Death and Mayhem: How To Kill Off a Character

The Background of a Murder

So. As you know, my dear inklings, I am delightedly immersed in edits on the sequel to Rethana’s Surrender, my first epic fantasy novel.

If you recall, R’s S and its sequel began life as one whole book. But in the interest of maintaining a reasonable publishing process, I elected to split the book in half.

This led to a fairly cramazing cliffhanger ending for R’s S, if I dare say so myself. ; )

Anyway, now that I’m working with great vigor* on the sequel, I’m discovering several discoveries. One of these is that I used to use a lot of words.

Okay, so that’s not really a discovery. I already knew that. I think we all already knew that.

The Because of a Murder

But no, one of the genuine discoveries is that I wrote into the story several large gaps that need filling. At this point, I’m looking at two to four chapters of new material.

On one hand, this is frustrating because it negates my efforts not to let this book grow into a MEFaN**. But ah well, I guess you can’t win ’em all. Mostly, I’m enjoying the generation of new material. So all is well on that particular home front.

The other discovery that initially dismayed but then thrilled me is that I’ve got several subplots that could use tidying and then tying up. And in one of these subplots, I get to kill off an unlikeable character.

Now, when I say “unlikeable,” I mean that he does not have an endearing personality at all. I like him because he’s a clear, well-defined character to me. Even villains are likeable if they’re written well. And from readers’ reactions to him, it seems I’ve done a pretty good job delineating him.

In the sequel to R’s S, I am going to kill him.

Because he’s a “spineless little fraction of a man” (a beloved quote from the beloved movie Far and Away).

And, so as to sort-of avoid spoilers, that’s all I’m going to share concerning his identity. I’m a tease like that.

The Body Anatomy of a Murder

(Strikethroughs are the enemy of alliteration.)

So, how does one go about killing off an unlikeable (subplot) character?

I have a few thoughts.

1. Prior to the murder, establish him as a strong (subplot) character.

One way or another, you’ve gotta write this guy so that your readers have already had emotional reactions to him. If he’s likeable, his death must have a significant, negative impact on your main character. (This presupposes that you’ve done your job in making your readers care deeply about your MC.) If he’s not likeable, his death must have a significant, positive impact on your MC.

If your readers don’t already know that this guy is significant to your MC, then…

A. …there’s no point in killing off the character, and…

B. …there’s no point in that character’s existence in the first place, so you might as well just cut him from the story altogether.

TAKEAWAY:
If you want to kill him off, make sure he’s significant. If he is, murder away. If he isn’t, either erase him from existence or up your ante.

2. Select the right point in your story for this murder.

This one might be tricky, because the “right point” will vary from one story to the next. For me, the “right point” is also a turning point for Rethana, my MC. And hooooo boy, am I taking a risk here in trying to explain this without spoilers!

In the R’s S sequel, the death of Unlikeable Character catapults Rethana into action in a situation in which she feels completely helpless and isolated. She hasn’t exactly been wallowing, but she’s been pretty much frozen with fear. Unlikeable Character’s death provides the catalyst that thaws her out and gets her moving again — not because the death horrifies her, but because the death is proof that her real enemies mean the most serious business.

And if you keep in mind that one of Rethana’s main motivations is protecting her sister Chel, you’ll know that this “serious business” could impact Chel in a particularly dire way.

And that’s all I have to say about that. ; )

TAKEAWAY:
Your murder should so significantly impact your MC that it causes MC to react in a powerful way. If she’s stationary, it should force her into action. If she’s mobile, it should force her into more intensive action. And you, writer, must keep in mind that the action she chooses might not be the smartest one.

(In fact, it probably shouldn’t be the smartest one. There’s nothing more readable than a main character who doesn’t make wise choices until the end. And maybe not even then!)

3. Pick the right murder weapon.

No, I’m not talking about candlestick vs. rope vs. revolver (although the actual weapon might play a role, depending on the story circumstances). By “weapon,” I mean the following question:

Just how is Unlikeable Character going to perish?

Is the death gruesome? Is it peaceful? Is it a murder, a mercy killing, an accident, an execution?

By whose hand does this take place? Another side character’s? The MC’s? Or is it by Unlikeable Character’s own hand?

Will Unlikeable Character die carelessly? Awkwardly? Cowardlyly? Will his dishonorable death confirm everything your MC has always thought about him?

Or will he die gracefully? Honorably? Will he redeem himself in the end, thereby causing MC all sorts of moral discomfort?

TAKEAWAY:
Before you, writer, commit murder against your character (Likeable or Unlikeable), you must decide upon the manner of his death and figure out the emotional impact of his death on your MC.

The Brief of a Murder

Who?

Where/When?

How?

Answer these questions both for yourself and for your readers, and your hands will be well-soaked in the blood of your (subplot) character — and, like Lady Macbeth, you’re not likely to get any of it off. Congratulations!

______

* vigor = whatever energy and focus are left me beyond the task of putting together a human inside my abdomen

** MEFaN = Monster Epic Fantasy Novel (i.e. doorstop)

P.S. I wrote most of this blogpost on my cell phone in a waiting room. Living in the future is pretty fracking cool.

P.P.S. On my phone, autocorrect wanted to change “myself” to “musket,” as in: “if I dare say so musket.” In Rethana’s universe, muskets would be quite the anachronism. Unless Kryeis were the one hauling them around…hmmm….

Guest Blogger: Writer and Editor Jessie Sanders

Happy new week, my beloved inklings!

Last week, I promised you some more updatingness of the goings-on in my neck of the blogging woods. Or, rather, my neck of the Life-the-Universe-and-Everything Woods. This post kinda sorta falls into the updatingness category, because it concerns a novel that I recently helped edit:

Young Adult novel Into the Flames by Jessie Sanders — who happens to be friend, fellow writer, and my editor.

Into the Flames, Jessie’s first novel, is the intriguing and suspenseful story of Rahab Carmichael, who’s desperate to fit in at her new boarding school. Trouble is, Rahab happens to have some special powers that keep her from fitting in — and send her right into the arms of the other “freaks” at school. Teens will relate to Rahab’s story quite well, as will we adults who remember those “awful” days of being relegated to the “freaks” pile. Superhero powers or no. ; )

To celebrate the new release, I asked Jessie to share with us what sparked (ha ha, sparked, get it?) the idea for Into the Flames and how that idea grew and changed over the years. So, without further ado or adon’t, here’s Jessie:

The world of Grover Cleveland Academy started from something as simple as watching a trailer for the movie Treasure Planet. Yes, the Disney movie based off of Treasure Island only it’s set in space. You see, when I saw the character Jim Hawkins sailing through space on his little hover board, I knew I wanted to write about a character that could fly — for real. Instead of using a futuristic board to soar among the clouds, the character would use her own superpowers to fly, strapping her snowboard onto her boots as she went.

That’s how Jean Elizabeth “Scout” Wren was born. Ten years later, Scout is merely a secondary character in my novel Into the Flames. I never intended it to end up this way.

I can’t really tell you how Rahab came into existence. I just know that by the time I was done writing Born to Fly (Scout’s story), I knew that the next year a new girl would be moving to Grover Cleveland — Rahab Sapphira Carmichael. And I found that I liked her even more than Scout.

Scout was a loud tomboy who would rather play baseball than read a book. Rahab was shoved to the back burner because she was the youngest, and she allowed herself to be forgotten so that no one would notice that she was different. But I wanted people to notice her. I wanted her story to be told. So I told it.

Now just because Rahab came to me complete with swimsuit, goggles, and bangs doesn’t mean that she was perfect from the start. She’s been through some major changes in her development, but at the end of the day, she’s a caring, sensitive girl who just wants to be allowed to do the thing she loves the most — swim. She loves animals and is deathly afraid of fire. She has two older brothers whom she admires but can’t relate to. She’s got a lot of hurt in her past, but now she’s ready for a fresh start at her shiny new boarding school.

I really started working hard on Into the Flames during my creative writing class my senior year of college. What I really wanted was a novel that was driven by characters and just happened to include a fantasy element, not the other way around. When my classmates told me they loved the development of Rahab and her friends, I knew I was on the road to making my dream a reality.

Creating the plot of Into the Flames was hard. I had my cast of rich characters, but what to do with them? Well, knowing Rahab’s fear of fire, I was certain that it had to play into the climactic scene somehow. I also knew that I wanted to include resident bad boy Bracken Carnegie in said climactic scene. For many years, cheesy lines and completely implausible scenarios ran through my head and were subsequently deleted from the bank. Finally, after many cumulative hours of talking to myself, lamenting to others, and scratching through pages of bad dialogue, I hashed something out.

So now, from a small spark of an idea that led all the way to an entire world, I humbly bring to you the first book in the Grover Cleveland Academy series. I hope you enjoy Into the Flames as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Courtney here again. Pick up your Kindle copy of Into the Flames for $2.99 and get to readin’! And don’t forget to tell Jessie how much you enjoyed it. : )

3 Lessons from Jury Duty

Or: A-fluency Is No Excuse

So, in case you haven’t seen it yet on Facebook or Twitter, I have the dubious honor of immersing myself in a jury pool this week.

Honor, because the judge who talked to us yesterday morning reminded us of a lot of horrid yet truly magnificent things that happened in history to bring us to the point of having a voice in judicial proceedings. Her Honor made excellent arguments.

Dubious, however, because accepting this (required) honor means that today, I get to visit juvenile court for the first time ever and observe a lot of sad, frustrating, depressing stuff that I can’t do a whole lot to change.

: (

But Back to the Positive What-Nots

Also, in case you don’t already know this about me: I grew up in Germany and traversed the German school system from Kindergarten all the way through Gymnasium (which has nothing to do with sports). Thus, I’ve had little to nil exposure to the ins and outs of the American judicial system.

Several things I learned yesterday came as quite a surprise to me. Or, if they weren’t surprising, they were at least contrary to my expectations. Let me show you them!

3 Lessons from Jury Duty

1. The court selects its jury pool from Department of Motor Vehicle records — not from voter registration or homeowner records, as I thought it did.

2. In a room full of 200 strangers, it’s rather inappropriate to voice your opinion that “all Middle-Easterners are inbred, and we should just let them all kill each other.” (The voicer of said opinion was a 60-something white man who, I gathered from his conversation, hasn’t spent a whole lot of time observing any Easterners, Middle or otherwise.)

3. Even if you don’t speak English, they will not send you home. Instead, you get to sit there with the rest of us until someone figures out whether or not you’re really a U.S. citizen.

Jury Duty Is Story Fodder

Might I use the information from #1 in a future story? Maybe. I have no particular plans to write a courtroom novel…but could I use my newfound knowledge to add a hint of detail for the judicial system of a high fantasy epic. Yes, yes I could. (The benevolent ruling class draws its tribunal members from the Department of Wooden Chariots. Or somesuch.)

The…um…”gentleman” of the questionable ethics strong opinions shall one day find himself a character in a story. I don’t believe I can do him the honor of turning him into a villain — but he qualifies quite well as an unlikable side character.

And how would it feel to walk into a government building and face a crowd of 200 people who can all communicate (what seems) perfectly with each other — and all you can say are their words for affirmative and negative? What would it be to climb the stairs to that room, knowing that this impossible situation is waiting for you? Would you take a deep breath and hold it before you step into the room? Would your hands shake as you approach the bench? Would your voice shake as you grope for the words to explain your situation to the clerk? As you turn from the bench, would your face feel hot as you meet 200 pairs of curious eyes?

I’m gripey about having jury duty right when I’m trying to pack up my household to move…but really, I can’t complain. I’m getting the chance at a new set of experiences, which is always always beneficial for a writer. And, in spite of my introvert preferences, I do relish the interaction with representatives from so many different segments of society. They’re fun to watch, fascinating to listen to, and, in several cases, fun to talk with.

I memorize their faces, their voices, their mannerisms — and I’ll remember them when I write and write and write.

_________________________
Have you served in a jury pool or on a jury? What’s your favorite tidbit to share?

And what about people-watching in general — where’s your favorite place to do that? What are some of your more memorable observations?

Have any of those real people turned into story people? Do tell!

10 Ways to Really Write an Awful Novel

In this post, I’m going to tell you how to write a bad novel. And by bad, I do not mean the more-than-implied badness of the tweet with which Josh Unruh executed #TweetVengeance upon me yesterday:

*ahem*

Instead of that sort of badness, I bring you the badness of truly horrid writing. Because, really — there are so many cramazing, beautiful works of written art out there, you don’t want to be like all of them, do you?

I didn’t think so.

(This is going to make some of you very sad. But it’s for your own good, I promise.)

10 Ways to Really Write a Truly Awful Novel

 

1. Never read.

Novels, short stories, magazines, newspapers, poetry journals — reading all of that stuff is way overrated. You have your own style, your own voice. You don’t need anyone else’s examples of writing to clutter up your thinking.

2. Only write when you’re inspired.

You wouldn’t want to tax yourself. Writing is supposed to be fun and flowing and brilliant all the time.

3. When writing dialogue, never use the word “said.”

Instead, use booed, chuckled, hissed, demanded, muttered, mused, mumbled, other verbs starting with “m,” protested, retorted, agreed, and so forth.

These beautifully complicate your writing. Besides, you need these tags because your readers can’t figure out your character’s tone, and they can’t do that because you:

4. Never stay in character.

There’s too much noise in this world already. What? Your characters don’t need distinctive voices! It’s much safer and easier on the brain if you make them all sound happily the same.

Besides, crafting unique voice is what our plethora of dialogue tags is for.

5. Writing a novel, your participles should absolutely dangle.*

Having gone to the store, the groceries cost $20.
Cleaning the house, the broom handle broke.
Frolicking on the lawn, the lumberjack watched the kittens.

6. Do what I did in the title of this post: Split infinitives.

In case you don’t know, a split infinitive is when you conveniently take an infinitive verb such as to write and insert a word between to and write. There are reasons why this is a bad thing to do, but let’s not talk about what they are.

In fact while, we’re talking points 5 and 6 just don’t pay attention to any rules of grammar spelling or punctuation, while your writing. Grammar does nothing for clearly communicating with you’re reader’s. Especially you should ignore, correct apostrophe usage; definitely insert things like “This gift is from the Smith’s” instead of “This gift is from the Smiths.” Oh and definatly every comma in this paragraph, is incorrect.

7. Mix your metaphors.

Every main character who knows his stuff will bite the bullet up his sleeve. She’ll cut off her nose to go out on a limb. If you don’t mix your metaphors, you’ll be a small fish to fry in a big pond. But if you do it right, you’ll really be living high on the hog while the sun shines.

8. Use lots of adverbs.

Fortunately, I’ve been giving you a terrific example of this throughout this blog post. The more adverbs you use, the more overwhelmingly receptively your audience will respond to your story. And if you pair an adverb with a non-said dialogue tag, your audience is likely to chorus enthusiastically, “Butterflies wouldn’t melt in your stomach!”

9. Don’t prepare or do prewriting of any sort.

That way, when you get to the end, you’ll run out of ideas, and those pesky plot twists won’t bother your readers so much.

10.

_______________________

*Writing a novel, your participles should absolutely dangle. = The participles write the novel.
Having gone to the store, the groceries cost $20. = The groceries went to the store.
Cleaning the house, the broom handle broke. = The broom handle cleaned the house.
Frolicking on the lawn, the lumberjack watched the kittens. = The lumberjack frolicked on the lawn.

And after that, he beat the writer to a pulp.

5 Reasons Why Your Novel’s Getting Nowhere

Writing a novel is hard.

Writing a novel makes your fingers hurt. It makes your head hurt. It makes your heart hurt. It puts you in a place where you have to acknowledge certain truths — about reality, about other people, and, most of all, about yourself. Writing a novel is like being an actor filmed in a low-definition movie and suddenly projected in hi-def on a screen the size of a football field.

All of your tiniest flaws are on display to the world. You can no longer hide the grime, the sweat, or the over-sized pores. You can no longer hide your heart, and you have to hope and pray that nobody laughs at it.

So when you’ve made this commitment to laying your naked soul on a sacrificial altar for the world, what really kicks you in the gut is when the novel, this lifeblood-spilling work, just refuses to go anywhere. You’ve risked all, you’ve let them film your grit and tears — and right before they show the film, somebody packs it into a container and hides it away in the bunker from the final scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

All that sacrifice, all that heartache. For nothing but a screeching halt to everything you hoped. Some of the thoughts that go along with this screeching halt sound like this:

Every time I sit down to work on my story, my mind goes blank.
My characters took the story in a new direction, and I don’t know what to do now.
I don’t feel like writing — the inspiration just isn’t there.
My writing feels stilted.
I’m just no good at this.

Here are a few reasons why that screeching halt happens — and a few hints on what to do about it.

5 Reasons Why Your Novel’s Getting Nowhere

1. You haven’t started writing it.
This one’s kind of a duh, right? Of course, it’s impossible to keep a novel going if you haven’t actually written any of it yet!

But that blank page — whether it’s lined or unlined paper, a notebook, or a word processor with blinking cursor — it’s awfully intimidating. It jeers and sneers at you. It knows your fear of failure. It speaks doubt into your mind and despair into your heart.

In Stephen King’s Misery, writer Paul hears a question every time he sits down to write: Pauly, can you? Every writer hears that question (most of us minus the “Pauly” part) — and too often, faced with getting started on that new story, our answer to that question is, “No. I can’t.” And so we don’t.

The solution to this problem is complex. Each of us has reasons for our fear of the blank page. Failure. Rejection. Ridicule. The belief that we don’t have the right to write. And a myriad of other mental/emotional buggaboos. Overcoming these fears can take years of dedication (and a lot more heartache). Sometimes, whether or not we overcome these fears depends on just how far we’re willing to go in knowing ourselves.

But the answer boils down to the simplest of phrases: Just write. Sit down, pull out your pen and paper, open your word processor, and just write. Write anything at all, even if it’s not your story. Engage in the simple act of getting words out of your head and into visible, tangible form. The rest might just take care of itself.

2. You don’t know where it’s going.
Ack! This plot! I had such a fantastic concept for how this book would go. But first the main character quit talking, then that supporting character just up and died, and then there was a major plot hole I didn’t know how to fill, so I changed direction somewhere around the middle, and now I’m getting to the climax and it doesn’t make any sense in the context of the beginning of the story, HELP!

*ahem*

You’ve been there, haven’t you? Please tell me I’m not the only one.

Not knowing where the story is going will kill your novel. The fix? Figure out where you want to go before you start. This means work, my friends. It means prewriting: outlines, character descriptions, synopses, and the like. You might not need all of these; you might need only one of these. You might need pre-writing in a form unique to your writing and working style. But you need to figure out your roadmap before you start the story, or you’re going to end up in a sticky rut.

If you’re already quagmired in the middle of your story, all is not lost. It’s going to take some tricky effort to extricate yourself, but you can do it! Sit back, plot it out, outline it, and take a close look at your story arc. You’ll figure out where you went wrong. And who knows? You might discover some side paths you overlooked before, and they might just lead you to something sparkly and grand.

3. You’ve forgotten the whys.
Why is he walking down the street with a machete in one hand and a lemon meringue pie in the other? Why is she standing in the middle of the market with nothing on but her hair curlers — and a smile?! What turned him into the kind of person who picks at his cuticles every time someone mentions faulty wiring?

If you don’t know why your characters do what they do, then eventually they’ll (a) do nothing the story needs them to do, or (b) do nothing at all. You must, must, must know their motivations, and you must know these motivations on an intimate level.

And once again, this means prewriting.

You need solid backstories for these people. These backstories might never make an actual appearance in your novel; your readers might never know about them. (Unless you become wildly famous and all your fans clamor to hear so much more about your characters that you have no choice but to broadcast their life stories to the world.) But you will know. You should know. Because that personal history is what makes your characters who they are today. And who your characters are should be your story’s driving force.

4. You’re not getting any feedback.
Oh, I know. You’re not writing this story for other people. You’re writing it for you — so why should you need feedback? You should be able to figure the whole thing out on your own, right?

Wrong.

We writers are blind. Every last one of us. Yes, yes, we see the world in ways that others might not, and we see things in the world that others might not. But when it comes to our own writings, we’re a bunch of blind mole rats. We fall in love with our characters, plots, and turns of phrase — and we’re incapable of seeing their collective flaws.

Fellow writers, there are a bunch of sighted people out there. They are called beta readers, and we need them like a blind mole rat needs…well, whatever it is a blind mole rat needs to get along. I’m guessing it’s more than a cane and a seeing-eye cricket.

In other news, I seem to be digressing into a really bad metaphor. The point is, we writers need objective feedback on our work. Our characters and stories deserve it. Without it, our craft will stagnate, and our stories will die. And if you’re stuck in the middle of your novel, the wisdom of an objective beta reader can get your novel started again in cramazing ways.

5. You’re waiting.
I have sad news to share with you, my friends: Inspiration doesn’t strike. Inspiration’s not an ethereal, graceful lady clad in something sheer, whispering the right words into your ear at the right moment. And inspiration doesn’t just show up out of the blue to help your novel along when you get stuck.

Inspiration, sadly, is a greasy little creepazoid twerp who’s never going to show up at work unless you show up there first. And if you expect him to do so, he’s just going to sit back in his worn-out, grimy easy chair and point at you and laugh.

Okay, so I lied. Sometimes, inspiration does strike — but you can’t count on it, and you can’t wait for it. If you’re waiting for a random hit of inspiration to get you out of your noveling rut, you’re going to be waiting for the rest of your life.

There’s just no way around it: You’ve gotta put in your butt-to-chair time. You’ve gotta make yourself sit down and write, even if every single word strains your mind and makes pulses visible in your forehead. It’s hard work, and it hurts. (Hmm, where have I heard that before?) But if you want your novel to go somewhere, butt-to-chair time is the price you have to pay.

And sometimes, the creepy inspiration dude won’t even show up then. Sometimes, you have to wrestle him into the chair beside you, hold a knife to his throat, and tell him to start talking.

The great thing is that once you’ve got him in that position, the guy usually won’t shut the heck up. And that’s when it turns glorious.

So, there we have five reasons for our noveling woes!

What other reasons have you experienced?

How did you turn the problem into a solution?

Are you still stuck? And what do you want to do about it?

I’m Writing About Demons

Greetings, my dears! For my next trick, I’d like to tell you a little bit about my current work-in-progress (WIP). Earlier this week, I mentioned that I’m writing a paranormal fantasy novel. It is, as yet, untitled, so I’m bringing my formidable, literary creative powers to bear upon the title challenge and calling this book Demons 3. Boo-yah.

“So, O Most Formidably Literary Creative One,” you might be thinking, “what does the numeral 3 denote in the title of your work-in-progress?”

Saltmarch, Where The Demons Live

Ahh, my dear Questioning Ones, I am so glad you asked. The “3” in Demons 3 denotes the fact that this WIP is the third in a trilogy I am, thus far, calling “Demons of Saltmarch.” This trilogy consists of:

  • Colors of Deception (projected publishing date: June/July 2011)
  • Shadows After Midnight

and, of course,

  • Demons 3.

The Saltmarch trilogy (hmm…maybe that should be Saltmarch Trilogy — and here you’re witnessing how a writer revises aspects of her work even as she discusses it) had its genesis in vacuuming and vivid dreaming. One night in early 2008, I dreamed that I was standing in the center of a grated bridge. Facing me at one end of the bridge was this human-shaped figure with its jaw unhinged like a snake’s. A ring of darkness came out of its mouth and spread out toward me. Terrified, I knew that the ring should not touch me. I ended up on my hands and knees, scrambling to get away.

But in dreams, we never can get away, can we?

The dark ring engulfed me, and the whole world turned the “color” of TV static. I blinked and was in a different place, surrounded by people who didn’t quite look like people. Somehow, I knew they were demons. They’d used their powers to make this place look like my childhood home. But even though it looked familiar, I knew there was something wrong with it. I knew it wasn’t real. And I knew that the demons called it “Saltmarch.” Then, the dream ended.

Now, some people would have awakened from that dream and felt residual fear and confusion the rest of the day. They would have called it a nightmare and shuddered whilst relating it to friends over mid-morning coffee. Me? I got all excited, wrote it down, and decided it would make a great fantasy novel. If only I could come up with characters for it.

Fast-forward a few months, and I’m vacuuming my hallway, lamenting to myself that I can’t hear my favorite INXS CD over the jarring noise from this behemoth of a dust-sucking apparatus I’m shoving around my home. And, out of nowhere, the thought pops into my head:

What if one of the demons is obsessed with the music of INXS?

I don’t know how these things work. I don’t know why INXS triggered the beginnings of a character description for a character in a story that consisted of nothing but a rather odd dream sequence. All I know is that two months later, during NaNoWriMo 2008, a whole story came pouring out of me, and that dream sequence turned into one of the last scenes leading up to the climax.

That story became Colors of Deception, and it revolves around a young lady named Holly Idaho. Holly’s a sophomore at a Christian university. She’s got her problems: boy issues, tension with her girlfriends, doubts about her faith, an intense crush on the new music teacher, too much homework. Pretty standard stuff for a college student, right?

Until the demon with the INXS obsession shows up. And, as far as Holly is concerned, all hell breaks loose.

Colors of Deception is Holly’s story: how she deals with doubt, terror, love, lust, betrayal, and forgiveness. Her story is filled with the bizarre and the ordinary — a tale I hope will both fascinate readers and connect with them on a basic, I-know-how-that-feels level.

Shadows After Midnight picks up a few months after Colors ends. This second book in the trilogy is the story of Peter Townsend, who is Holly’s somewhat antisocial friend and doesn’t know that he shares a name with several famous people (and wouldn’t care, even if he did know). I won’t tell you much about Peter, because it would give away too much of the first book. But suffice it to say that Peter has a lot of arrogance to get out of his system (oh my word the boy’s got an ego, but I love him!)…and the demon who shows up to plague him has just the tricks to get him to make a mess he can’t clean up on his own.

The unfortunately untitled Demons 3 tells the story of Anne Waylock, another of Holly’s close friends. I feel like a mother hen playing favorites among her baby chicks…but I almost want to say that Anne is my favorite of the three. She’s snarky, unapologetically obnoxious, borderline blasphemous, and deeply, heart-breakingly sensitive. Her external challenges seem more threatening than those Holly and Peter face in their stories — and her internal challenges are far more subtle. I think. I’m not even through Draft 1 of her story yet, so I’m still getting to know her. There are aspects of her that haven’t crystallized yet.

So, that’s my paranormal fantasy trilogy in a shelle du nut. When I talk to people about it, I refer to it as “young adult (YA) paranormal,” but in some ways, I feel this is misleading. No, it’s not “adult” fiction, but if I had kids, I’m not sure I’d want my kids under age 15 to read it. On the other hand, I’m hoping the books will appeal to the wide audience of adults out there who’ve been devouring so much YA fiction over the past decade or so. (Some of you are reading this. 😉 )

Either way, I am so excited to get these books into the hands of readers, I can hardly stand it!

Let’s Talk About Mosquitoes, Hives, and Outlines

I love words and how other people use them. Sometimes, I’ll be reading a novel and enjoying it most thoroughly — and BAM! I hit a phrase that makes me sit up and say out loud, “Odds bodkins, that was perfect.” One of my most enjoyable challenges in life is learning how to do that to my own readers…and, as ever, I remain a work-in-progress.

But. I heart mightily (and sometimes, I even liver) how other people use words. So, for years, I’ve collected quotes. I buy nifty little notebooks in various sizes and scribble them full of the fun, inspiring, infuriating, thought-provoking, artful, and elegant ruminations of my fellow humans.

Courtney's Quotes Collection

Some of them are writers (my tribe! Woot!). One such is Laura Resnick, a fantasy author who penned the following gem:

“For the first half of a book, I’ll cling to my outline in helpless terror. Then I’ll start veering away from it, which will worry me deeply for weeks. When I finally finish the book, I’ll suddenly realize I haven’t thought about my outline in ages and don’t quite remember what was in it.”

Once upon a time, I did not believe in outlines. I’d never heard of this thing called “pre-writing.” My preferred method of starting a novel was to sit down at the computer, open a Word document, and start typing. And that, my dear inklings, is how in 2004 I came to be in possession of a 12,000-word chunk of fantasy novel that was supposed to be the sequel to an already-completed epic. Instead, more than six years later, it lies still in unfinished, digital ignominy. I hope to finish it someday…

…but before that can happen, I’ll need to do all the pre-writing: for nowadays, I’ve abandoned my lackadaisical ways (mostly), and I’ve converted to Putting Faith In Outlines. (Oy vey, was that a long sentence. Sorry.) Spontaneity is great, but when I’m writing, it just gets me stuck in squelching, mosquito-infested bogs.

I don’t like mosquitoes. They give me welts. And sometimes hives.

So I’ve learned to appreciate outlines, and I’ve learned to like outlines, and I’ve learned to trust outlines. And, like Ms. Resnick, I’ve learned The Desperate Writer’s Clutch (by which I do not mean a purse). The spectre of that 12k-word unfortunate loometh at the edges of my writerly consciousness, yea verily and forsooth. While working on my current rough draft, I even printed the outline so that I could have it well within clutching distance instead of having to switch from the novel doc to the outline doc. (It’s nice to have one’s comforting blankie in sight at all times.)

That said, the second half of Resnick’s quote resonates with me just as much as the first half does. I’m thirteen chapters into the rough draft of a 15-chapter, paranormal fantasy novel. For the first eleven chapters, I hobbled along, using my outline as my crutch. Sometimes, I felt strong enough for a steady walk. Rare bursts of enthusiasm gave me the power to sprint. However, whether walking or sprinting, I never let go of that blankie crutch outline. I still needed something to lean on.

Chapter 12 changed a few things. I didn’t look at my outline for days! Characters talked and did, and they talked and did without a whole lot of help from me. What made the difference? I think it was my deeper understanding of my characters.

When I started writing their story, I didn’t know them well enough just to give them free rein. Every time they spoke or acted, I had to check the outline: Is this how it’s supposed to go? It is? Okay, then, tally-ho. I couldn’t trust my characters yet. I didn’t know them.

Now, we’ve been through twelve chapters of adventure together, and I’m starting not just to know these people but to know them. Their edges aren’t so blurry; I can see some sharp outlines. Ephemeral wisps on the wind have solidified into distinct voices. I’m seeing the shapes of their souls.

There comes a point at which the characters, not the outline, lead my thoughts and guide my fingers. And that’s where the magic happens. And it is glorious.