How to Write Terrible Characters

A character

I’m not talking about the characters we love to hate–they are usually layered and intriguing.

I’m not talking about the characters who seduce you into believing they are charming and good but then reveal their inner demons. I believe that darkness and evil hide itself in beauty sometimes, that’s what makes it so fascinating. I also believe that interesting characters have layers of complexity, and that good stories uncover some of those layers as we go.

I’m not even talking about a distrustful narrator, one whom you are never sure whether you are supposed to like or dislike them, and question the story they tell. Those characters are intentionally complex and layered, you aren’t supposed to like them necessarily, but you are supposed to empathize and understand that life is complex.

What I am talking about here is a disturbing trend I’ve discovered lately. Maybe it’s the books I choose to read, or maybe I am layering my own biases over my reading, but more and more often I am reading about characters that I either hate or just want to shake and tell them to grow up, the world is not about you.

These are protagonists in books by authors from across the spectrum: newbie self-published who have (possibly) published a little too quickly; seasoned best-selling authors from traditional publishing houses with huge fan bases (but I no longer believe that means much of anything, as I’ve written before); authors whose stories I’ve read and loved; authors with numerous credits; authors who have movie deals; and authors with hundreds if not thousands of followers and book reviews. Yet, they are writing characters that make me want to scream, and not because they are terrifying.

They are simply bad.

While I don’t want to name specific books or authors, I might argue that this all started with the success of one series in particular–one in which the main character showed as much backbone as a slug and whined her way through the first book (which was the only one I could get through) while falling in love with a particularly sparkly creature of the night. I know many of my friends loved the series (both in book and movie form) but for me it was the beginning of protagonists I want to slap in the face.

Maybe I’m the problem.

Or, maybe I should take on the “if you can’t beat ’em, join them” philosophy and work towards writing bad characters. I think I know how:

A character

  • Make the character be falsely self-deprecating. People have self-doubt, that’s natural. People don’t like everything about themselves, and that struggle to discover their uniqueness can make for an interesting story. But if I read one more story about a woman in a size 2 who can’t possibly believe that anyone could like her because she isn’t the picture of perfection–even when that woman has other qualities that are likeable, including intelligence, talent, quirkiness, etc.–I think my head might explode.
  • Make the character be a total narcissist. While completely denying there is anything about them that is worthwhile, these characters have absolutely no sense of the people around them. Of course, this sometimes happens as characters get more involved in whatever the main drama is, but here I am talking about characters who: are narcissistic from the very first page, ignore everything that has to do with anyone else, blame everything bad on someone else because it couldn’t possibly be their own fault, and at the same time convince themselves that they live their lives fully for the benefit of other people. They might have an epiphany when everything comes crashing down, but by the end of the book very little has changed and they are back to their narcissistic ways. Or, alternatively, they seem to change but my gut tells me it is superficial and unconvincing.
  • Make every character unlikable, except one who then looks like a limp noodle by the end. This is one of my favorites, when every character is worse than the rest except for one of the semi-peripheral characters (although never the protagonist). This person will inevitably get the girl or be welcomed into the victory, but I just want to tell him/her to turn around and walk away. They are better off not being connected with this bunch of jerks.
  • Protagonist as prop. This character has no personality of their own, but simply lets the story happen to them without participating or making choices.  It is still, technically, their story–but they live it by not doing anything. It makes for an exciting read. (NOT!)

I’m sure, with a little work, I can write one of these characters. (And, to be honest, I probably already have.) The difference is that I am not willing to share the story of a character who doesn’t interest me. Maybe I should, though, and then I can get the next multi-million dollar movie deal. You never know.

Have you ever read a book where you don’t like any of the characters, particularly the protagonist, or where the characters bore you to tears? Do you keep reading?

Discover the characters in P.O.W.ER and let me know if any of them fit this list.  I hope not.

Anyone Want to Streak with Me?

Front of the Morris shirt

 

Confession: When I was in college, I became one of the founding members of the Topless Fire Drill Team.

What is that you ask? Well, once a semester (or so) a group of women from my house (at an all women’s college) would run around the outside of the house topless as a means of stress relief. It became a tradition, with many participating–men and women (men ran bottomless). Security knew about it, and would sometimes try to catch the action with spotlights in tow. They never did.

Topless fire drill log

This event got its name from the first time it happened during my sophomore year. Several of my friends convinced a few first year students that this would be a sort of initiation (hazing . . . never), so a group of women went outside, hung their bras on bushes and sprinted around the house. I was chicken that day (and letting my girls out to bounce freely sounded like a truly painful prospect) so I remained inside in case someone called the police . . . and to let them in the door after the run. I didn’t have to do that however, because, unbeknownst to us, the fire captains chose that moment to have a fire drill.

Pictures 50 something women streaming out of the house while 8 or so women screeched around the corner with their breasts flying free for the whole world to see.

As I said, this became a tradition, and I eventually got the courage to run (but not always). When it came to my senior year, we decided the tradition should continue, and willed the captain-ship of the topless fire drill team down to other classrooms. The new captains received a whistle, a t-shirt (which seems strange), and MY BRA signed by all the original members of the team–because my bra was the largest of course.

As far as I know, that bra continues to be handed down from generation to generation. Over ten years ago I was at an anniversary celebration for that house, and one of the current students ran upstairs to show me that she had been the recipient of the bra.

“We didn’t really believe you existed” she said.

That is the closest I ever came to streaking.

But now I have joined a streaking club.

Of course, it’s not that kind of streaking club. Luckily, there will be no bouncing bosoms or free-flowing flesh. Face it, at my age that would not be the most pleasant site in the world no matter how much weight I’ve lost.

No, this is a streaking club for writers. It is about trying to write every day, and getting the support of others to do it. It’s not about judgement or failure. It’s about writing for at least 30 minutes every day. It’s about getting words on the page in whatever form you want.

writing streak

If your streak ends, you just begin again the next day. But somehow, having a group to report to is making it easier for me to report to the page every day, whether it is working on one of my WIPs, blogging, or some other kind of writing.  I don’t want to go on the Facebook page for the group and say “I stopped my streak.” I want to be able to celebrate with “Woo Hoo, I’m on a 10 day streak!” (Which I am as of today). I don’t know why such a simple thing as having someone to check in with helps, but it does.

If you would like to join the streak, let me know and I can add you into the group.  I promise, their will be no bras hanging in trees or breasts flailing in the wind . . . unless you want to do that of course.

Anyone want to streak with me?

The Agony of Self-Censorship

My fingers itch to type the words I want to say.

My brain writes volumes, usually in the wee hours of the morning when I’d much prefer to sleep. Perfect prose (and perhaps a little poetry) comes pouring out of my head, but has nowhere to land . . . yet or ever.

Censorship

 

I have so much to say about certain things, but I can’t. “Why not?” You ask. “This is your blog. You can say what you want to say, write what you want to write. You’ve taken chances and written risky things before.”

True, but sometimes you have to play the game or keep the words hidden until the time is right. Sometimes, you can only write the words for yourself, because the time will never be right.

The first form is the hardest.

What would I write about if I felt free to do so? Would I write about relationships and concerns I have about people I care about? Probably not . . . at least not in a public way.

Would I write about the insanity of an industry where the criminals get away with the crime, and then treat everybody else like they are the guilty ones? Would I write about the ridiculous hoops created by the people in power that make it difficult for normal, good, everyday people to take any steps forward? HELL TO THE YES!

That is what I want to write about, but I can’t until all the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed. Until signatures have been made and money changes hands. But oh does my brain ache to scream the insanity out into the universe!

Somebody help me stay silent!

An Open Letter to Andra’s Feet

Dear Tired Tootsies,

Surely by now your only thought is “what the bleep is going on?” We’ve been excited to follow Andra’s adventures but little did we consider the carnage hidden beneath Andra’s socks. You are the unsung victims of the Natchez Trace. Fugly Foot #2 Poor, poor fugly feet! We sympathize with your agony. You were dragged on this journey without being asked. Head, shoulders, knees and toes though . . . you had to know you wouldn’t get a say. You don’t even have a mouth.

We’re a little conflicted. On one foot, we are good friends and readers of Andra. On the other, we can’t help but be concerned your master is a monster. She gives you a lovely pedicure and then abuses you. She makes you walk 444 miles, with almost no rest, except for random days where she lies in a voluptuous bed while your blisters throb like hellfire. Does she use you to kick puppies as well?

We cringe for you and have thought at times she should be charged with crimes against footmanity.

But then we realized you’re walking the good walk. These achy miles really mean something. You’ve read her book, right?

Oh wait . . . of course you haven’t You’re feet.

Well if you could read, you would know that she brought the Natchez Trace to life in her book To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis. This book . . . it’s like an action movie and a history class had a really brilliant baby. Throw in a little mystery, paranormal, and a kick-ass kid reminiscent of Scout from To Kill A Mockingbird and you have a book that dances across genres, times and places. To Live Forever Perk up, buttercups! You are the lucky piggies getting to retrace history and re-create Andra’s story with every painful step. No worries. Meriwether Lewis probably wished for death a couple of times too—and he got his wish. We promise that won’t happen to you.

How can we keep this promise? Although our own feet rarely shuffle as far as the mailbox, we have had a discussion with our pampered piggies and decided to join you on the trail. We will indeed feel your pain. Note, however, that we asked our feet for permission. NOT COOL, ANDRA!  NOT COOL.

Note how far Lisa needs to stretch to get her tiny tootsies near Tori's mega monster feet.
Note how far Lisa needs to stretch to get her tiny tootsies near Tori’s mega monster feet.

Tori’s tootsies are still a little resentful that they are being pulled away from Milk Duds by the TV. Literally, all of Tori’s furniture is appropriately from La-Z-Boy—for good reason.

Lisa’s little paws have kicked Tori’s butt and will not tolerate rebellion. After all they flew across the country for this mess, and it was exhausting kicking the whole way to keep the plane flying. (Okay . . . okay they really just sat and enjoyed the complimentary peanuts. They did have to walk between two gates, and then all the way to baggage claim and the parking lot).

This explains why we took two days to rest before we joined you. However, we did venture up one steep bridge today as a warm-up for tomorrow. Consider us trained. We will soon head back to Tori’s den of La-Z to rest our tired tootsies after all that hard work.

The good news is you are nearing the end. Once you have accomplished Andra’s (insane) dream, you will be in hoof heaven. Just walk, limp, stumble, and boot scoot your way to Tori’s La-Z Land and she will provide you with all your tiny toes could hope for: fuzzy socks, Epsom salts, a rolling office chair for transportation purposes, a bedpan if necessary (who even needs to walk to the bathroom?), a comfortable bed loaded with pillows with extra propping power, and delicious Pop Tarts and bacon.

We’d promise you a foot rub, but let’s face it, nobody wants to touch you until you toughen up a bit.

We can’t wait to see Andra tomorrow, but we humbly request that you keep thy nasty crusty toes hidden while we walk. Put a sock on it, because no one wants to barf on such hallowed ground. We’re organized, prepared, packed and ready to limp with you. You’ll see us bright and noon-ish toting a backpack with supplies (wine, wine, granola bars, and whine). We’re bringing a Baby Bjorn to haul Andra and have even charted and researched the most effective way for Lisa’s determined feet to carry us all. Tori and Lisa and Andra Hike Bless your soles. See you tomorrow

Love, Tori and Lisa

NOTE: This post appears both here and at The Rambling’s, Tori’s fabulous blog! Please stop by and visit her there as well.

Enough with the Advice Already

Lisa's Brain On Advice

When I was pregnant oh so many years ago, I did what many newly expectant moms do and read What to Expect When You are Expecting. I even attempted to follow the diet they recommended in the book until I realized that I couldn’t sustain myself and my child unless I ate food that actually tasted good.I eventually had to stop reading the book because I began to worry about everything and imagine all the worst case scenarios which wasn’t healthy for me, my baby, or my sanity.

Of course, choosing not to read doesn’t protect you from the unsolicited advice aimed at every new mother. My favorite had to be advice about breast-feeding from someone who had never even tried. You’ve got to love that.

Now, as many of you know, I am trying to reinvent myself into a person who makes a living doing things she is passionate about doing, whether its working on projects for heArtful Theatre Company, or writing, or making presentations or teaching or something I  haven’t yet figured out. I am on the path to the unknown. Of course, being a nerd at heart, I started the path seeking out advice. I’ve taken courses in how to publish. I read articles. I get self-help books. I inundate myself with information.

My brain starts to twist with the confusion of conflicting advice, differing opinions, and multiple possibilities that make things seem simultaneously more hopeful and more hopeless. It’s complicated.

It doesn’t stop there, though, Because, of course, everyone has an opinion and more advice, more suggestions. I’m not talking about book suggestions (I love getting those) but the advice of what I should be doing, or have to do, or the only thing that works. Then there’s the people who try to sell me advice. It’s like. . . .”ooh, this person wants to do something interesting, I bet we can sell her something that will help her or at least make her think we can help.”

But here’s MY reality, it doesn’t help. All of this advice becomes noise that just confuses and mystifies and obscures and makes me say I can’t do this, I’m not like that person, I forgot to do this, or I have to try this,and I’m never going to succeed if I don’t do this, and what about this and . . . (I am aware of this run-on sentence, but that’s how my brain works under the influence of too much advice).

Lisa's Brain On Advice
Lisa’s Brain On Advice

Basically all the advice does is make me stop working and creating. I freeze. I become lost in  how to reach the goal and forget about creating whatever it is I’m trying to create. All the publishing advice in the world is useless if you don’t ever write the book. All of the parenting advice in the world goes nowhere if you never have the child. All of the business planning advice is meaningless if you never start the business.

And here’s another truth, what works for one person will not always work for everyone. Sure there is wise advice out there. There are people who I respect and look to for feedback and advice. I even, sometimes, solicit advice from my fellow bloggers and from friends. But, I am losing focus in the never-ending, easily accessible, avalanche of information that comes to my attention every day. I don’t know if these people have expertise. I don’t know if their advice is meaningful or based on true experience. Yet it piles into my inbox or my reader or onto my desk and I begin to think that I can’t continue until I’ve read every piece of advice.

Thus, advice becomes a stumbling block to achievement.

It’s time to stop asking how, and to just do.

Anyone have any advice about this? 😉

Ode to Insomnia

Snapshot_20131103

Snapshot_20131103

You creep into my bed, a sensual spirit of the night
But rather than giving love, you tend to give me fright.
You fill my mind with thoughts and words and words  and words. . .  and words
As worries flit throughout my brain like a bunch of angry birds.

Oh insomnia, insomnia, why must you love me so?
When sleeping through the night would mean a life less filled with woe.
And yet I see the gifts you bring on those rare nights of dread
when I succumb to your raucous call and pull myself out of bed.

For on those nights I can create, and fill the page with magic
although often the words I write come out sounding tragic.
So perhaps I should learn to embrace your love despite the nighttime cold
For with your help I may achieve some dreams before I’m old.

Oh insomnia, insomnia, why must you love me so?
Can’t you please let me sleep beneath my cozy throw?
I know you think you’re helping me by filling up my head
but really I would much prefer to stay in my cozy bed.

Snapshot_20131103 (2)[To be fair, insomnia is doing wonders for my NaNoWriMo adventure. As of this morning I have now written 6238 words in my novel and I’m sure I will add to that throughout the day.]

Redefining Words in Today’s World

I have come to the conclusion that my understanding of words seems to be completely different from many other people’s understanding. Now, of course that’s not true, but it seems that way based on the adventures in misunderstanding and mis-communication I’ve experienced this week.Will my words find a home

For example, consider the following words:

Collaboration

  • To me it means working together toward a common goal, sharing ideas and being flexible enough to create a strong and satisfying project.
  • To others it seems to mean: attacking people who question their ideas and opinions until you give up in defeat (probably in a weeping mass on the floor).

Education

  • To me the desire for an education suggests an openness to learning new things and a willingness to think, question, challenge and . . . well . . . learn.
  • To others it seems to mean: a desire to have someone give you as much information as possible so you can spout a few facts without thinking too hard or too much.

Hard Work

  • To me it means  . . . um . . . working hard–doing all it takes to be able to have a job well done, even if it means going the extra mile and putting a lot of effort into something. While sometimes it may not be fun, its important to get the job done.
  • To others it seems to mean: 1) spending a large percentage of the time complaining about the work; 2) putting a lot of effort into trying to find ways to avoid the work or convince someone else why the work should be done in a different way; and 3) doing the least amount of work possible and producing a mediocre project.

Communication

  • To me it means the exchange of thoughts, ideas, and information through a variety of means such as speech, writing, non-verbal messages etc.
  • To others it seems to mean the picking out of key phrases that will ensure they completely ignore or misunderstand the information communicated, followed by either completely ignoring the communication attempt or making an angry rebuttal that comes from an imagined place.

Sometimes I wonder if I am really an alien from another planet trapped on a world I’ll never understand.

Lisa the Alien

What words do you no longer understand? 

The Moon Made Me Do It

I was browsing through some random writing from the past few months in search of inspiration and found this so I thought I’d share. Enjoy! 😉 I couldn’t help myself. The moon shone silver and spectacular, opulent in its pregnant fullness. It called out my name in a voice I hear with my body, not … Read more…

Face it: LIFE is confusing!

Yesterday’s Post A Day suggestion asks What part of life confuses you the most? My answer is simple. Life confuses me. To try to explain this, I will resort to a confusing mass of metaphors–a bubbling stew of life’s issues that contains ingredients that only clarify for a moment before melting into a more confusing … Read more…

Animal Mysteries

Meet Lizzy and Jasper, four-legged princess and court jester in our chaotic castle. The mystery is not why they are languidly lying in our bed, Lizzy content on my side, Jasper curled up on Nathan’s. That mystery was solved long ago when the weak-willed king and queen of the castle succumbed to the sweet wiles … Read more…