Archive for the ‘Surviving the End’ Category

Surviving “The End”: advice for literary characters (part 3)

November 25, 2015

Surviving “The End”: advice for literary characters (part 3)

“Good afternoon! I figure you all know this by now, seeing as how this is the third lecture in this series, but my name’s ‘Tack’ Carlson. I’ve learned a couple of your names, but I have to tell you, I’m pretty good with faces. I think that’s  part of  being a lawyer, at least of  the courtroom variety. We’re pretty good observers, and right decent at telling how you feel about things. After all, that’s my job: to get you to feel a certain way about the facts, and I can’t change your feelings if I can’t tell what they are now.

I don’t see any unfamiliar folks out there…did you all attend the first two talks? Great! Don’t worry, there isn’t going to be a test. You’ll get those in your regular classes here at Fictional Character University…I’m just  a  guest speaker for an elective.

Let’s just do a little review first.

The name of this series is Surviving ‘The End’. Everybody in here is a lead character in a first novel which is still in a draft. I’m hoping to help you get past that first novel and on to a second.

I’m not going  to claim to have all the answers, but I’ve done it myself, and I can humbly say, well as much as a lawyer can ever be humble, that  I know something about the topic.

In the first talk, I told you about

Rule #1: You have to accept change.

I explained how long-lasting characters usually have some kind of stress in their first novels, or just before the novel starts. It’s part of your origin story, and helping the real-worlders get to where you are…at least in their heads.

In the second one, we discussed

Rule #2: Be the same.

Anybody remember what else I called that?”

“The principle of ‘Ride the same horse'”.

“Yep! Antares, isn’t it?”

“You grok.”

“Just knowing somebody’s name is a pretty low thresholding for grokking,  isn’t it?”

“Maybe I didn’t say it just because you knew my name.”

“Maybe not. I remember we had a nice piece of dialog. Ready to ride with me a bit further?”

“Sure.”

“Well, I’m  pretty sure Antares knows the answer, but what’s the topic of today’s talk?”

“Have interesting friends?”

“Yes…friends and enemies, for that matter. Thanks for giving Antares time to respond to some texts…although I’m guessing you’ve been doing that all along. What’s your name?”

“Sujay Rodriguez, but they call me ‘C.J.’. I’m a safety inspector.”

“Do you inspect anything in particular?”

“I used to work for a state agency, but my job got eliminated. I got a decent severance package, so now I freelance…anything, anywhere, any time.”

“How does that work? How do you have all that knowhow?”

“Most safety issues involve the same thing…somebody doing something stupid. That usually isn’t the guy who gets hurt…it’s the guy who told the guy who got hurt what to do.”

“I see.”

“The rest of it’s just a matter of doing the research.”

“I understand doing research. Not sure I’d want to have you on a jury in a negligence case, but there’s nothing wrong with that. I wouldn’t want to have most of us characters on a jury…we have a tendency to take over. You know, a lot of strong personalities.

That brings me to today’s topic.

We have those strong personalities, but that’s not enough. We need to have other folks around us, too…and interesting folks.

They can be a lot of things: sidekicks; bosses; friends; lovers; enemies…there are a lot of choices.

Here, let me demonstrate with something I call the ‘And Chain’.

We talked about Sherlock Holmes before. If I say, ‘Sherlock Holmes and…’, and you know I’m talking about another person, what would you say? ‘Watson’, right? Let’s keep going…give me a different answer. Holmes and…”

“Professor Moriarty.”

“And…”

“Mrs. Hudson.”

“And..”

“Inspector Lestrade.”

“And…”

“The Baker Street Irregulars.”

“Good answer! We  could keep going. All of these characters are memorable. All of them have appeared in more than one Holmes title. Real world readers know them.

How about a more recent example…Stephanie Plum. Stephanie Plum and…”

“Lula!”

“Morelli!”

“Grandma Mazur!”

“Ranger…he’s hot!”

“Well, it sounds like the class generally agrees with you. Let’s keep going. Stephanie Plum and…”

“Uh…Vinny?”

“Yes, he owns the Bail Bonds business…and he’s Stephanie’s cousin.”

“Rex!”

“That’s not a character!”

“Actually, I would consider Rex, the hamster, a character…and I reckon my horse Seafounder would agree with me. Characters don’t have to be human beings…heck, dogs and cats have been main characters, along with a whole slew of other species. There are other human characters, and if I name off a few I think most of you will recognize them: Connie, who also works in the Bonds office; Grandma Bella; Moon-Man Dunphy;  and that’s not even counting crossover folks and one-timers.

The point is, you might be super interesting, but you aren’t enough.  Humans are social animals: it wouldn’t seem realistic to the real-worlders, so to speak, if you existed in a vacuum. Besides, some people are going to read your books just to catch up on those other characters…and them reading your books is what’s going to keep you alive.”

Speaking of staying alive, shouldn’t Rex be in the Guinness book as the oldest hamster ever?”

“Well, he’s not as old as Sherlock Holmes, and he is still going strong. I wanted to introduce you to somebody. Come on out! This here’s Catherine Ketcham, better known as–“

“Catch ’em Kate!”

“Thank you, Antares. How many of you have heard of Catch ’em Kate? Great! How would you describe the character?”

“A female bounty hunter?”

“Just a bounty hunter will do, mister. My sex ain’t got nothin’ to do with it.”

“Easy, Kate. I’m sure that’s how Stephanie Plum get described, too.”

“That don’t make it right, Tack. What’s wrong for me is wrong for that Jersey gal.”

“Gender and diversity is an issue that we can save for another time.”

“Ain’t it always?”

“I wanted to give it a full session, that’s all. You know I’ve never treated you any differently.”

“That’s for durn sure.”

“Um…where was I? Right, the importance of having other characters like Kate with you in your stories. What I do as a lawyer would be pretty tame…Kate runs them down, and that brings a needed boost of adrenaline to the Courtroom Cowboy novels.”

Yep…and then you get them bonded out again.”

“If I do, that just gives you another chance to bring them in, right? Twice the bounty.”

“Them’s lawyerin’ words. You always did know how to turn scat into flapjacks.”

“Does anybody have any questions?”

“Where’s Dusty Ambush?”

“I was hoping for a question for Kate, who was kind enough to join us today.”

“Tell ’em, Tack.”

“Okay, Kate. It is educational, even if…emotionally uncomfortable. Dusty was too weak to make the trip. While I’ve been lucky enough to keep getting new books and stories published, not to mention the adaptations, and to have Kate’s assistance, Dusty…well, Dusty hasn’t been in a new novel for, oh, thirty years or so. You’ve heard about characters fading into obscurity…that’s what’s happening with Dusty. He’s getting weaker and weaker…some days, it’s hard to even make out what he’s saying.”

“Sad.”

“That’s  something you all have to understand. As long as real-worlders are reading you, you’ll stick around. Having new stories for them helps, but if they are reading your old stuff, that will keep you strong and vital.”

“Tack!”

“Gerry Carlyle! Sorry for the interruption, class. This is Gerry Carlyle, from the Interplanetary Hunter stories. Gerry, can this wait? I’m in the middle of a lecture.”

“Sorry, no. It’s an emergency.”

“Did you need Kate?”

“We could always use another strong arm, but we also need a lawyer…and that means you, ‘Professor'”.

“I guess that ends today’s lecture, then. I’ll have the school let everybody know if we need to reschedule the next one. Gerry, can you at least tell them the nature of the case?”

“Rather not.”

“Who else is with you?”

“Jimgrim, Edward Malone, Frank Reade, and Mrs. Paschal.”

“Sounds like you’ve got plenty of room for me and Kate. Let me ask you: that spaceship of yours have room for a few observers?”

“There’s room.”

“Thanks! I’m sure you don’t mind if I bring along a few of these students…it would be great for them to see a real adventure, and I think they could be helpful.”

“As long as they aren’t just deadheading.”

“Oh, they’ll work, I’m sure. Everybody’s signed field trip releases, right?  Or had their legal guardians give approval? Good. Antares…the baker…and let’s bring the cat. As for the rest of you, I want you to think about those three lessons: embrace the change, be the same, and have interesting friends and enemies. If you have any questions, send me an e-mail.

One last thing…Gerry,  I hate to ask you this, but–“

“Seafounder’s already onboard in one of the holding pens.”

“That horse is a durn sight smarter than Tack, anyway.”

“You know, Gerry, if you aren’t sure there’s enough room to take all of us, maybe Ms. Ketcham…never mind, I’m just kidding. Kate’s right about Seafounder…although it sounds like my legal education might be of some small use in this instance.”

 “I told you we needed you. Look, we need to go now…you two can argue after we blast off.”

“I’m sure we will…it wouldn’t be much fun if we didn’t. I hate to leave the class in such suspense…can’t you just give them a hint?”

“Professor Challenger’s been arrested.”

“Where are we going? I’ll need to study up on local jurisdiction on the way.”

“Barsoom…”

Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) By the way, it’s been interesting lately to see Amazon remind me to “start at AmazonSmile” if I check a link on the original Amazon site. I do buy from AmazonSmile, but I have a lot of stored links I use to check for things. 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

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Surviving “The End”: advice for literary characters (part 2)

November 14, 2015

Surviving “The End”: advice for literary characters (part 2)

“Welcome back!

This is the second in my lecture series on how to survive your first novel here at Fictional Characters University. If you missed the first one, well, you might want to have a talk with your placement counselor.

Here’s a link to the recording of the first one, in case you want to review it later:

Surviving “The End”: advice for literary characters (part 1)

You’ll find it in your reference materials, and online at my FCU homepage.

Just to refresh your recollection, I’m Thackeray “Tack” Carlson. I’ve been in 23 novels, and a heap of adaptations, and I made my first appearance in 1936.

You might think 23 puts me into a rarefied category, but you know what? Just being in two novels does that. We characters don’t have much of a life expectancy…not one percent of us make it past our first novel and on to a second one.

You’re all here because you are hoping to be one of the lucky ones.

Well, let me tell you…there is a lot of luck involved.

Sure as daylight in Dallas, though, it’s not just luck. There are things you can do to up your odds. There are no guarantees: it doesn’t matter how good a case I’ve made in court, you never know what’s going to happen in that deliberation room.”

“Professor Carlson?”

“Tack is fine…I’m not on the faculty here, just a guest lecturer.”

“Um…I was wondering. As a fictional lawyer, don’t you know you are going to win every case?”

“Well, let’s just say I’ve won my fair share…some people might say more than that. No question, I’ve got it easier than my real world counterparts, but I’ve lost a few cases. I guess the difference is that when I lose, something good always comes out of it. Wouldn’t satisfy my fans if it didn’t. As I was saying, there are some guidelines for getting to number two.

Last time, I talked about embracing change. You need an origin story. You see, we fictional folks are extraordinary. That’s what makes us worth reading about. People are going to want to know what made you that way. They want to see a path from every day to once in a lifetime. That doesn’t mean they want to walk that path…most of them are just fine with the troubles and tribulations they have now. It just helps them sympathize and yes, believe in you, if they can see how you got there.

Does anybody remember what I said I was going to talk about this time?”

“Be the same.”

“Yep. Thanks for paying attention last time…or for cheating off the website on your SmartPhone. Either one shows initiative.

You see, I don’t want to set you up just to get to two books…I want you to do a series. You have to figure out what makes a reader want to find out more about you…and what makes them satisfied when they do.

What’s your name, ‘be the same’?”

“Antares Nebula”.

“Science fiction?”

“Young adult. My name’s meta: I’m a kid from a hunter/gatherer culture who got adopted by geek parents.”

“Okay. You knew the topic of today’s talk…do you mind if I use you to illustrate a point?”

“Go ahead…I’m used to that.”

“What’s the name of the Lone Ranger’s horse?”

“Silver.”

“I’m impressed! I wasn’t sure you’d know.”

“I’ve got the internet. Besides, my parents taught me to be interested in everything, and John Reid’s one of the original superheroes.”

John Reid? Are you sure?”

“I wanted to keep it simple. I’ve found I have a tendency to confuse people.”

“Got it. Well, the point is, you knew the name of his horse. Lots of people do. Does your family have a car?”

“No. We’re part of the sharing economy…we don’t like to own stuff.”

“I understand. Do you know anybody who has a car?”

“Some people at my Mom’s work.”

“What are the names of their cars?”

“You mean like the model?”

“No, the individual car. Since we’re talking about the Reid family, like the Black Beauty.”

“I don’t know.”

“Has any of them had more than one car since you’ve known them?”

“Sure. My Mom’s co-worker totaled hers.”

“That’s too bad.”

“It really wasn’t…long story, and one I probably shouldn’t talk about in class.”

“We don’t want to get anybody in trouble. Did she get the same kind of car?”

“No.”

“Was anybody shocked that she got a different car?”

“Not really.”

“What if the Lone Ranger drove that same car?”

“The Lone Ranger doesn’t drive a car.”

“Exactly, thank you. The Lone Ranger doesn’t drive a car. The Lone Ranger rides a horse named Silver. The Lone Ranger also wears a mask. The Lone Ranger uses silver bullets, and doesn’t shoot to kill. All of those are things that make the Lone Ranger, well, the Lone Ranger. Readers expect to see those elements when they see the Lone Ranger.”

“What about Tonto?”

“Hold on to that thought…I’m going to come back to that.

Real worlders aren’t defined the same way…they are much more complex. Think about it: how many words describe one of us when a reader first meets us? How many data points? It would be unusual if readers knew more than about five things about us after that first encounter. I’m a mixed race lawyer cowboy with a horse named Seafounder. That defines me.

When a real worlder meets another real worlder, they have probably a hundred data points or more: height, hair color, eye color, accent, shoe brand, where they sit in the room, what car they drive, brand of clothes, perfume or cologne or whatever, and so on.

Change one of my characteristics and I might be twenty percent different to the average reader. Change one characteristic about a real worlder, and it’s only maybe one percent.”

“Question?”

“Are you asking one, or did you want me to ask you one?”

“Um…asking. It’s not really important, though.”

“I was just kidding you…let’s let the class decide what’s important. That’s what the readers do when we speak, anyway.”

“I was just wondering: why is your horse’s name Seafounder?”

“Well, I don’t know about everybody else, but I think that’s a great question…especially since it lets me give you a great answer. My original author’s name is Buck Tooson, but as I mentioned last time, her real name was Mary Prydudd. Anybody know what kind of name that is?”

“Welsh?”

“You got it. Anybody here speak Welsh? No? Worth a shot…I’ve noticed every year that these classes are getting to be more diverse. ‘Cyfiawnder’ is Welsh for ‘Justice’. Buck figured, rightly I think, that folks would have anglicized that, so Cyfiawnder become Seafounder. Now, I know a lot of you probably don’t see a connection between being a lawyer and justice, but Buck did, and I do, too. Good story, right? Thanks again for asking.

Let’s see…oh, yes.  So, you don’t to go against what people expect to see. I call the principle, ‘Ride the same horse’.

Does that sound boring?

It doesn’t have to be…although be careful about what your author wants to make part and parcel of your main characteristics. You want it to be flexible enough to work in a lot of situations. Remember, you can refuse to pick up that buggy whip, if that’s what the author wants you to do. If you are really uncomfortable with it, they can tell.”

“I don’t want to be the same all the time.”

“There are some options for taking a personality vacation every once in a while. You can go undercover as someone else. You can have a dream sequence. You can go off canon…you know, in parodies and fan fiction, unofficial adventures. Just don’t overdue it.

Now, who asked me about Tonto?”

“That was me.”

“What’s your story?”

“I bake cupcakes that change people’s lives. You see, I have deep insight into the problems people have, and I bake a specific cupcake with particular flavors, ingredients, and decorations that act as a catalyst to send them in a new direction.”

“That’s different. Who else is in the bakery with you?”

“I’m pretty much it, at least as the story goes so far.”

“Do you see the same people, after you change them?”

“No.”

“Nobody helps you? There are no recurring characters besides you? You don’t have a Tonto?”

“Not in eleven short stories, and not in the latest draft of the novel. Is that a problem?”

“Let’s just say that’s going to be the topic of my next lecture in this series: Rule #3: have interesting friends and/or enemies. See you all then!”

Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) By the way, it’s been interesting lately to see Amazon remind me to “start at AmazonSmile” if I check a link on the original Amazon site. I do buy from AmazonSmile, but I have a lot of stored links I use to check for things. 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

Surviving “The End”: advice for literary characters (part 1)

October 15, 2015

Surviving “The End”: advice for literary characters (part 1)

“Welcome to this afternoon’s lecture at Fictional Character University. Just to make sure you are all in the right session, everyone here is appearing in their first novels, right?”

“Do short stories count?”

“No. While short stories are an excellent medium, it’s really not the same as a novel. How many of you have appeared in a short story? More than one story? Look like about 25%…I’ll make sure to address those differences, then. If you have any additional questions, you can e-mail me after class.

Let’s go ahead and get started. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Thackeray Carlson, but I’m usually called ‘Tack Carlson’. I’ve been featured in twenty-three novels, one hundred and four short stories, a comic book, movies, and a TV series that I guarantee you none of you saw.

I’m the son of a freed Caribbean slave and a disgraced British diplomat.

My nickname comes from two things.

One is my expertise in caring for horses. I’m guessing some of you haven’t spent much time around a barn…’tack’ is what we call the equipment we use with our horses…saddles, bridles, reins, or as my horse Seafounder would call it, ‘The original wearable technology.’

The other one is that it’s short for ‘Tactic’. While I’ve done my share of fighting in my adventures, both hand to hand and with weapons, it really comes from legal tactics. Yep, I’m a lawyer. Oh, that’s another name you might know: I’m called the ‘Courtroom Cowboy’, even though the closest I usually get to an actual cow is on a supper plate.

My first publication was as a minor character in a Dusty Ambush short story in Thrilling Western. My author is Buck Tooson…or to use her given name, Mary Prydudd.

That was in 1936.

After a bunch of short stories and a couple of anthologies, I hit the big time with The Courtroom Cowboy #1: The Sagefire Case.

Now, if I’d been like most characters, that would have been it. No reason to expect I’d survive that first novel and get on to a next.

But I did.

Then I did it again…and again…and again.

Eventually, I even outlived Mary…uh, Buck.

Yep, some of  you might be worried about what will happen when your author dies, but that doesn’t have be the end of it. I’ve had six different authors over the years…and that’s just talking about the books.

The odds are, you are going to meet your end way before your author does.

Now, I’m not trying to scare you…just being realistic.

There are things you can do to give you a better shot at book number two…and that’s why we’re here today.

Plenty of folks have made it over the years, of course: Sherlock Holmes; Dracula; Nancy Drew…heck, even H.G. Wells’ Time Traveler has been in more than one book, and if you’ve read the first one, that might be a surprise.

Let’s get started

Rule #1: You have to accept change.

That’s one of those differences between a novel and a short story. All you short story vets out there: it’s possible you are exactly the same as you were in the first one. You come in and solve the case, or get the guy, or whatever. You are completely comfortable and predictable.

In a novel, it can’t be the same. I’m assuming here that you are the star of it, not just a background character. You’ve got too be different at the end of the book than you were at the beginning.”

“Professor Carlson?”

“Tack is fine…of course, if you want to call me ‘esteemed counsel’ or ‘pardnuh’, I’m okay with either.”

“Yes, sir. I never thought Sherlock Holmes changed much…that was one of the things I admired about the character. He knew who he was from the beginning.”

“Holmes is a great example of my point. What happens in the first book…if we leave out the case itself? Holmes moves in with Watson. That is an absolutely life changing event for Holmes. Part of the joy of the book is seeing Holmes and to a lesser extent, Watson, adjusting to that situation, and each other.”

“Tack, what about Dracula?”

“Another great example. Don’t get confused by the movies, where they act like the evil count has been around since the beginning. It’s pretty clear Dracula hasn’t been revived for all that long in the first book, but let me ask you: what’s the other big change?”

“Van Helsing’s arrival?”

“Sure, having an enemy can be a good thing…readers love a good bad guy! I was thinking of something different, though. We see the book through Jonathan Harker’s eyes, at least originally. Anybody know what he does for a living?”

“He’s a lawyer, right?”

“Good enough. He’s there to help with a real estate transaction…the Count is moving. What’s more stressful than moving? For Dracula,, it’s a fate worse than death…literally.

That’s something to think about. Stress makes you an interesting character. The best way for readers to see who you are is when you are pushed out of your comfort zone. They also have their own challenges, and they’ll be sympathetic to you. If you get through it, they’ll admire you.

Nobody wants to read about somebody whose life is perfect and static.

Do any of you know the Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory? No? This link will be in your reference materials:

http://www.stress.org/holmes-rahe-stress-inventory/

 It doesn’t have a connection to Sherlock, as far as I know, but it’s a list of the most stressful life events.

This slide has the top ten:

1. Death of spouse
2. Divorce
3. Marital separation from mate
4. Detention in jail or other institution
5. Death of a close family member
6. Major personal injury or illness
7. Marriage
8. Being fired at work
9. Marital reconciliation with mate
10. Retirement from work

Think about the long lasting characters. How many of them had one of these thing happen to them in their first novels, or just before the novel, but driving the events?

Now, you might think I should be talking to the authors about this, but you have to embrace the idea of this. We all know: authors can’t make us do anything we don’t want to do…at least, good authors can’t. It’s a whole lot harder to make your author go somewhere they weren’t planning to go…but you can dig in your feet and refuse to go where they plotted. It’s a little like being a bratty three-year old: you can’t get the adults to try a new restaurant, but you sure as heck can make them give up going to that sushi place!

We’re just about out of time for today, so let me ask you all: how many of you have a major change in that first novel? Looks like most of you. How many of you have something from that top ten list? Okay. For those of you who raised your hands, you’ve got a leg up on those who didn’t. If you don’t have that change, think about what you can do. Your author wants you to smile and hold hands with your Significant Other while you walk down the beach on the perfect family vacation? Refuse to do it. Just don’t take that hand…let your author figure out what that means. None of your books are finished yet, or you wouldn’t be here. If you wanted to be around longer than that, you’ve got to be smart.

Alright, that’s our time. Next time, I’m going to talk about what might seem like a contradiction based on what I’ve just told you. Rule #2: Be the same.”

Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) By the way, it’s been interesting lately to see Amazon remind me to “start at AmazonSmile” if I check a link on the original Amazon site. I do buy from AmazonSmile, but I have a lot of stored links I use to check for things. 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.


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