Dawn Montgomery

Archive for the ‘Workshops’ Category

Annihilate Boredom with Interesting Characters Pt 1

In Workshops, Write Talk on October 26, 2013 at 2:35 pm

NaNoWriMo Workshop 2013

We’re continuing my spontaneous NaNoWriMo 2013 workshop today with building characters that you’ll actually like to write about. What you’ve missed so far:

Getting Started and how to Annihilate Boredom

As an experienced novelist I can tell you the absolute worst feeling in the world is disliking (loathing, hating, etc.) your main characters. Perhaps that was too strong. The worst feeling is finding out you hate them IN THE MIDDLE OF THE BOOK. He’s too boring. She’s too angsty. He has habits that annoy me. She’s acting too childish about everything.

As the writer you maintain creative control of your characters. That sounds cool doesn’t it? Creative Control.

If you’re new to writing (like my kids and husband are this year), there’s an analogy I want you to think about. Writing a book is like taking a road trip.

  • We’ll call creative control the car you’re driving.
  • The road is your story (with or without a destination or road map in mind).
  • The characters are behind the wheel and you’re in the passenger seat directing their actions.
  • The speed the car travels is your writing pace (why do I suddenly have flashbacks to high school math?).

Some of you have never written a thing in your life. A few have tried and put it aside for whatever reason. Some regular writers like myself maintain at one pace for most of the year and then ramp up word count output during November’s NaNoWriMo.

This means writing before and during NaNoWriMo is like comparing a Sunday leisurely sightseeing trip against the crazy speed and curves of a Grand Prix.

If you’re riding shotgun during a breakneck race to the finish, it’s easy to get lost and lose sight of what you wanted your characters to do. Midway through the book is a terrible time to find out you don’t like your characters. I’ve been there. Trust me.

Take some time, then, and think about a character (or characters) you’d find interesting to learn about.

When I talked to my family and friends about developing their characters a bit, this is what I got:

  • A teenage boy caught in the undertow of a wave ends up being saved by a mermaid’s kiss. – Great one sentence explanation or “log line” of the book, but it doesn’t tell me about the character. 
  • The hero will go here and do this. And then this. And then this. – Knowing all the places your character travels is pretty cool. I’ll expand on why this isn’t a character development in a moment.
  • She wants a normal life. – Great goal, but what’s keeping her from having a normal life? The reply was “I don’t know.” 

Have you ever been on a road trip with an annoying person? The girl that screeches every time she laughs. What about the backseat driver who keeps kicking the back of your passenger seat in an attempt to push down on the pedals?

I remember one trip where I spent two and a half days with a business associate who would. not. shut. up. about the importance of water conservation and how wasteful the world was with this resource. Now I’m big into water conservation so don’t lose your minds, but imagine it…two and a half DAYS. That’s at least 500 miles per day. From breakfast. To lunch. Through dinner. The only break I had was when we went to our separate hotel rooms to sleep.

My nightmares involved water. Lots of water. And then deserts.

There’s a point to this…I promise.

You’re going to be in the passenger seat for thirty days AND nights. 😉 How terrible would it be to have Mr. Water Conservation mumbling in your ear for a week? Two? A month? You want to create characters that interest you. Ones who will be comfortable (if not necessarily happy) at the beginning of the story.

Then you’re going to put them in an uncomfortable situation and make them act. Their reaction sets them on the road trip.

There are three questions I ask are based on Lynn Viehl’s original post HERE with a modification thanks to Morgan Hawke HERE (note, Morgan’s site is not work or kid friendly).

  1. What/Who are you, and what do you do?
  2. What do you want?
  3. What’s the worst possible thing that could happen to you?

So let’s look at the three examples above.

A teenage boy caught in the undertow of a wave ends up being saved by a mermaid’s kiss.

What are you, and what do you do? 

Answer: Human water-loving Teenage Boy who likes to surf – We specified human here since he’s rescued by a mermaid.

What do you want? 

Answer: To escape the bitter divorce between my parents and get things the way they were in my head – His isolation caused him to not pay attention to his location and he got hit by a wave he wasn’t ready for. The author came up with this the moments she answered this question. 😀 

What’s the worst possible thing that could happen to you? 

Answer: Find out you’re the reason for the divorce in the first place. – She surprised me with this one. I can’t wait to see how his surfing, love of water, and the mermaid saving him fits lays out with the story! 

What did we find out about the character? He loves water, is dealing with some crazy stuff at home, and then finds out (as a direct result of his interaction with the mermaid) that he’s the reason they split. Is this enough to make you like the character? No. Not yet. But it’s a good start.

The hero will go here and do this. And then this. And then this. 

What are you, and what do you do? 

Answer: I am a Princess in charge of a tiny but important kingdom – I’m a fan of fairytales in any form.

What do you want? 

Answer: To stop the invasion of the shadow king – Good. I like it. 😀 

What’s the worst possible thing that could happen to you? 

Answer: Fail to stop the invasion – totally works. 

What did we find out about the character? She wants to protect her tiny and important kingdom from invasion. Failing to stop the invasion would lead to bad things. Do we know enough to like the character yet? Not quite, but we’re getting there.

She wants a normal life.

This goal isn’t specific enough so it’s hard to figure out your character. A normal life for me would be phone free, hanging out with my family, writing all day, and chatting with you all online. A normal life for a dear friend involves 24/7 access to a phone and texting, traveling all over the world, and rollerderby when she’s home every other month or so. See what I mean? What is normal? When you figure out what your character specifically wants…then you can move on. 

Rogue from the Marvel Universe wants to be able to touch someone without 1. draining their power and 2. killing the person she touches/loves. Her version of normal is definitely different than mine. 

Now, you’ll need to do this for each of your main characters (this includes your villain/villains if you have them). This may take longer than you expect or you may breeze through it. Keep these notes close by as we’ll be revisiting them in the next few posts.

If you’d like to see the entire workshop list of posts click HERE.

Disclaimer: My experiences aren’t your experiences. If anything you read here helps, fantastic! If not, take what works and discard the rest. Writing is an individual process and there is no “right” or “wrong” way to get it done. 

If you’d like to see the digital graphics I made for this year’s NaNoWriMo, click HERE and scroll down to the bottom to grab them (right click on the picture and either copy URL for your site or download to your computer).

World Building Conclusion

In Workshops on May 3, 2011 at 9:25 pm

All content © Dawn Montgomery 

Thank you for stopping by during this six day workshop. I hope you had as much fun as I have. Whether you write by the seat of your pants, are a detailed plotter, or anything in between, remember to take notes on the world you’ve created.

We covered: how to create your world, your characters, the rules and how they can be broken, where it all takes place, and how to describe the details without killing the pace of the story.

This has been an introductory workshop. Over time (and as I get more questions) I’ll break down some of the lessons even further.Your world has to make sense to you, if no one else. The art is in translating it for us. Create a world where we can suspend disbelief, and enjoy (or be terrified by) the magic you create.

I’d like to thank Kim Knox and Jerry Russell for their contributions to this workshop.  

For more information and other ideas, please check out some of these websites below:

Lynn Viehl, of pbackwriter, has a blank novel book download, and a book on writing entitled The Way of the Cheetah.

Morgan Hawke’s Darkerotica blog (warning not work friendly). This blog has an amazing amount of information for a writer. She was my first mentor, and the woman who taught me that less is more in description. I own and use her book on writing for profit.  

Lisa Gardner, mystery/suspense author of The Perfect Husband, has a great workshop for writers on her website.

A summary of the lectures til now:

Worldbuilding, an introduction

Creating Characters

Worldbuilding: Creating Rules

Choosing your location

Travel and TMI: When details bog down the story

Thank you for stopping by, and remember…Keep Writing!


Travel and TMI

In Workshops on May 2, 2011 at 8:16 pm

 All content © Dawn Montgomery 

TMI: Too much information. In your worldbuilding, I’m sure you’ve created amazing things. Wonderful inventions for travel. Unbelievable magical items. In your world building notes, you should definitely expand on these items, explain how they work or whether your character knows how it works (that could be part of the fun, a la the Greatest American Hero).

Your readers (me included!) don’t want to see the explanation, however. Think about real life. I use a microwave. Do I, as the average user, have ANY idea how a microwave works? No. Do I need to know how it works? Nope. If it breaks I take it to a repair shop where HE/SHE has to know how it works. If it can’t be repaired, I buy a new one. Easy, right?

So how does this tie in with Travel?

Glad you asked…

Travel can be any mode, whether walking from place to place within a home to telekinetically launching a space craft to another world. Some of my most memorable reading moments involved unique travel ideas.

Barron Harkonnen from the Prelude to Dune Trilogy, Dune, and Children of Dune. He was so obese that he required anti-gravity units called suspensors. This caused complications that eventually ended in his death.

Who doesn’t remember the icy cold of between in The Dragonriders of Pern series? It was mentioned on several occasions that one never got used to the cold nothingness of between. It was imperative to the movement and survival of the dragons, so was, therefore, integral to the plot.

If your character uses teleportation as an every day occurrence, unless he or she has an unusual fear of the physics and mechanics involved, your character wouldn’t explain in his/her head how it worked.

I don’t get in my car and go through my checks in individual thought. Years of practice has me adjusting my seat, putting on my seat belt, starting the car, and verifying that there are no warning signs (low oil, low gas, check tire pressure). Years of habit has me doing that automatically. If the car breaks down, or shows a warning light, I know what has to be done. Have your characters react to an issue, not bore us to death with details.

Too much information is a pace killer in most books.

TMI and travel go hand in hand. Traveling from one point to another is a great transition piece. If no plot point exists on this trip…why are you making it? Don’t force your character to sit at a train window and stare at the endless expanse of marigolds and sunflowers. If she’s noticing this, it had better in some way affect the story line. Perhaps she had only seen desert land before. It would be a comparative statement for character development. Perhaps she’s looking out the window to avoid being recognized, but sees the reflection of the man she’s running from in the window.

Do I care that the bullet train runs on magnetic propulsion? No. Not until the magnetic resonance is destroyed, causing the train to crash. Would my heroine know what had happened? Maybe. It would be speculation until she finds out how the specifics (and here’s the killer…she (and the reader) may NEVER find out how it happened).

In Seduced in Shadow, I needed a way for my heroine and villain to cross over into the human world. There are a lot of options. A magical gateway, a dream sequence, a hidden door, or even a spell. Perhaps there is only one time a year that the doorway opens. Maybe when it does open, you have to exchange something. When the human comes through, a magical item must pass over. Equal exchange (one of my favorite rules. For every action an equal an opposite reaction must occur…even in magic).

Getting from one point to another in your story is a very important part of world building. Description should flow easily, and just like with location before, it should add to the overall story line.

One last little note: remember the advice of the great Orson Scott Card, call a rabbit a rabbit. If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, don’t call it a gildersnaff. Your readers are intelligent enough to know that your characters are speaking their own language.

Worldbuilding, an introduction

Creating Characters

Worldbuilding: Creating Rules

Choosing your location

A special thank you to Kim Knox, my workshop beta reader. Up next, the world building conclusion.


In Workshops on May 1, 2011 at 7:19 pm

 All content © Dawn Montgomery 

The last few days have been a little peek inside how I develop my world and characters for a new book. I’ve used my up-and-coming free read Seduced in  Shadow (releases May 30, 2011) as my example.

Today the focus is on Location. I have always felt that location is the fourth main character of any story. You can take an alleyway and make it dark and terrifying, or comforting and calming in just a few choice words.

The yellow light flickered around me. Ice cold ripped through my coat and ran shivers down my spine. I breathed, but the bite of fear didn’t ease. Shadows came alive with the rustle and squeaks of unknown…things in the darkness of the alley. The stench nearly overwhelmed me. I jingled coins in my pocket, a nervous habit, but I took comfort in their smooth texture. A loud clang jerked my attention to the scrawny face of an alley cat perched on a trashcan. Its glowing pupils eyed me like food. Fear settled in my gut, and its copper taste overwhelmed the turkey sandwich I’d had earlier. There was no way I was going down that alley.

The ancient light faded and warmed. A cool breeze, sharpened by winter swept through the streets, teasing open my jacket. It chilled my skin, but I was thankful it swept away the unpleasant odor of the alley. The reflective eyes of alley cats playing chase in the shadows pulled a grin from me. I jingled coins in my pocket and a loud clang told me I had a visitor. I stroked the tufted ears of the at the scrawny alley cat perching on his favorite trashcan. It eyed me with interest and waited. He knew I was bringing treats, the leftovers of a turkey sandwich I had just eaten.

So I hit all five senses. Sight, smell, taste, touch, and sound. There are other senses too…the adrenal reaction, the sixth sense that something was going to happen…

Did it set a mood for you? Which alley would you consider stepping into?

For Seduced in Shadow, I needed a unique location, a place I couldn’t call on in my memory. I wanted a home where my villain could commit terrible acts, and still be in his plane of existence. Since my heroine was human, it had to be something/some place she was willing to visit. I chose a historic castle and grounds for my location.

The darkness would come alive, and everything that the hero touches would die. Everything, that is, except the gardens. I wonder why that is…hmmm. The gardens are based on my memory of a tour through the gorgeous rose gardens in Tyler, Texas (home of the famous yellow Tyler Rose).

So many authors use location as a backdrop, a thing that can be interchanged. I urge you to look back on your life…

Do you remember a great summer day at a lake? How did the breeze feel? What sounds do you remember? Think about the worst day of your life. I know mine. It was the day of grandmother’s funeral. I remember it was icy cold but the sun was shining so brightly it made my tear-swollen eyes hurt. I remember thinking it should be raining and that the whole world should be crying. I was irrationally angry with the sun.

Have you ever gone to a gathering and sat next to the woman who bathes in perfume? I’m allergic to most commercial perfumes, so you can imagine…I could think about nothing but her overwhelming floral stench. Every time I ate something, the metallic tang of her perfume destroyed the flavor of my food. My sinuses were a complete mess with alternating sneezes and head aches. I was, in a word, miserable. Did my location (seated next to her in an enclosed room) affect my behavior? You’d better believe it did.

When you build your world, your rules,  your characters…don’t leave out location as one of your most important parts of the whole.

Below you’ll find more of this World-Building workshop:

Worldbuilding, an introduction

Creating Characters

Worldbuilding: Creating Rules

Rules and How to Break Them

In Workshops on April 30, 2011 at 6:47 pm

 All content © Dawn Montgomery 

Yesterday I chatted a bit about characters. I went through how I create my initial characte ideas. After devloping them, I would surf the net for images that capture my ideal character portraits. If I can’t find one, I’d draw one on my own.

Today I’m going to talk about creating rules in your world. This is a continuation of the worldbuilding for Seduced by Shadow. Please note that this book will be a free read, but the workshops contain spoilers. So if you’d rather wait for the novella, by all means. It’ll be out Memorial Day weekend (May 30, 2011).

When I created my villain, I decided he had to create a blood curse on his family in order to become more powerful than the hero. In my world, a blood curse has to be fed.

So rule #1: blood curses need to be fed in order to maintain their integrity.

This leads to rule #2: Failure to feed the curse would cause a backlash against the caster.(oooo now it’s getting good!)

So now I have to tie in my heroine…rule #3: maintaining the blood curse requires a sacrifice. (and now you know why she’s there).

In order for my villain to be truly villainous, and my hero to be truly heroic, the blood curse would need to be carried out by a an unwilling hero while the villain watches (and gains power).

So rule #4: Interaction between the hero and heroine can be fatal, but their attraction to one another has to be unstoppable (both physically and magically).

At this point I can tweak my characters some. My heroine will have known somewhat about this curse, actually searched it out. Why? Maybe she lost someone dear to her? That can have interesting side effects…

Rule #5: All magic use has consequences. The greater the spell, the more destructive the consequences.

Rule #6: The hero moves in shadows, through a shadow world. So, by contrast, the villain moves in light and fears the darkness. (so much fun!).

If I break one of these rules, I had better have a damn good reason why. Take rule #4 for instance…how can I seduce the heroine if the heroe’s touch can kill her? Does it only kill her in a sacred area? Will a small amount of blood satisfy his dark hunger? Whatever the method, I have to get them together…but the consequences will be dire.

We’ve discussed a bit of worldbuilding, character development, and now creating (and breaking) rules. Next up will be location.

Worldbuilding, an introduction

Creating Characters

Worldbuilding: Creating Rules

Your Characters

In Workshops on April 29, 2011 at 6:46 pm

 All content © Dawn Montgomery 

Yesterday’s post was an introduction to world building. Today I want to talk about what makes the heart of your story…your characters. Whether you write by the seat of your pants or meticulously plot every detail, every good story begins with your characters.

A dear writing friend once told me to take a character and determine what could be the worst possible thing you could do to them…then do it. You have to know more about your character to begin with, right?

If I don’t have a solid character foundation, then how can I create rules that I have to follow, or break, in order to complete the story?

For the duration of this world building break down, I’m going to use a current work in progress: Seduced in Shadow.

I knew I wanted a story that involved curses and elves. I mean, after all, no one does a curse like an elf does, right? I’ve always been fascinated by handsome, charismatic men who were vile, and terrible characters. So I knew I’d have a gorgeous male villain. Who would he be? He would have to be a blood relative of my hero, because cursing your own blood brings the hammer of doom on you as well…*rubs hands together in glee* Key things to remember, almost all bad guys will justify their behavior as the right thing. It’s rare in human nature for a person to knowingly do a bad thing just because it’s the wrong thing to do. There has to be a motivation. For my character, he feels that he was cheated of his birthright, and the destruction of his brother is worth any pain on his part. The call of the self-righteous…but he was mad to being with, see?

What about the hero/antihero? He would have to be my fallen angel. Trapped in a curse and forced to do the one thing he would have hated more than anything. And all this to keep his brother in power. He had to make a mistake, a horrible mistake, that put him in this place. Every waking moment would be a reminder of his that moment. He would be forced to relive his agony for as long as the curse held. I like tortured heroes, can you tell?

This is getting good!

Now for the heroine. Here is where it gets tricky. I need a lady who is strong enough to save the hero (and in turn, save herself), smart enough to find a way out of the mess she’s fallen into, and vulnerable enough to gain the trust of the reader. And here’s the key…I have to like her…or I’m going to write her death a thousand times. I’ve done it. I know. There has to be a very important reason for her to be there, a very special something making her a catalyst between these two powerful (and delicious) men.

I’ll leave that one for another workshop day.

World Building

In Software, Workshops on April 28, 2011 at 6:25 pm

When I take on a new project, I have to thoroughly break down the background information. Who this character is, why they do what they do, where they grew up, and where they live now.

If it’s parnormal, I create rules…very specific rules with the understanding that if these rules are broken (after I create them), something catastrophic will happen.

I draw maps (or find them), take notes on rooms of a home that I would come back to time and again, and document little tidbits of information that need to be leaked out for the overal story arc. I also have pictures of the hero, heroine, and all major characters. But where do I put them all?

I use Scrivener to house all my information. I can pull up maps and coordinates, pictures and notes, and everything in between. I can have a file that holds all the information that nags at me when I’m writing…you know, what color was that horse the hero was riding? How did he tip his hat when he was perplexed…stuff like that. Do you have to use them? Of course not! I used to keep an index file with images, notes and maps paperclipped to the folder. It worked for me for many years…but I *never* throw anything away. So finally the clutter was becoming too much.

Over the next few days I’m going to break down how I build up a world, and I invite you to come along.

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