012: Lowcountry RWA
April 2013: Fantasy, Futuristic & Paranormal

Rayne's other workshops include 'Writing Fight Scenes', 'Writing Scary Scenes' and 'The Low Word Diet'. For an updated listed of her upcoming workshops, go to Rayne Hall's Workshops