How Do I Choose Character Names?

Someone recently asked me how I choose character names, and I had to admit that it varies by series.

Unexpected Heroes

For Unexpected Heroes, my epic fantasy series, I started with baby name sites that had a “meaning” search. I’d type in a meaning that was significant to the culture, then I’d search for names I liked that fit the pertinent alphabet or could be altered to fit. (Yes, for that series, the letters mattered.)

After a while, I got tired of doing a search every time I needed a name, and I made a list of possible choices for easy selection, sorted by applicable culture. That made it quite a bit easier to hunt whenever a new character appeared.

To be fair, only two of four cultures cared about the meanings of their names. One cared very, very much, and one just had a pool of traditional names that they used. The third culture cared about as much as modern American culture, which is to say that some people did and some people didn’t, and choosing by sound was way more important. The fourth culture chose almost entirely by sound, stringing together lots of syllables just for the fun of it.

What can I say? They’re different…

Anyway, since *I* cared about the meanings and it helped me choose, I kept a list of the meanings. It’s on this website, if that sort of thing interests you.

Return of the Fae (in progress)

For my new series, which is contemporary fantasy with a sprinkle of science fiction and large dollop of mythology, I would have originally told you that I chose the human names by origin and random selection and the fae names by ancient-history origin. Which is true…

But when I was answering the question for the person who asked, I realized that quite a few of the names are also inside jokes. Ahem.

Some of them will be explained in the story. Though not immediately.

Some of them won’t. I’m cruel like that. I’ll just enjoy the jokes myself.

No, I won’t be listing the meanings of the names for this series on my website, because they aren’t culturally meaningful. I might list some of the origins, because that would be. But we shall see. The first book hasn’t even been published yet, so I’ve got time to ponder how much I want to tell you and how much I want to leave to amuse myself privately.

I know, I’m mean. Think of it this way—it gives you something else to think about after you finish the story. 😉

Relatively Haunted series (yet to come)

My pen name is working on an adult cozy paranormal mystery series, but I don’t expect publication for a while. But just for the sake of covering all my bases, here’s how I picked those names.

Mostly by random, honestly, with a bit of “origin matters.” Modern characters were almost entirely random. Sometimes I asked people for a name and used that one. Sometimes I used a random generator.

For historical names, I used a random generator set to the proper country, or occasionally did an internet search for names that fit multiple criteria, like country AND religion.

Other than that, I just made sure I hadn’t already used the name (I kept a list) and that it wouldn’t be too much like someone else in the same story. Easiest name choosing ever.

Best Tips

If you’re trying to choose names for your characters, here are some of my best tips.

  1. Decide what’s important to you. The sound of the word? The meaning? The origin? The number of syllables? Whatever matters, write it down.
  2. Try out a few baby name sites and find one that allows you to search by the factors you identified as important.
  3. If not much matters and you just need a name, try a random name generator. You can find ones for regular human names or for fantasy or whatever. Seriously, just search the internet.
  4. Write down all the options you like every time you do a search. It might save you from a search the next time you need a name.
  5. Try not to confuse your readers with names that sound too much the same. If you can make them not start with the same letter, that’s great. If you have too many characters to make that work, at least give them different vowels or different numbers of syllables or don’t rhyme them. You know, make them sound very different.

I think that’s it, folks. There you go, a naming primer. 🙂

Happy writing,
Marty C. Lee

© 2023 M. C. Lee LLC. All rights reserved.

Research Books in 2022 and earlier

Instead of a “category” of book reviews this month, I thought I’d give you a list of books I’ve read for writing research. This list doesn’t include business or actual writing subjects like plot & character, just side topics that I needed to know more about for my stories. I’ll try to remember to post a new list each year. Some of the research is for books not yet released (or written).

Please remember that 3 stars still means I was happy with the book. Also keep in mind that I was rating these on the “useful for research” scale, not on how well they were written.

Weapons

Warfare and Weapons, by Christopher Gravett (3 stars)
Weapons, by Jim Ollhoff (3 stars)
Weapons of Fantasy and Folklore, by John Hamilton (3 stars)
Archery, by Adam G. Klien (3 stars)
Archery, by the Boy Scouts of America (3 stars)
The Crooked Stick: A History of the Longbow, by Hugh D.H. Soar (2 stars)
Longbow, by Robert Hardy (2 stars)
Illustrated History of Arms and Armour, by Charles H. Ashdown (2 stars)
Weapons, by Deborah Murrell (2 stars)
Weapons of Ancient Times, by Matt Doeden (1 star)

Setting & Nature

Desert, by Amanda MacQuitty (3 stars)
Volcano and Earthquake, by Susanna van Rose and James Stevenson (3 stars)
Earthquake, by Jen Green (3 stars)
Escape from the Volcano, by Felicia Law (2 stars)
Surviving an Earthquake, by Heather Adamson (1 star)

Animals

Big Cats and Wild Dogs, by Jen Green et al. (3 stars)
Wolves, by Emma Child (3 stars)

Culture & Character

Hustlers, Harlots, and Heroes, by Krista D. Ball (3 stars)
Handbook to Ancient Greece, by Adkins & Adkins (3 stars)
Between Us: How Cultures Create Emotions, by Batja Mesquita (3 stars) (for a work-in-progress)
The Like Switch: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Influencing, Attracting, and Winning People Over, by Jack Schafer (4 stars) (for a WIP)

Science & Miscellaneous

Packing For Mars, by Mary Roach (4 stars) (for a WIP)
What Kings Ate and Wizards Drank, by Krista D. Ball (3 stars) (Fun story: her rant against stew made me realize I had a solution for that, which I did use in Seed of War. I found it amusing and satisfactory; how about you?)
Deerskins Into Buckskins, by Matt Richards (3 stars)
Bleed, Blister, Puke, & Purge, by J.M. Younker (3 stars)
The Body: A Guide for Occupants, by Bill Bryson (3 stars) (for a WIP)

I think that’s all for now. You can probably expect to see a lot more space and mythology books next year, if I can’t get enough information on line.

Happy reading,
Marty C. Lee

© 2022 M. C. Lee LLC. All rights reserved.

Writing Update: New Series

Well, to tell the truth, I’ve actually been working on TWO new series. One is adult paranormal cozy mystery (still clean, because I don’t write steamy), and itwill eventually come out under a name variant. No worries; I’ll announce it. The second series wasn’t supposed to be started until after I finished the mystery trilogy, even though it’s under my usual name. I didn’t even know *what I was writing next for young adult, so it made sense to work on the other one first.

I did have a few ideas I was kicking around, but they were very different ideas, and nothing was producing plot or characters in my brain. So I kept thinking while I wrote the mysteries. I had plenty of time, right?

Then my daughter read me something off… Twitter? Facebook? Somewhere on the internet that she reads things. It was a “what if mythology is wrong” kind of thing, but I’m afraid don’t remember exactly what it said. I laughed, as one does, and quipped back about how it could be right if such-and-such.

Then I stared at her. I could write such-and-such. It would unite MOST of the ideas I’d been kicking around, which was even better than picking one or two of them. There was enough available material with lots of variety. I could have a TON of fun subverting expectations. I could mash together real-life science and history with very unreal other stuff and have a whole new (fake) history that would (incorrectly) explain so much.

So I decided to go ahead and write it.

The series is contemporary fantasy with a dash of science fiction and a great big splash of mythology, so it’s different from my first epic fantasy series but still feels close enough to be “mine.” (One of the reasons the mysteries are coming out under a pen name is because they are so different. The other is that they’re aimed at adults rather than teens.)

Anyway, that was back in early April. I did some quick concept ramblings and character picking, then I started doing research. Due to the very different sources that I’m mashing together, I had to do a lot of research. Plus, even when it probably doesn’t matter, I like being accurate. I’m nerdy like that.

Good news, though. The way I’m setting it up allows for a very long series, if I want to keep writing it and readers want to keep reading it. 😉

Then I had to do some character studies. Sure, I could just learn about my characters as I went along, like I did with my first series, but that’s a lot slower. It took me eight years to finish my first series, and four of those were just finishing the first book. I don’t want this one to take that long to get started, so I’m working more deliberately. Experience has to be good for something, after all.

Then I started plotting the major beats. That created the need for more research. Sigh.

Finally got through that (for now?), and started working on the more detailed outline. That turned up some major problems. I hate when that happens. So I worked on motivations for the past couple of weeks before returning to the outline.

As of now, I have all of book 1 outlined on my max outlining level, and one chapter for book 2, as well as over half of book 2 on the one-sentence-per-chapter level. (Book 2 volunteered…) I also got the entire prequel novella drafted, so progress is being made.

My tentative plan is to write the new series and submit it to my critique group, leaving the already-outlined mystery stories for when I’m blocked or need a break. Eventually, I’ll get them both finished.

Will it work?

I don’t know. I guess we’ll see. 🙂

Marty C. Lee

© 2022 M. C. Lee LLC. All rights reserved.

Character Personalities

“So, how do you write your characters?” people ask me.

“Do you fill out a questionnaire? Do you figure out their personality type first?”

No to both. I just write them. But AFTER I know them well, I’ve been known to run them through a personality test. *clears throat* Or six.

I started off with Meyers-Briggs and Color Code

I was already familiar with those two personality systems. (MBTI in college and CC from reading).

In Color Code, each of my four main characters in my secondary world fantasy series ended up a different personality color (of four). Hmm. I always thought they were very different, and I guess they are. But one test is hardly conclusive, right? So I ran them through the MBTI. Each of them ended up not only a different type (of 16), which was not surprising, but in an entirely different section (of four). More hmm. Considering I wasn’t TRYING for that much diversity, it’s pretty impressive.

Then I found a Hogwarts test online.

My stories aren’t even set on Earth, so the characters certainly wouldn’t go to school there, but okay, I’m curious. Guess what? Yeah, that’s right — each of them ended up in a different House. And, by the way, Slytherin isn’t automatically bad. They just feel that “their” people are more important than “all” people. Obviously, that can get out of hand, but go ahead, tell me you’ve never once given preference to someone you love just because you love them… (No, I’m not Slytherin, but I can imagine how they feel.)

Then I read about the Four Tendencies and the enneagram

Of course, I HAD to run them through those, didn’t I? (The answer is yes. Don’t be silly.) Both of these were trickier. In the Four Tendencies, I’m pretty sure the four characters ended up in four different areas all over again. And oddly, this was the only test where I was like one particular character, whom I usually write by saying, “What would I NOT do.”

The enneagram took even longer, but I finally figured it out. I’m sure you can predict that they all ended up different. Some of them overlapped a smidge, some didn’t even touch.

Recently, I found the DISC system.

And all four characters still scored in different areas. By now, I was very amused but not at all surprised. A little more surprisingly, all four fit fairly solidly in one of the four main groups, rather than overlapping (which is allowed). When I took the test for myself, I overlapped…

I have not yet figured out their CliftonStrengths.

I’ve been very busy and frankly, it’s intimidating. But I’m willing to bet they’ll end up different. 😉 Of course, with CS, that’s less surprising, since there are 34 strengths and millions of combination/orders of having them in your top 5 or 10. (I did take CS for myself, and wow, that was an eye-opener. Some of my top strengths are so ingrained that I couldn’t imagine people NOT using them, but now I see it just is not so… But seriously, people, how do you not think all the time??)

By now, I have reams of notes.

I rarely use them in plotting or character development, unless I’m stuck on something, but I read them for my own enjoyment. Because that’s the nerdy kind of person I am…

Surprisingly, I found things as I studied that fit my characters perfectly even though I hadn’t known them as belonging to a certain personality before I wrote the books. For instance, one character is pretty intense— except when he isn’t. He can quite suddenly flip into humor or pranks (oh, his pranks!). I’ve had readers call me on that as not fitting his personality, but according to the MBTI, it’s a real thing for his type. LOL. I’d really like to claim I’m a genius and planned it all, but really, he just told me that’s what he does, so I wrote it down.

People also ask me if my characters are like me.

Well, they can’t possibly ALL be like me, since there are four of them (not counting minor characters or all the short stories) and only one of me.

But really, the answer is still no. Some of them are a little like me in this way or that, but none of them are really like me. Of course one of them shares a Color with me, since there are only four, and a Hogwarts House and a Tendency for the same reason, but our MBTIs are different, and our enneagrams are different, and because DISC allows for partial overlaps, we’re still different. And whenever I break down and figure out four sets of Strengths, there will probably be some overlap, but also some significant differences.

“So will I like your characters? Is one of them like me?”

I hope you’ll like all of them, whether or not they’re like you! But with four very different characters, chance are pretty good that you will feel a kinship in something with someone. And if you don’t feel kinship, I hope you will at least find friendship.

Happy reading,
Marty C. Lee

© 2021 M. C. Lee LLC. All rights reserved.

Conflict and Earned Endings

You’re going to look at the title and the first few paragraphs and be confused, but stay with me. It will all make sense… in the end. 😉

Authors frequently say “write what you know,” but it doesn’t always mean what you think it does. You don’t have to be a spy to write a spy thriller, and you don’t have to know how to ride a horse to write about them (although you should ask an expert if you got everything right enough to not look stupid). What you should “know” is emotions and conflict and human behavior and all that good stuff. Fortunately, life usually gives you lots of material, as long as you pay attention.

Can’t you make it all up?

You can try, but your readers will probably notice. However, you can cheat a little. You don’t need to lose a boyfriend to write about losing a boyfriend. If you lose a friend, you ought to understand the loss of a relationship well enough to make your readers believe the emotions. You don’t have to understand wanting a bike more than anything in the world, you just have to understand wanting SOMETHING that badly.

What about the conflict in your story? Do you have to have an archenemy to write about one?

Nope. Remember, you’re allowed to cheat. What about that neighbor that always puts up fancier Christmas decorations, or the student across the aisle who got ONE measly point better than you on the final? Or what about the serial killer you read about, even though you never met him? (Whew!) You know, the one who reminded you of that weird relative who is certainly not a serial killer but has a really peculiar collection of something?

Even better, think about the conflict in your own life and find a way to apply it to your story. You can tweak it. You can bend it completely out of shape! But keep the emotion so your readers will feel it when they read.

Trust me, life will provide you with plenty of opportunities to collect conflict.

Can’t you have a story (or a life) without conflict?

Let me sit down for a minute. When I can stop laughing enough to catch my breath, we can talk about this.

No. Neither stories nor life are worth much without conflict. Think about it. If you’re reading a book and everything falls in the hero/heroine’s lap without any effort or opposition, is it an interesting story? Even more important, when you get to the end of the book and the happily-ever-after, do you think the character has earned it? Do you put it down and say, “that was great,” or do you slam the book shut because “nothing happened!” Why should the girl win the prince without even a bad date in the process? Why should the guy get his dream job without struggling through a degree (and the interview)?

In order for the happy ending to be believable and satisfying, it needs to come after a struggle to achieve. And the character at the end of the book is stronger and bigger and better because he/she has overcome challenges and grown to conquer.

And since we’re writing what we know, and because we want to earn our own satisfying happy ending, we need to remember that our lives will also be full of struggles. (Don’t go looking for trouble; trouble will find you just fine.) While frustrating, that’s not entirely a bad thing. (But take note of the sad feelings so you can write them later. If you aren’t a writer, take note anyway, so you’ll be ready to comfort your friend when he/she feels sad.)

So I have a challenge for you. This Thanksgiving, while you’re giving thanks for your blessings, take a moment to give thanks for the challenges that have—and will—shape you into a better person. It will all be worth it. In the end.

Happy writing, and good luck with your struggles,
Marty C. Lee

© 2020 M. C. Lee LLC. All rights reserved.

Writing Conference Report 2020–Character & Setting

As usual, I attended a three-day writing conference in February. Here’s a brief report of some of the classes I took. I’m sure you will notice that they aren’t comprehensive notes, just personal tidbits for me. But if you can get something useful from them, you’re welcome. This covers character & setting/world-building topics. Structure & plot was last month, and business topics will be next month.

Poison 101
Very few things will kill you quickly. Most of them are inhalants. Nothing will kill you immediately.
Animal: venom, sting, bacteria, penicillin & antibiotics, smallpox, viruses, allergen, etc
Vegetable: alkaloids, ricin, mushrooms (non-poisonous mushrooms can pick up poison from nearby poisonous ones)
Mineral : carbon monoxide, chlorine, radiation, arsenic, (accumulate in liver and hair)
Synthetic : drugs, pesticides, herbicides
Methods : Inhalation, topical (mucus membranes or skin, ingested, injection (including snakes and insects and platypus)
Symptoms : find in material safety data sheets
Can build a small immunity to some things (but iocane powder doesn’t exist).

Oaths & honor
Before breaking a norm /belief can touch the reader, the importance of the norm must be established.
Secondary characters are for contrast.

Loving the other (mermaids, vampires, etc)
Use a variety of internal conflicts, physical conflicts, external conflicts like societal norms.
Girls like the thought of someone extraordinary loving them.

Lost Technologies
Watch PBS Nova
Why can’t we do stuff anymore?
Tech disappears at height of its use. Mechanical calculators gave way to digital, etc.
Flint-mapping (artwork), Damascus steel, oiyas potteries (auto-water plants by seepage), metal knife for fire-starting instead of flint, Iroquois lost skills when trading for easier products, obsidian surgery tools, Saturn V rockets (each hand-built), heirloom seeds, craftsmen, enigma machine (tech parts have changed), Thor Heyerdahl, obsidian arrowheads (some made to break & slice)
Rediscovered after WWII: colossus encoder (decoder?)
When writing, if an idea doesn’t advance story, toss it.
M.S. Stirling recreated lost technology.
Why would you need to? Eric Flint (book 1600?) Town went back in time & had to fit in.
If your beta reader says bored, listen!
Look at leap tech (rich can afford) vs common tech (context is key). Example: shovel for the rich (need shoes to protect feet), poor used sticks.

Pointy Sticks & Fried Dough
What are constants in many/all cultures?
Stereotypes dominate thing that describes them.
Funeral rites: how does your culture handle it? Describes human value.
Celebrate special events, holidays, commemorations: yes, no, how?
Taboos? What do they look like?
Superstitions, myths about monsters, fears.
Ask family/friends “what did you eat for dinner growing up?”
Who has power, who makes choices?
Money, form of wealth, trade.
Social economic differences: clothing, education, where allowed to live.
What is your starting point and how do you build around it?
Show-not-tell through character’s eyes.
Read outside your genre. How do other genres discuss food, etc. Transform it to your culture, deepen & change it.
How do you balance different languages & slang?
How does language fit in the story you’re telling?

When Should Your Character Outsmart You?
Writing species smarter than humans: their learning, interactions, emotional intelligence
Smart characters come up with solutions faster than you.
Construct character from back: you do research, they have answer
Many ways to demonstrate intelligence, and they shouldn’t have them all.
So much research.
BS to make them sound smart. Make up words, things they can talk about.
Don’t go into more details than needed for story.
Make character relatable. People like human disasters.
What are environmental pressures? How do they evolve?
Culture, species, political. What was childhood environment? Vulcans=logic, Klingons=violence, etc. Find ways to relate.
What pressure drove human evolution processes? Prey or predator? Evolution & culture values?
Facial features demonstrate emotion in humans.
Communication with each other is valued.
What leads to higher intelligence?
Hive mind? For greater good?
How much do they worry about food & shelter? Once safe, can think about arts, etc.
Why does one race think they’re smarter than another?
Can intelligence be warm/welcoming?
They have something we don’t understand.
Need to be in competition with something.
Repercussions of getting intelligent?

Disabilities aren’t Superpowers
Write disabilities to give character depth
Disabilities are part of life; adapt & go on.
Are they an asset or not? Are a lot of work, but can gain a skill with practice.
Monk TV series: physical disability
Avatar movie skips training steps
Disabilities become normal over time
Don’t use disabilities to gain sympathy in romantic comedies
Mental disabilities still affects everyday life
Fight, flight, or flee? When is it life-threatening?
Sounds, like MedAlarms, are like WWII alarms & can panic vets.
Examples: Toth, Last Airbender; Numbers TV series; Captain America movie, Falcon character
Writing tips: people are people; don’t give backstory, give clues; research everyday details of disability; some people wallow until death, your character has to make an active decision. How do they compensate & get through life?
Is plot around disability or about character growth?
Borderline Curiosity Disorder & Hoarders are disabilities.
How do people live with someone with a disability? What changes are made? Look at people around character.

Casual Violence
Why is murder/honor killing acceptable? Make sure to answer why and motivation.
Killing vs murder: murder is against law/society.
Blood offerings: why?
State sanctions vs war: innocent person selected as scapegoat to satisfy god or natural disaster (usually low caste)
Honor killings by psychology today: Reputation is what protects you; if damaged, it ruins everything. Highest form of currency.
Honor: N. European gets honor by throwing lot with stronger man/best corporation. Middle/ S. European honor from family/family first. If can’t support family, someone must die. India: knock off bride for better bride. Mid East: groom pays for bride. Iran: honor killings frequent. Women used to be able to prevent, but now capital won’t listen to locals. Aztec: stage battles to capture sacrifices.
Willing self-sacrifice vs punishment: usually built into law structure.
US has so much killing (illegal but socially acceptable?) 1st degree, 2nd degree, manslaughter, etc.
Honor killings: video games, movies?
Untouchables & consequences: no one cares; tainted person becomes outcast, rejected to maintain order.
Castes of society: lower caste shame, dishonorable reincarnation, mental health issues

Horses
Cattle drive: each cowboy had seven horses. Grain-fed horses: only need one, but must bring grain.
Camping needs water, wood, and grass.
Horses are prey & prefer herds.
They sense tension & stress.
Stallions, geldings, or mares. Stallions have one-track mind when intrigued. Charge & hit hard. Mares have hormonal cycles; some will go psycho.
Read Horsetamer by Walter Farley
Cutting horses are like colliers for sheep: Youtube
Programmable.
Hard ground naturally trims hoof. Check hooves daily; stuff gets stuck in it.
Horses are afraid of paper bags & water.

Dragons
How do humans deal with being prey? Other species smarter.
Do you live in keeps? Trees, walls, etc.
Cooperative hunting, etc. Fight or flight?
Consider life cycle. Do they consume everything? Do they turn on each other? What’s the balance nature provides?
How much does predator move around? How much energy used?
Small predators: are humans scared of it? Snakes rattle, spiders, swarms. Just kill you or kill & eat you? (Hunt in groups)
Cats: watch their behavior.
Are there triggers for being attacked? (Non-threatening to attacking)
Other species attacking–do humans develop defense mechanisms?
How do humans defend against intelligent predators or societies?
How do you protect against night predators?
Species like us but different lead to war/death or truce/division.
Apex predators reproduce slower, try to protect the few left.
Can they walk among us & pass as one of us?
How can they communicate with us? What happens with the communication?
Mixed species association–learn to trust each other.
Trap/hunt together as pack.
Things that scare us are things most like us
United enemy or united problem?
Cats take care of small problems & live a comfortable life.

I always learn a lot at my writing conference, so if you have a chance to go to one, give it a shot!

Happy writing,
M. C. Lee

© 2020 M. C. Lee LLC. All rights reserved.

Writing Conference Report 2020–Structure

As usual, I attended a three-day writing conference in February. Here’s a brief report of some of the classes I took. I’m sure you will notice that they aren’t comprehensive notes, just personal tidbits for me. But if you can get something useful from them, you’re welcome. This post covers structure/plot topics. There will be another next month on character & setting, and one after that on business topics. Whew!

Firming Up a Sagging Middle
Use cliffhangers every chapter, such as physical danger, new characters, bad news, epiphanies, messages, romance, what’s behind the door, something to cheer about, decision to make, foreshadowing, awe, death, blow up something.

Everything about writing in 3 minutes
Stories are ripples in status quo.
Hero has problem. Acts. Makes problem worse! Deal with worse problem. Hero solves problem or problem solves hero. Can’t return to prior status quo.
To help your subconscious, clearly state the problem, then give it 1-2 days to work.
Write down the ideas.
Feed your subconscious with books, movies, walk, zoo, etc.

Story Mapping
Plotting or outline 3 ways:
1) Intuitive (pantser)
2) Plotters (story map), sometimes start at end & work backwards
3) Hybrids
Character-driven stories lend themselves to intuitive writing.
Plot-driven stories (mystery, thriller, sci-fi) have to know outline.
Historical & fantasy can go either way.
Why create story map in advance? Shorter writing time, place clues/red herrings, force reader to turn page by placing & answering questions, avoid dreaded blinking cursor, easier revisions, most publishers require story map in advance, helps with unexpected problems like ghostwriters/dead authors.
Proposal for trad pub is first three chapters + outline.
Does plotting story in advance stifle creativity? Depends.
Story mapping process.
1) Start with really cool idea.
2) Let idea marinate.
3) Record ideas.
4) Timing.
5) Write synopsis.
6) List of scenes.
7) Write book.
Some people like to color-code by POV or character.

Light in Darkness: Horror Stories
Horror is 7% words, 55% body language, and the rest is voice.
Subtlety/description is better than all dialogue/narration.
Horror as genre is a myth, created by booksellers to sort books, first invented for Frankenstein.
Hollywood can’t replicate the feelings in books, so they use gore and shock. Books can convey feelings.
Uniquely moral setting genre–good vs evil.
Two kinds of horror: hostile (not good) and redemptive (you can climb out of dark pit of soul).
Bible is godly horror (redemptive story).

Future of Fantasy
RPG is going into fantasy & ebooks, like Choose Your Own Adventure.
Noblebright is next trend, trying to do good & right.
Need motivation that makes sense. Need to elicit emotional reaction from reader. Does character impact reader?
Covers for youth are different than covers for adults.
Jen Lyons uses footnotes in ebooks to do worldbuilding. (Big debate: distracting vs expansive. Runs risk of breaking narrative.)
If you rely on a map, rewrite it to let readers know where characters are.
Mental health stories (heroes & villains) are upcoming trend. Makes them more relatable.
Second-world fantasy will always have place but needs to be relatable to humanity.

Lines Between Sci-Fi & Fantasy
Sci-fi: technology
Fantasy: magic, nature
Marketing might be only difference. Genre exists for shelving purposes. Trappings determine how book is classified & need to be at beginning of story.
Star Trek is soft sci-fi (about people). Inception is hard sci-fi, then fantasy in dream machine.
Tailor presentation to audience.
Gandalf is soft magic system. Hard magic system/science needs same tone throughout book.
Don’t spend too much time worldbuilding. You can get away with anything if it’s entertaining.

Structure vs Character-Led Stories
Rules base vs follow heart type
Writer needs to know ending of plot-based story or will have issues.
Review structure & character journey
If you paint yourself in a corner, is that the story?
Needs to be a set up and pay off
Need red herrings
Get readers involved by the how (thought & motivation)
Character & world building is the what
Types of structure:
Heroes Journey
Broadway
3-act Hollywood
Shakespeare
Aristotolian structure: boom, everything goes
Characters: What do they want? Include foreshadowing/hints.
Sometimes you pants it, then go back & structure
Don’t write directly to story beats
Look at ending, promises you made.
Need a good motivation for characters.
Understand difference between plot (logical sequence of evens to reactions) & conflict (creates plot)
Characters in relationship & environment create conflict
Character vulnerabilities: why?
Character needs to CHOOSE, not be blown in wind.
Anything that makes you want to write is good for you.
Goal, motivation, conflicts (relationships), should be felt.
Need smarts & hearts.

Stereotypes & Tropes
Stereotype: usually demanded by fashion
Cliche: overused ideas, becomes tiresome
Trope: literary shorthand to achieve emotional effect. Can’t be the rule & the journey.
2nd world fantasy: have stereotype, then break it.
Stereotype reveals a lot about a character. They exist for reason–why? It’s reasonable to expect certain things, cultural expectations.
Make your villain somewhat identifiable.
Characters are more compelling when there are dynamic aspects.
Zombie: no reasoning, no race, an elemental force.
Write a story from the POV of an orc.
Tropes: when to avoid? When used wrong. What does it accomplish? Use for emotional response. Reflect reader’s expectations in your genre. Do not use trope to replace plot.
TVTropes.org
Examples:
Romance: happy ending
Horror: evil villain
Thriller: master mind
Action: needs romp at start
Sci-fi: tech, sounds futuristic
Fantasy: discover, sense of wonder
Western: watch Silverado
Things not to do:
Romantic comedy: She’s been terrible to him & he still kisses her. Or honorable the whole time & then turns bad.
Don’t use stereotype to avoid character development.
Read short stories to learn tropes.
Read reviews on genres you want to write, pos or neg.

If you ever get the chance to attend a writing conference yourself, I recommend you do. 🙂

Happy writing,
M. C. Lee

© 2020 M. C. Lee LLC. All rights reserved.

Forbidden Words

If you’re a writer, or a prospective one, you might hear a lot about “rules” of writing. What you don’t always hear is a good explanation of when to follow the “rules” and when to break them, or even an explanation behind the “rules.” Unfortunately, I’ve seen that lead to some really bad writing. I’ll work my way gradually through some of these rules, but the one I want to address today is “forbidden words.” (Did you hear the spooky theme music? No? Let’s try again… “FORBIDDEN WORDS…”)

You might think these are the kinds of words you disguise by typing on the top row of your keyboard, but that’s not what I mean. (Although you might want to watch those, too.) No, I’m talking about when other well-meaning people tell you to never use an adverb. Or an -ing word. Or was or were. Or “just,” or any other particular word. Don’t take their advice.

I’m not saying to ignore the advice, either. I’m saying you should understand it so you know when to take it and when to ignore it. I think it’s time for some examples. (Cue suspenseful music…)

If you search the internet, you can find lots of lists of “words to avoid in writing.” Go ahead, I’ll wait for you to look. Done now? They usually list words that are overused or nearly meaningless, like really, just, or completely. What’s the difference between beautiful and really beautiful? Maybe nothing, or maybe you want to use gorgeous as a stronger word choice for the second example. But sometimes you do need those nearly meaningless words. (They were invented for a reason.) For instance, “he slid into his seat just before the bell rang” is considerably more urgent than “he slid into his seat before the bell rang.”

Let’s look at adverbs for a minute. When shouldn’t you use them? When they merely reinforce a word that doesn’t need reinforcing. He whispered quietly. she smiled cheerfully, the bell dinged musically. Yup, we got the idea with the verb, thanks. When should you use adverbs? When it either clarifies something the verb can’t do alone (she painted frantically) or turns the verb on its head (“Death kindly stopped for me.”–Emily Dickinson).

In other words, if you CAN cut an adverb or a “meaningless” word, do, but if cutting it changes the sentence, keep it for the sake of the poor reader and your dear story.

Now let’s talk about verbs. You might have heard about “passive writing” and the horrible use of “was, were, and -ing.” Take a deep breath while I tell you the rumors of their demise ought to be greatly exaggerated. “If you can finish the sentence with ‘by zombies,’ then it’s passive writing and ought to be destroyed” (by zombies) is one I frequently hear. Okay, fine, I added the second “by zombies” because I wanted to make a point.

There are reasons to use passive sentences. Here’s one: you don’t know the acting subject. “She was murdered!” but we don’t know by whom. Here’s another: you don’t want the emphasis on the acting subject. “She was murdered!” and until we get over the shock, we don’t care who did it. Does that mean its okay to blithely sprinkle passive sentences all over your writing? No, I didn’t say that, either. Use them when you need to use them, and for the sake of your action, don’t use them when you don’t need them. (Which, really, is the basic rule for all writing techniques.)

One more point about was, were, and -ing. It might shock you to know that sometimes they are ACTIVE verbs, not passive! “The apple was red” is an active sentence. (Not a very interesting one, granted, but still active.) When you usually start getting in trouble is when you combine was/were/are and -ing verbs, because even if the verb is active, the sentence might not be as strong as it could be. “The robot’s eyes were glowing” is weak, while “the robot’s eyes glowed” is strong. But if you try to cut every being-verb in your story, you’ll end up with monstrosities like “She seemed a pretty girl, despite her plain brown hair.” She SEEMED pretty, or she WAS pretty? Don’t laugh; I didn’t quote, but I’ve seen sentences that were even worse, that didn’t make any grammatical sense at all because the author “heard WAS is bad” and cut them all without regard to necessary sentence structure. (Read the “pretty girl” sentence without either *seemed* or *was* to see what I mean.)

So, next time you see a writing rule, figure out the reason behind the rule before you start applying it wildly across your writing. Your readers will thank you.

Happy writing,
M. C. Lee

© 2019 M. C. Lee LLC. All rights reserved.

LTUE 2019 Business Class Notes

Every year for several years now, I’ve gone to the Life, the Universe, and Everything sci-fi/fantasy conference in Utah. It’s sort of a writing conference, and sort of not. They also have art classes, and a game room, and presentations of academic papers, and meet-and-greets.

But I mostly go for the writing classes. And the business classes. And the worldbuilding classes. And the oh-that-sounds-super-cool classes. Two of my family members got to attend a weapons class with real weapons. They raved for weeks.

I wrote about my other classes here, and now I’m moving on to the business classes. If the class was a panel, I didn’t list the speakers and I didn’t keep track of who said what.

Finances
Rules to pass audits: Keep mouth shut. Answer questions clearly and succinctly. Don’t volunteer anything.
One-time sales tax must be paid right after. Regular sales must have license.

On the Road
Road stuff is no fun
Write what you love, and lots of it

Video trailer
Stock video sites for video clips
Kaden live free software or Adobe premiere
Sony Vegas good for beginners $50
DaVinci resolve free

Tools of the Trade
Scrivener is good for disorganized
Storyoriginapp.com, Prolifwords, and Mybookcave for reader magnets
Bundle rabbit
Kdp rocket

Working with Reviewers
Be polite & professional
Try to build a connection
Kirkus reviews are useless

What I Wish I Knew When I Started Indie, by M.A. Nichols
Don’t wait for book to be perfect
Income is the goal, not sales
Write more books!

Realistic Self-Publishing (all notes for rest of page), by Keary Taylor
Smashwords is a common source of piracy
Publish 2nd book before spending money on ads
She spends $60/day on ads
Be organized

Are you willing to:
Find & hire editors, proofreaders, cover artists, & formatters?
Manage your own marketing & PR?
Learn a lot of new skills?
Get creative with books AND entrepreneurship?
Treat this as business?

Average costs:
Editor/proofreader: $300 for 70K book
Format: $175 e & print
Cover designer: $150+
=$600-1000 to launch book that has a chance

Series starter marketing:
Only book: launch $2.99-5.99 depending on genre/length (pref 2.99-4.99)
Once established, first-in-series:
Full price= more cost to marketing
$0.99= charging a little helps pay for marketing
Free= no risk for readers

Follow-ups in series:
Increase by $1 each book (2.99, 3.99, 4.99)
Same price for each in series
Same price until last book, then increase $1

Backmatter:
Immediately after The End, have lead-in to next book with LINKS
Also by with LINKS
Thanks for reading, ask for review
Author bio
Social links
Follow on Amazon
Newsletter signup
CHOOSE SOME, NOT ALL. Keep it clean & simple.

Don’t get caught up in swag or book signings. They’re fun, but not profitable.

2000 books published/day on Amazon
WILL have to pay for visibility
Readers WILL forget you
Market constantly changes
For full-time, can’t take this casually

Set up social media sites, Goodreads, BookBub, Amazon Author Page, website.
Study what other authors are doing

Places to advertise:
Facebook
Amazon Ads
Bookbub
Other paid sites (in order of effectiveness)
eReader News Today
FreeBooksy
BargainBooksy
Free Kindle Books
RobinReads
FussyLibrarian
BookBarbarian
BookAdrenaline
BookSends
ManyBooks

Schedule sales around book releases
Stack ads (same day or close together)
Cycle ads, including backlist
Plan at least 6 weeks ahead (sites fill up early)
Mailing list advertisers WILL list permafree books

Downfalls: Genre bouncing, not interacting/getting personal with fans, not collaborating with other authors

Whew! I feel overwhelmed now. How about you?

Happy writing,
M. C. Lee

© 2019 M. C. Lee LLC. All rights reserved.

Writing Conference Report: LTUE 2019

Every year for several years now, I’ve gone to the Life, the Universe, and Everything sci-fi/fantasy conference in Utah. It’s sort of a writing conference, and sort of not. They also have art classes, and a game room, and presentations of academic papers, and meet-and-greets.

But I mostly go for the writing classes. And the business classes. And the worldbuilding classes. And the oh-that-sounds-super-cool classes. Two of my family members got to attend a weapons class with real weapons. They raved for weeks.

First, a little practical advice.

Wear good shoes and comfortable clothes/hairstyle. Take food to eat, especially if you aren’t going to take an actual lunch break. Look for a freebies table. Talk to people–lots of people. If weight bothers you AT ALL, slim down your bag to lighter than you think you can carry all day. Ask experienced attendees which bathroom tends to have shorter lines, and use it immediately after class. Drink lots of water (if you lightened your bag, take a small bottle and refill it every hour). If you have business cards, bring them. If the class you want to take is full, try something else or find someone for a conversation.

I’m going to have to split my best take-away advice from the classes I attended this year. I’ll put the business notes in a different post. Here’s the worldbuilding and craft notes. If the class was a panel, I didn’t list the speakers or keep track of who said what.

Foraging, by Cedar Sanderson
Some plants are topically poisonous (absorb through skin).
Never test edibility by tasting.
Blue-colored berries are probably fine, red be cautious, white avoid.
Some things will slowly make you sick, so just because you ate it once and didn’t die doesn’t actually mean it’s safe.
Animals are a better source of emergency food than plants.
Predators are usually not yummy.
Some animals have poison glands. Even deer have scent glands that can spoil the meat if punctured (same for gut).
Fuzz/hair is usually toxic /nasty.
Just because an animal ate it doesn’t mean it’s safe for you.

Objective Correlative  (accent on the second syllable of Correlative), by Rosalyn Eves
Telling emotion is worst, showing is better. Putting the reader inside your characters to feel the same emotions themselves is better.
5 ways to do that:
Objects (readers must understand importance)
Metaphor
Situation (setting, events, etc)
Chain of events (action-reaction)
Movement or gesture
Build up moment until reader is immersed and feels like the character.
Don’t overuse; save for important moments when you can slow down.
(I left the class thinking, “THIS. I want to learn to do THIS.”)

Suspense
Every chapter should have conflict. Some should still be rest chapters
Ticking time bomb + obstacles
Switch from high tension to low and back again to reset the tension
Reader knowing something character does not, creates tension
Don’t withhold information the pov character knows

The Beginner’s Guide to Self-Editing, by Kelsy Thompson
A great class, but since she offered her slides to attendees, I didn’t take notes. Also, it was a two-hour class and she moved fast enough through enough material that taking notes wasn’t very practical. If you get the chance to take the class, I recommend it. She covered development editing first (big-picture story items) and then moved down to line editing (actual language) and proofreading (typos).
I did like her encouragement to aim for professional but forget about unattainable perfection.

Beats & Microbeats, by Devri Walls
For intense speed, shorten sentences.
Slow beats use longer, more descriptive sentences.
Do not overdo or everything will be flat
If action or romance scenes are lacking, slow down!
Dialogue: speech tags and action slow scenes. Cut for faster scenes.

4-part Pacing, by J. Scott Savage
Plot is events, pacing is timing
Use foreshadowing for something ELSE and your true twist will slip through.
1st quarter draws interest.
2nd quarter delivers on promise.
3rd quarter is heart of story.
4th quarter is climax.
There is a turning point at every quarter.

Backstory
Give the minimum your reader has to know, in time for them to use it. Not Tolkien!
Walk through as the character would, and be subtle.
Skip As-you-know-Bob (conversations held only to explain things to the reader)

Showing vs Telling
Boil things to the most important showing details.
Naming an emotion is usually telling.
Which parts do the reader need to feel (show) VS just know (tell)?
First draft is worry-free zone. Go ahead & tell, & edit it later.
War That Saved My Life (book): look for showing.
First chapter of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

Foreshadowing
If you disguise the foreshadowing as something else, it can hide your real purpose.
Mix truth and lie to confuse readers.
Using multiple techniques is trickier.
Let some red herrings be true to throw readers off balance.

Sagging Middle
If you aren’t having fun anymore, back up and make a different choice.
The middle is the main part of the story.
Use MICE quotient to determine what kind of obstacles you need.

Happy writing,
M. C. Lee

© 2019 M. C. Lee LLC. All rights reserved.