Redeemable vs Non-redeemable Villains

© Can Stock Photo / hjalmeida

I enjoy streaming a syndicated radio talk show called, Ground Zero with Clyde Lewis. The show has interesting, offbeat topics. Listening helps me unwind at the end of a busy workday. The other night Clyde talked about the latest Godzilla movie. He described how the title character has evolved from an evil beast to a defender of the planet. That’s quite a leap indeed, and it was a fascinating discussion.

(To hear a podcast please click on the link above.) 

While I don’t write science fiction or horror myself, those genres do allow more leeway for using symbolism for political undertones. This may be the case with Godzilla. However, there are certain unwritten rules that fiction authors must follow because it’s what readers expect. High on the list is that good always triumphs over evil.

Fiction plotlines, regardless of genre, are conflict driven. The antagonist creates the conflict when he or she interferes with the protagonist. The antagonist is there to block whatever goal the protagonist is trying to achieve. This is why most antagonists are villains. And the more devious and evil the villain, the more drama and intensity to the story.

In real life, however, people can and do make poor choices. Some learn from their mistakes. In fiction, they would be redeemable characters. For example, Josh, from my most recent Marina Martindale novel, The Letter, is a con artist. He’s working a Ponzi scheme with two unseen characters. However, as the character took shape I noticed he had some redeeming qualities. So, I did a rewrite and made him into a redeemable villain. I don’t want to spoil the plot, so I’ll sum it up and say that things aren’t always as they appear.

Most of my villians, however, are unrepentant. Some, like Maggie in The Deception, remain defiant, even while they’re carted off to prison. Most however, are their own undoing. They police shoot them, or they’re killed in accidents while trying to escape. They’re the unredeemable villains. The Godzillas, who have to have their comeuppance, otherwise readers won’t accept it. After all, karma’s a bitch. Not only in fiction, but in real life as well.


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Let’s Just Say No to Sensitivity Readers

and Other Forms of Censorship

© Can Stock Photo / alexandrum

I’ve been hearing a lot lately about a disturbing new trend. Particularly in traditional publishing. The use of so-called, sensitivity readers to censor the author’s work. Their job is to ferret out any so-called trigger words from the authors’ manuscripts.

Here in the United States, our constitution guarantees our right to freedom of speech and freedom of expression. This would include artistic expression. Our constitution was never intended to protect anyone from being offended. In fact, it’s opposite. It insures our freedom to debate opposing points of view.

What is and isn’t offensive is oftentimes subjective. Let’s say, for example, that I write a scene in my book where two of my characters enjoy a burger together. If a vegan reads this, he or she might be offended. A chef, however, can read the very same scene and be inspired to create a gourmet burger for two.

I’m a woman who writes romance novels. Therefore, I’ll include male characters. And even though I’ve never been a man, I write in the third person narrative. This means some of my chapters will be written from a male character’s point of view. I’m not trying to make a political statement. I’m simply trying to tell a good story. However, to the so-called, sensitivity expert, I could be stereotyping men. And because I’m allegedly stereotyping men, I’m no longer allowed to write anything from a male point of view. This tramples on my right to freely express myself as an artist

Sensitivity is the new, politically correct word for CENSORSHIP. And as a writer and and artist, censorship goes against everything I believe in. Well guess what? I’m a U.S. citizen, and I have a Constitutional right to freedom of speech and freedom of expression. Therefore, I will continue to write the stories I wish to write. And if the sensitivity thought police don’t like it then they can go straight to Hell. 

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The Problem with First Person Narratives

Graphic by Gayle Martin.

As fiction writers, we have two ways to present our story; a first or a third person narrative. This time, however, I’m going to speak as a fiction reader, and not an author.

As a reader, I simply hate the first person narrative. To me, it’s the narcissistic narrative. It’s all, me, me, me, I, I, I, me, me, me, I, I, I. That gets really old, really quick. However, I still get it. The author wants me to have a more intimate relationship with the lead character. But not only does the narcissistic tone turn me off, I also want to know what other characters, particularly the antagonists, are up to.

I love reading fiction written in the third person narrative. To me, and no doubt to many others, reading a novel is, essentially, watching a movie in my head. I want to see the bad guys cooking up their evil schemes. I want to be with them when they do their dastardly deeds. And, I want to experience that moment of shock and surprise when the protagonist gets caught their trap. Likewise, I want to experience the protagonist’s feeling of triumph when the bad guys get their comeuppance. This is why, as a reader, I only read third person narratives. I get to see multiple points of view, and I get to see scene changes with different characters, just like they do in the movies.

I realize this is a personal take, and that other readers may like the first person narrative. To each their own. However, I personally don’t care for it, which is why I always write my own stories in a third person narrative.

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Why I Don’t Recommend Using the F-bomb

I recall once looking at a sample chapter from another author’s novel, and there, in the second sentence of the opening narrative, was the dreaded, F-bomb. That was it. I was done. The book may have had an intriguing title, but once I saw that expletive I was immediately turned off. I had no reason to read any further.

I’m not saying I’m a total prude. And, for some genres, this kind of language may be both suitable and expected. However, it’s not appropriate for my work. I write contemporary sensual romance. In my genre there simply is no reason for profanity, and most romance authors don’t use it. To me, profanity, especially when used in the narrative, a sign of a lazy, sloppy writer. A rank amateur. A good storyteller doesn’t need to use profanity. Plain and simple.

What about the dialog?

There will be times when an, “Oh my goodness gracious me,” simply won’t cut it. That’s when I’ll use an occasional damn or hell, or similar verbiage. However, I never use the F-bomb, or any other vulgar synonym for human genitalia. And the keyword here is occasional. As in infrequently. My characters aren’t potty mouths. Even my villains have more class than that.

Sometimes there will be an occasion when a stronger word may be expected. For example, I had once had a scene where one of my characters had just found out that her husband had been kidnapped. She’s understandably upset, and her response is, “What the —?” Another character interrupted her before she could complete her sentence. Some readers may have interpreted it as, “What the hell?” Perfectly appropriate for the circumstances. Other readers, however, may have interpreted it differently and assumed she was about to say an entirely different word. Either way, I left it up to the reader to decide.

Sure, it may be the 21st century, but there are still plenty of people out there who find profanity, particularly the F-bomb, offensive. So why risk alienating potential readers who would have otherwise loved your book?


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Outline or Treatment?

© Can Stock Photo / katielittle25

It can be a perplexing question for authors, particularly newbies. Do you write an outline, or a treatment, before you begin your book? Or do you just sit down and start writing?

Outlines are recommended for nonfiction books. They can be more precise. However, this blog is for fiction writers, so I’m going to talk about what is the best approach for us. And that is to write a treatment.

A treatment is a short summary of what your story will be about. The amount of detail you wish to include is entirely up to you. Some fiction authors may choose to write treatments summarizing each chapter. Others simply write a brief one or two paragraph description. It’s all a matter of personal preference. We’re creative writers, not technical writers, and the keyword is creative. For us, writing is an art, not a science.


My treatments tend to be short; no more than one to one and a half pages. My objective is how I will begin my story, and how I will end it. I used to fret over what to include in the middle. However, experience has taught me to keep it brief. The details will come after I begin writing. In other words, my treatment is my launching point.


Some fiction writers write bios for their characters, and that’s certainly okay. However, I don’t do it myself. My characters come to life rather quickly, and once that happens they have minds of their own. (This may sound freaky to non writers, but every fiction writer experiences this.)

Some authors like to refer back to their treatments as they write. And that’s perfectly okay. I prefer to put my treatment aside once I begin my story. As your characters come to life you may want to go in a different direction than you originally planned. Other ideas may come to you as you delve deeper into your story. Again that’s okay. We’re creative writers. This is how creativity works. 

Once my manuscript is complete I like to go back and look at my treatment. My books never end up as described in the original treatment. They always turn out better. That’s because I let my creativity flow as I write, and many new ideas will pop into my head as I go. My favorite example would be my first Marina Martindale novel, The Reunion.

One of my supporting characters, a young man named, Jeremy, was intended to be a rogue character. He would do his dirty deed and quickly disappear from the story. However, Jeremy was also leading man Ian’s son. And as I got into the story, I soon realized that Ian would never have a son like that. So, Jeremy went from rogue villain to a rival, competing with his father to win leading lady Gillian’s affections. This made for a completely unexpected twist in the story that resonated with me, and my readers. 


As I’ve evolved as a writer, my treatments have also evolved. They’ve become less detailed and more generalized. But, as I’ve stated before, how you choose to write your treatment is entirely up to you. As far as I’m concerned, there is no right or wrong way to go about it. 


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How to Write a Spicy Love Scene

As I enjoyed my morning coffee I came across something hilarious on Facebook. A BuzzFeed article featuring snippets of so-called love scenes from male romance authors. Some men write romance and do it well. Then there are others who, frankly, have no business picking up a pen. Their work was nothing but poor syntax and descriptions that went way beyond any sense of believability. It resulted in some of the funniest stuff I’ve read in years. Unfortunately, I don’t think writing comedy was their intention. 


So, how you do write a spicy scene that won’t make your readers burst out laughing? Just like with any other writing, it’s all about the proper technique. In one of my other blogs, Marina Martindale’s Musings, I wrote an article called, Sweet, Sensual or Erotic Romance?  It discusses the different romance subgenres. I write sensual romance, which is probably the most common. However, the advice I’m giving would also apply to writing erotica.

Have a basic understanding of anatomy and physiology.


Human beings come in two body types with two distinct sets of equipment. This equipment only functions in certain ways. When in doubt there are plenty of medical websites out there where you can get more information.

Handle euphemisms with care.


While you can call body parts by name in erotica, they may be too graphic or harsh for sensual romance. Euphemisms can be substituted, but be careful. Certain words, such as manhood, tend to be overused. Others, such as butterfly, can be downright corny. If you’re new to this kind of writing I would recommend reading some erotica from established authors, such as Anais Nin. 

Use proper grammar, syntax and punctuation


Nothing screams amatuer louder than poor writing. No matter the genre, if your story is poorly written it won’t be read. This is why even the most well known authors use editors and proofreaders. 


So, if you’re ready for a good belly laugh, I’ve posted a link to the article below. Be sure to put your coffee down first as an unexpected burst of laughter while you’re swallowing may result in the coffee coming out of your nose and splattering your computer screen. 


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And here’s the article. 
I’m So Sorry, But Here’s How Some Male Authors For Really Real Described Women In Books

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Storytelling 101

Fundamental Plot Development

Graphic by Gayle Martin

All stories, whether it’s a short story or Anna Karenina, revolve around conflict and basic plot structure. I call it, The Four “Cs” of Writing. Other writers may call it something different. It’s the formula I use with every story I write, and it works each and every time.

The four C’s of writing

  • Characters
  • Conflict 
  • Climax
  • Conclusion

Characters

Who is your story about? Without characters there is no story to tell. I begin my stories with my lead protagonist(s). However, I don’t consider this a hard and fast rule. Depending on your genre, you may wish to begin your story with a minor character or even your antagonist. Whichever way you go, the plot revolves around the characters and what they do.

Conflict


The meat and bones of the story. It’s all about the conflict because conflict creates the drama. Imagine a story about a happy couple who never argue or disagree. Nothing bad ever happens to them. They live a long, happy, charmed life where nothing ever goes wrong. The end. Now let’s take that same couple. He tells her he has to work late that night, but he arrives home in the wee hours of the morning. She can smell another woman’s perfume on his clothing. She sees lipstick on his collar. Guess what’s coming next?So, which story would make the most compelling reading? Plotlines revolve around conflict, and how the characters react to it.

Climax


The high point of the story. The punch line. They argue. She grabs a lamp off the nightstand and coldcocks him over the head. He falls to the floor, unconscious and bleeding. Meanwhile the neighbors heard them fighting and called the cops. The cops soon arrive and bust down the door. He’s lying dead on the floor while his blood, and her fingerprints, are all over the lamp. 

Conclusion


The loose ends are tied up and you end the story. She’s hauled off to jail, goes on trial, and is convicted. Since I write stand alone novels I resolve the entire conflict and leave my readers with a definitive, satisfying ending. Once again, this isn’t a hard and fast rule. Some authors prefer a more ambiguous ending. They may leave the readers with a hung jury. And if you’re writing a series you’ll certainly want to leave something unresolved to continue in the next book.


And there you have it. The four basic components of plot development and storytelling. 

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Knowing When to Quit, Part Two


© CanStockPhoto/rustyphil

In my earlier post, Knowing When to Quit, Part One, I talked about redundancy. This time I’ll discuss another way to overwork a story. Creating over the top scenarios or plot lines which don’t connect well with the earlier story. This can be especially problematic when you’re writing a series. There simply comes a point when your story, even if it’s a series, has to end. Otherwise it may become absurd or even bizarre.


I’ll use an example familiar to most of us. Star Trek.


I grew up watching the original Star Trek. The characters, human and alien, were compelling and believable; so much so that they became iconic. However, by the third season, the writers seemed to be running out of ideas. The ridiculous storylines in some of the episodes hurt the integrity of the series. NBC then cancelled the show. After that it went into syndication where its following grew.

The movies started ten years later. The original characters were back. However, they were older and they’d changed over time. This kept them interesting. The final original cast film, Star Trek The Undiscovered Country, completed their storyline with a well thought out ending. In the meantime, three new television series, Star Trek the Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager, created a plethora of interesting new characters with plenty of potential for exciting new stories. They were followed by a series of movies featuring the Next Generation cast.


Sadly, it was all lost for me with Star Trek Enterprise, and the current movie series. Enterprise, the fifth TV serieswas a prequel. And prequels, regardless of the genre, can be problematic. To me, it was lackluster, and I soon lost interest. The new movies, also prequels, featured younger versions of the original characters. They too were disappointing. The stories take place in a parallel universe, so all the interesting back-stories established in the original series were gone. I found it way too confusing, and it certainly wasn’t the Star Trek I’d known and loved for decades. 


This is what happens when you run out of ideas. You lose the integrity of your story, and you risk losing your following. As storytellers, the two hardest words for us to write  are, “The End,” but write them we must, as all stories must end. Otherwise, in the words on my college painting professor, you really do turn your work into mud.


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How to Create an Interesting Villain

© Can Stock Photo / Ostill

It seems like I spend so much time thinking about the good guys that I forget the bad guy needs love too. Plot lines revolve around conflict. So, there must be a source behind that conflict. And that would be the antagonist. More commonly known as the villain.


There are different approaches to creating a villain. One is to have him or her truly evil and completely irredeemable. Think Count Dracula. Your readers will hate him and root for the good guys to wipe him out. This is the villain you can kill off at the end of the story, and leave your readers feeling relieved and satisfied.


A more interesting approach is to create a conflicted villain. Instead of Count Dracula, you have Barnabas Collins, the reluctant vampire from Dark Shadows. Barnabas had been a good guy until a witch placed a vampire curse him. This leaves him despising what he’s become. I think of Barnabas as a “hero-villain.” He’s an antagonist we can root for. We want to see him cured of his affliction and end up with the girl. In the interim, however, he’ll wreak plenty of havoc.


Some storytellers like to take chances and have their hero go bad. Interesting approach, but it can be tricky. If you’re going to attempt it, your character will need plenty of redeeming qualities. If not, your readers won’t make a connection, and they won’t root for him or her. By the end of the story he or she will have to renounce all the bad things they did earlier. They must also be willing to make up for the sins of the past. If not, your readers won’t be satisfied with the ending, assuming they stayed with your story until the end.


Another way to conclude your story would be to end a tragedy with a tragedy. This works well when your villain has done things that simply can’t be walked away from. At the end of the original Star Wars saga, Darth Vader renounces the emperor and turns away from the dark side of the force. He has to sacrifice his own life in order to save Luke. This made a dramatic, and satisfying, end of the conflict.


So there you have it. With a little imagination, and a few character quirks, you can create interesting and memorable villains who’ll keep your readers engaged. And that’s what good storytelling is all about.

GM

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How to Write a Good Description of Your Novel

From time to time I get emails from other authors announcing their latest book, This included one from someone who’s been writing novels longer than I have. It had the usual announcement, along with the book cover and a description. The description, however, was problematic, to say the least. It was at least five hundred words, if not more. And it described the entire plot. Once I finished reading it I had no incentive to buy the book. I knew the story from start to finish.


One of my mentors taught me to write descriptions of ten to one hundred words, and nothing longer. Over time I’ve discovered that a fifty to one hundred word description works nicely. I also write teasers, not plot summaries. The whole idea of a book description is to give a potential reader a general idea of what the story is about. It should also entice them to read more. In other words, it’s ad copy


I’ve pasted the descriptions for my Marina Martindale novels, The Journey, and The Stalker, as examples of effective teaser descriptions.


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The Journey

Cassie Palmer’s world is shattered when a car crash leaves her hospitalized and fighting for her life. Her husband, Jeremy, begins his own frightening journey when he meets Denise, one of Cassie’s nurses. Denise seems familiar, but while he may no longer remember her, she has neither forgiven nor forgotten how he jilted her, years before. Denise seeks revenge and Jeremy soon vanishes under mysterious circumstances, leaving his grieving wife behind. As Cassie struggles to recover her life will take another strange turn, when an unexpected visitor reveals that things are not as they appear.

The Stalker

Rachel Bennett may have attended her ten-year high school reunion on a whim, but fate intervened once she saw Shane MacLeod. No longer the shy, gawky teenager she remembered, Shane has matured into a handsome and successful man, but her perfect evening ends when another man from her past suddenly reappears. Craig Walker had been her mentor until he became jealous of her talent and success. Now he intends to either have her, or destroy her at all costs. As Rachel’s family pressures her to take Craig to court, she can no longer ignore her nagging feeling that a tragedy is about to strike.

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