NaNoWriMo Tip #13: Make sure your readers love your hero.

via GIFER

 
If you ran into your hero at a cocktail party, would you talk to him?

If so, what is it about him that would have attracted you to him in the first place? Would it be the way he stands out in the room? Or his laugh? Or his voice?

I'm guessing it's the way he attracts a crowd (other great characters) around him. If he looks like a fun guy, then just like you, others will want to hang with him, and soak up his vibe.

If your character isn't engaging to you, trust me: he won't hold his own with readers, either.

Sure they may finish the book. But that's no guarantee that they will come around for a second book, or recommend it to others.

Those of you participating in National Novel Writing Month know that the prime objective is moving your story ahead each day in November, at a clip of 1,650 words a day. That averages around five pages a day (or 330 words per page). Much of what I've written about in the twelve tips that have preceded this one involves crafting a solid, fast-moving plot, which, if your story were a sandwich, is the tasty bread that holds the story together. But your main character is the meat in the middle:

If he or she ain't tasty, your story is plain. Blah.

It's just dry as toast.

Case in point: There are a vast number of spy novels, but the ones that attract legions of ongoing readers have one thing in common:

Characters who are smart, fun, fearless, and flawed enough that they aren't (in Mary Poppins-ology) practically perfect in every way. (My god, think how boring that would be?)

In that genre, my favorite authors are John LeCarre and William Dietrich, for different reasons. In the case of Mr. LeCarre, I enjoy the tortured backstories of his heroes just as much as the intricacies of his plots, which demonstrate the amount of skill and research that go into his into his novels. I love the flaws that are etched into his heroes.

As for Mr. Dietrich — especially in his Nathan Gage series — his plots are fun romps built around history and mythology, and his hero is a delightful scoundrel and an adventurer.

Both writers are skilled enough at their craft that their characters'  backstories aren't “told” to us (show, not tell, as in Tip #5, remember?) but appropriately intercut as flashbacks (LeCarre), or worked back into the ongoing plot (Dietrich).

A strong character wears his backstory heavily in his eyes, his gait, or on his sagging shoulders. It is sprinkled into his conversation, and that of his friends and enemies.

Like all of us, your hero's traits are the sum total of his life experience. They are why he makes wrong choices, and why he seeks redemption. 

They are what make him interesting.

It's why we want to hang out with him.

It's why we fall in love with him.

Otherwise, we can be doing something else.

And so can you.

Like re-examining your hero, to take advantage of every opportunity to make him more interesting.

PICTURE: Yep, that is Daniel Craig tux'ed up as James Bond, the iconic spy as written by master novelist Ian Fleming. Your main character doesn't have to be as self-assured , but he or she will have to have traits that allow readers to want to hang in with them, for the three hundred or so pages of your story. 

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YESERDAY'S NANOWRIMO TIP, HERE…

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I've got a question for you, and be honest: Have you ever written a character that was so boring that you had to get rid of him/her?

Happy National Novel Writing Month,

— Josie

NaNoWriMo Tip #6: When your “backstory” should be the story.

harry-potter-2
During National Novel Writing Month, many an aspiring novelist will start with a great character. He will know his hero backwards and forward, as if he is his very best friend.

He'll describe how the hero looks, down to the cleft in his chin. He'll know about his childhood, his teen angst, his tribulations and his desires.

But now that it's time to give his hero something to do, the writer stalls out.

Why does this happen?

Because in this case, the backstory is the story.

So why not move it front and center?

If you can answer yes to these four questions, then the Muse is trying to tell you (HELLOOOOO!) that the better book to write starts where your hero first intrigued you:

1. When describing your book to others, do you find yourself spending more time describing your hero's past, but get stuck on telling what will happen to him in the book?

2. Is half of what you wrote in your synopsis his backstory?

3. Did it take all of Chapter One to describe your character before you realized you had nowhere to go with Chapter Two?

4. Do you find yourself rewriting the details of your hero's past, because it's more interesting than considering his future?

Take a broad hint: There is gold in the hills of his backstory.

Harry Potter is a perfect example of this. Can you imagine if J.K. Rowling had started her epic story with, say, Book 6 The Half-Blood Prince — when Harry was already at Hogwarts and just realizing his true role in a world turning darker, more sinister? Surely this book in the series and the seventh, could  have been tweaked to stand-alone…

But consider how much was gained by knowing so much more of Harry's backstory.

That's because it was never just his backstory. It was the story.

Bottom line: start at the real beginning: when you first realized that your hero intrigued you.

Maybe it was when he did that old-soul thing at age three. Or when he had his first kiss. Or when he accidently drove his parent's car into the lake.

Not all stories were meant to start where we want them to begin. Sometimes they start earlier, or later.

If you start your story at a point that is most interesting in your character's life, your readers will be sucked along on his journey, too.

So take them along for the ride.

It ain't the prequel. It's the beginning of a wonderful friendship between your hero and your reader.

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READ YESTERDAY'S TIP HERE…

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I've got a question for you: Which character's backstory would you have liked to have read about, as a book?

For me, it is the character of Ethan Gage, in the wonderful historical suspense series by William Dietrich. We know that Ethan once studied under Benjamin Franklin. it would be a hoot to see his antics stateside, before we're introduced to him in Napoleon's Pyramids.

— Josie

Stranger than Fiction: Author William Dietrich is right. Before Hitler came to power, no editor would have believed such evil existed.

Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark

Janet Rudolph gives great salon.

Last night 'round dusk, much of the San Francisco Bay Area enjoyed sunshine and balmy breezes, but it was a darkening and foggy night as I zigzagged around Berkeley Terrace's Fish Ranch Road toward Janet''s house, where she and her husband, Frank, hold ongoing salons for the murderati: readers and writers of mysteries and thrillers.

What nudged me across the Bay was the chance to meet one of my all-time favorite authors: William Dietrich, whose novels include the historical adventure/thriller series starring the Indiana Jones-like hero, Ethan Gage (Napoleon's Pyramids, The Rosetta Key, The Dakota Cypher,  The Barbary Pirates). Okay, admittedly, there is also a bit of Candide and Tom Jones in Nathan, as he's always getting himself into trouble when he should know better. Take your pick, he's a  rounder/roue/rogue.

And that's part of the fun. He may be as naughty as Casanova, but when the fate of the world is as stake, he's as honorable as Indy.  The books' ironic humor and edge-of-the-seat plots which are seeped in history and mystic lore keep Mr. Dietrich's fans such as myself pining for the next volume.

But don't take my word for it. Pick up the series for yourself.

Blood of the Riech Or better yet, start with his latest novel, Blood of the Reich. It's a stand-alone which steps away from Ethan to introduce a whole set of new characters: zoologist Jonathan Hood, Aviatrix Beth Calloway, PR girl Friday Rominy Pickett. Its jaw-dropping plot weaves three moments in time into a lanyard of intrigue and deceit involving Tibet, the Cern Supercollider, and yes: NAZIS.

"Why haven't your books been turned into movies?" one salon regular asked.

Great question.

Indiana Jones was the inspiration for Ethan Gage. Here's hoping that Bill Dietrich inspires Steven Spielberg – or perhaps the renowned director's latest protoge, J.J. Abrams – to take it on as a film series. Frankly, these stories are just as thrilling, and are instilled with a heckuva lot more history and humor.

It's a perfect movie franchise: complex and witty.

In other words, great FOR ADULTS.

 

— Josie

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