Building Characters, One Verb at a Time

Sometimes it’s hard to see the forest for the trees…

Last October I heard Damon Suede speak at the Emerald City Writers Conference. He’s a terrific speaker who wraps a lifetime of knowledge and experience in an entertaining – like, LOL funny – presentation.

Damon could explain this a lot better than I will, but the basic premise to his master class was this: a reader gets to know a character by the character’s actions. Period. And those actions make it on the page in the form of verbs. So, rather than spend hours developing a detailed character biography, pick a handful of verbs and a few adjectives and make that the template your character grows from.

(If you’re curious, you can read about his approach in Verbalize: Bring stories to life and life to stories.)

And you know what? It works!

I recently wrote a holiday novella, the first piece I’d started from scratch since hearing Damon’s presentation. Over the years I’ve done my share of character biography worksheets – the more detailed, the better – but this time I came up with names, chose half a dozen verbs and the same number of adjectives, and wrote simple goal-motivation-conflict statements for each of the two main characters.

Here’s the beginning of my character worksheets for Bo and Jon, the heroes in my holiday novella:

Bo Barone – the crafty one: Adjectives & verbs: bright, shiny, quick, glittering, smiling, laughing, glowing, self-assured, patient, detail-oriented, crafting, inspiring, protecting, intimacy issues, performing, caring

Background: big family, Italian, local Seattle, Midnight Mass at St. James

Jon Cunningham – the artist: Adjectives and Verbs: dark, deep, methodical, dedicated, passionate, reserved, commanding, distancing, consider, create, observe, listen, measure, perform, practice, reflect, teach

Background: Seattle family, missed out on much of high school, studied at Juilliard, Dad had a stroke

Can’t you just picture them? Instead of pages of detail, I had a few lines, yet I felt it took me less time to get a handle on Bo & Jon than just about any of my other characters. I’ll admit things morphed a little during the writing process, particularly in terms of their goals/ motivations/ conflicts, but the characters’ essence, who they were, was pretty solid.

That essence was captured in the verbs and adjectives I chose for them.

Happy Hydrangeas!

Whenever I wasn’t quite sure how a character would respond or what they’d do next, I had my list of verbs and adjectives to guide me. Even though both my heroes changed over the course of the novella – because that’s what the plot is for – still, their core remained constant.

You’ll have a chance to see how well I did, because Dreamspinner offered me a contract for the novella, so A Holiday Homecoming will be released ~ 12/1/19. If you have the change to hear Damon speak, do it. You’ll learn a lot. And the next time you’re stuck with on a character, focus on their verbs and see if it helps.

Hybrid Tea Rose Tequila Sunrise. Cheers, mate!
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Best Reboots

Reboots. Returns. Revivals.

I’ll be honest–these days it sometimes seems like I can’t turn my head without seeing an advertisement for a new reboot or revival of an old franchise. Often, these reboots are of something that played an important role in my childhood or adolescence, and seem cringingly designed to play on my sense of nostalgia. From live-action remakes of Disney movies to newly diverse CW reboots of 90’s television, it can seem like the only new movies and TV shows getting made these days…are old movies and TV shows.

As a writer, this sometimes strikes me as short-sighted. After all, there are so many amazingly talented authors, screenwriters, and playwrights out there writing original, creative, and often groundbreaking content that would be perfect for the big or little screen. But at the same time…sometimes these reboots really nail bringing an old storyline to a new audience. So with no further ado, here are my favorite reboots/revivals/returns from the last few years.

A Star Is Born

I know, I know, me and everyone else in the Academy. For me, though, this was really a high bar as far as comparison goes. I’m a big old movie buff, which means I’ve seen (and enjoyed, in different ways) both the 1937 and 1954 versions by the same name, starring Janet Gaynor and Judy Garland, respectively. (I have not seen the 1976 version with Barbra Streisand). I thought Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga’s rock-opera reimagining of the familiar story was poignant, inventive, and incredibly well acted.

Queer Eye

Full disclosure, I’ve never actually watched an episode of the original early-naughts version of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. However, even without a comparison, I think 2018’s reboot of the franchise is nearly impossible to argue against. The newly minted Fab Five are just about everything this world needs: a group of queer, diverse, empathetic, thoughtful, kind, and playful men who bring joy, change, and self-worth to people’s lives. If anyone who works in TV is reading this…more of this, please!

Mad Max: Fury Road

Mel Gibson, Shmel Gibson. I’d rather partake in this heart-pounding, feminist reimagining of a parched post-apocalyptic world, headed up by a prosthetic-wearing, shaved-head sporting, monster-truck driving Imperator Furiosa (played with aplomb by Charlize Theron). Bonus points: every still this movie looks like it could be a poster.

Roswell, New Mexico

Oh, I had my doubts, not least of all because the original show wasn’t very good (sorry!). But with the 2019 reboot, Liz is a scientist, the daughter of undocumented immigrants, and Max is–well, Max is very attractive. All joking aside, while the reboot is not without flaws, it does a much more thorough job of placing an alien invasion storyline amid the real-world xenophobia of modern America.

Ghostbusters

From the moment they announced an all-female reboot of this beloved classic, I knew I was all in. And I was not disappointed. Featuring some of the funniest ladies in comedy–Kristin Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Melissa McCarthy, and Leslie Jones–and the welcome eye candy of Thor himself (sorry, can’t think of him any other way) this reboot did not disappoint. Ghosts, occultists…I can’t really say more without giving spoilers. Just trust me, hilarity ensues.

And that’s just a few of the reboots/returns/revivals, past and present. What are your faves, or ones you’re looking forward to? Personally, I’m really excited about Disney’s reboot of Mulan, and Amazon’s Lord of the Rings TV series!

How You Can Help Me Make a Dream Come True

Being a writer is full of “dream come true” moments.

Some happen with each book, like typing “the end,” or holding a hard copy in your hands for the first time, or celebrating your publication day.

Some happen more rarely, if at all, at least for most authors. Hitting a bestseller list is one of those, especially for an indie author since we don’t have the distribution power of traditional publishers.

This week I have the chance to make that happen. You see, I have a Bookbub featured deal in the United States today for my Guinevere’s Tale Trilogy. The whole thing (all three books in one volume) are only $0.99 in ebook through July 15. If enough people purchase it by then, I could possibly hit the USA Today bestseller list.

I’m a firm believer that God helps those who help themselves, so I am not being shy in asking for your help. I only ask one thing of you in return for a series that took me 19 years to write: please download The Guinevere’s Tale Trilogy by June 15. Even if you already have one or more of the books in another format, even if you don’t ever intend to read it, please consider spending $0.99 to support my dream.

If you aren’t tied to Amazon for your ebooks, please consider downloading from Barnes and Noble or iTunes (authors have to have a certain number of sales from there to make the list; Amazon alone doesn’t qualify.)

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Tell Me More
What’s the book about? You can read the full description here, but in short, it is the story of King Arthur and Camelot from Guinevere’s point of view—her life story.

  • Book 1, Daughter of Destiny, covers her early life as a priestess of Avalon and her first love during a time she never dreamed of becoming queen, as well as how she met Morgan and Arthur.
  • Book 2, Camelot’s Queen, tells the story we are all familiar with, Guinevere’s time at King Arthur’s side, but it also provides a twist on why she had her famous affair with Lancelot.
  • Book 3, Mistress of Legend, includes the fall of Camelot and Guinevere’s later life as she seeks to reestablish her identity once she is no longer queen and preserve the legacy of her mother’s people from the invading Saxons.

In case you are wondering what others have said about the trilogy, I’ll quote from a few reader reviews. (You can read the trade reviews on the book page.)

“The Guinevere’s Tale Trilogy shows us not a passive woman, but a strong one…This is a must-read for anyone who loves adventure woven with a touch of fantasy.” – K9freind1

“Loved this series! Strong, vibrant characters. The world building is detailed and pulls you right into the story…I’d highly recommend it for a great summer read.” – John

“I didn’t want this story to end!…This book is 100% book of a lifetime to read!” Kristinann

Going Above and Beyond
If you are so inclined, please also share information on the sale on social media. I’ve created a page that has ready-made images (just right-click on them to download) and sample tweets and links to where the book is for sale to make it as easy as possible to share.

What do you get in return? Three books that are my baby. If I could list with this single-volume boxed set, it would be especially meaningful to me because I originally imagined Guinevere’s story as one gigantic volume (ala The Mists of Avalon). While I certainly don’t mind it being broken up into a trilogy, I love that I can offer it the way I envisioned it as well.

If you’ve already helped my dreams come true by buying, THANK YOU. If you have time to leave a review, that is always appreciated and may encourage others to buy. Here’s the link to review on Amazon.

Thank You
Thank you for any help you can give. Know that your support makes you agents of fate in my life. Let me know how/when I can return the favor for you. 

In the meantime, if you need me, I’m going to be fighting the temptation to look at my Amazon rankings every five minutes…I’ll let you know in a few weeks if we were successful in hitting the list!

The Tail of Brody and the Fourth of July

When I saw that the Fourth of July fell on a Thursday this year, I knew that we wouldn’t get a lot of blog traffic, but I also didn’t want us to just skip the week in case there were people still surfing the web, looking for some distractions.

But what to post? It didn’t seem like the kind of day to post writing advice and I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump so I don’t have any recommendations but, then, I thought of it. This is a writing-based blog so, how about a story set on the fourth?

The last week of June in 2008 my husband and I had been living in our new home for a little over a month. I’d grown up a cat person, mostly because that’s the best kind of pet to have in apartments. But my husband was always, always a dog person. And he’d been missing having a dog. But now we had a house to rent instead of an apartment and houses can have dogs. It was time to look for a pup.

One morning we decided to go to the shelter, just to look mind you. Just to look.

And there he was. Adorable. Floppy-eared, brown-eyed, sweet-faced. Waiting for us.

We were kind of stunned because it’s not often that you find an actual puppy at the shelter; they’re usually snatched up as soon as they’re available. But we knew, this was our puppy and we had to meet him.

When we got to meet him, he flopped on his back and gave us his belly and climbed into our laps, desperate to lick our faces, as if to say, “Finally! Finally you found me! I’ve been waiting for you!” Obviously, we were a match.

But Brody—as we would name him later—wasn’t available for adoption yet. We had to leave him, with tiny cracks in our hearts, and come back for him and hope that no one else would show up wanting to adopt him that morning because then we would have to submit to a random drawing and leave it up to The Fates. And they can be a trio of bitches if they want to be.

When the adoption day came there were a few people waiting to get inside to be the first come in first serve and we were more than a little anxious. I started asking around to see what pup people were there for.

“The black one,” a bespectacled girl answered.

“Yeah, the black one, us too,” a man cut in, drawing a glare from the girl. “I think we’re all here for the same dog.” He gestured to the other people waiting.

My heart sank. We were going to have to do a drawing.

When the doors opened I rushed to the counter with Brody’s ID number memorized.

“Anyone else for A773790?” the guy behind the counter called out. My stomach twisted as I waited for the others to say something. But then: nothing!

Turning, I furrowed my brow at the bespectacled girl, wondering why she wasn’t saying anything.

“Oh,” she said, understanding dawning on her. “You’re not here for the pug? The black pug?”

“No,” I said and my husband smiled. No one else was there for Brody.

On June 30, 2008, we took him home.

The thing with puppies though is you can’t take them out until they’ve had all their shots. So when the Fourth of July rolled around we knew we couldn’t take our new puppy out to the parade or the fair downtown*. But we still wanted to go.

We’d decided to crate-train Brody but I still had reservations about leaving him in a crate for any real amount of time when we weren’t home; I only wanted to crate train him so if we needed to put him in the crate for emergencies we could. I never intended to put him in a crate when we weren’t home. That’s what house breaking and training is for. But five days after coming home, he wasn’t house broken, so we couldn’t let him roam.

I decided to put his crate against the doorway leading into the kitchen, with the door facing into the kitchen so he would be able to have the whole kitchen to himself with a bed, pee pad, food and water, and the crate if he chose while we went out for just two hours to enjoy a little bit of the holiday. It was a big crate, too big for him at the time, because we knew he’d be over 50 pounds when he grew up we bought a crate for a 50 pound dog but at least I knew he couldn’t move it and get out of the kitchen.

Brody barked a little when we put him in the kitchen and didn’t stay with him, but he wagged his tail and set to sniffing every nook and cranny once he accepted we weren’t going to move the crate so he could follow us.

Off we went to enjoy the fair downtown.

I don’t even think we made it a full two hours. I was worried about leaving Brody alone for too long in his new home after living at the shelter.

When we got home and opened the door, we heard Brody yapping excitedly from the kitchen and his whip of a tail thumping on the linoleum floor.

But something was amiss.

There were things scattered on the floor in the living room.

A ball of yarn from the back room was unspooled and strewn across the floor. Papers were scattered. A lone shoe had made it out of a bedroom.

Someone had been in our home.

Our front door is mostly glass so we spun to inspect the panes, but they were all intact.

“You had to unlock the door to open it, right?” I asked my husband.

“Yeah,” he answered in a low tone, eyeing the doorway into the hallway. “Wait here.”

I watched as he went to make sure the back of the house was safe before I went to check on Brody—so relieved they hadn’t stolen him.

I could see him sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor, goofy puppy smile on his face, and his tail still wagging. His crate was exactly as we’d left it: pressed against the wall and blocking the doorway so he couldn’t get out. It wasn’t shoved so I knew, I knew, Brody hadn’t gotten out. After all, he was still in the kitchen.

“All clear!” John called out to me from the back of the house.

“Okay,” I replied as I scooped up the unspooled yarn. I stared at the tangle of thread, wondering how it had made it from my knitting bag in the back bedroom to the living room floor.

A loud clatter interrupted my thoughts and I spun toward it.

Brody’s front paws were on top of his crate, claws gripping the metal frame as he pulled desperately, his back paws pedaling in the air, looking for something to push against.

“Wha—” My voice died as I watched my three-month-old puppy pull and wiggle and claw himself up and on top of his crate until he was able to sit on it, still smiling but obviously desperate to say hello to me. His tail banged against the metal grate as he waiting for me to recover.

“John,” I said, then, louder, “John get out here you have to see this!”

“What? What?” John ran into the dining room to see me still standing there, holding the yarn, staring. He turned to follow my stare to see Brody sitting proudly on the top of the crate.

Brody got to his feet and picked his way to the edge of the crate before jumping to the floor and raced over to us, so happy that we were home.

John bent to pick him up, holding the bundle of fur against his chest to stare him in the eye before turning to look at me.

“So,” I said, pausing. “He climbed up there, jumped down, then went through the house, having a great time and then…”

“Climbed back over to get back into the kitchen before we came home so he wouldn’t get caught,” John finished.

And that is how we knew, from the very first week, that Brody was too smart for his own good.

Brody is still clever with a big personality and has been immortalized in my Ash & Ruin Trilogy as the inspiration for Blue. I mean, a dog like that could only be fiction, right?

*Fun side note: Turned out the bespectacled girl and her roommate won the drawing for the black pug. How do I know? Because we ran into her on the 5th, at the vet, where they were having their tiny puppy treated for heatstroke because they couldn’t resist taking him to the very same fair we made sure not to take Brody to. Yes, the puppy is fine, but that’s a lesson learned, right?