Depth of character.

I’m watching the James Patterson Master Class videos, and he said something I’ve been saying for YEARS. Don’t just say that someone is scary/cool/mysterious/whatever. That’s just a cliche that doesn’t get you anywhere. And, frankly, it’s lazy. Say WHY they are. Something they say or do that shows how/why they are what you want people to think they are.

Don’t just say “He smiled darkly.” What’s dark about it? What is the dark intention in his soul (if he has one) that makes his intention dark? Or, what is it that whoever sees him smiling makes them think it’s dark? Or scary. Or cool. Or mysterious. Or whatever.

And I don’t just mean to whip out a thesaurus to think of some other cliche word to replace the cliche word you’re trying to get rid of. THINK. If you can’t explore the depths of your characters, you might as well be writing recipes. Zucchini doesn’t need to know why it’s getting cooked. It just sits there waiting to be baked. Or fried. Or whatever..

I do know people with all the depth of a kumquat, but that’s not what you want to put on your pages for your readers. What you want to share, and what they want to see, are characters that are vibrant and alive. Even the undead ones.  Characters with depth, ambition, scope. Qualities that make your readers either love them or hate them. Characteristics that make your readers want to keep turning those pages.

Well, that and a good story.

The point here, is that you need to THINK. Get to know the characters you’re writing about. Have ’em over for tea. Take ’em out for a drive. Throw ’em in with the sharks and see how they handle it. Explore them. Learn them. Watch them. Put a handkerchief in Edna’s pocket as a reminder of her beloved grandmother, which she touches when she’s feeling particularly lonely. Give Skip a weathered hat that he just doesn’t give up for a new one because  1) his favorite team hasn’t won the championship in decades, or 2) he wore that cap when he had a brush with fame and glory when he almost made the majors.

The possibilities are literally endless.


Be creative. Be clever. Be a writer.

Now go. Have fun.


Mary Sue

Authors, when creating your characters, be careful to make them realistic. If your villains are implausibly evil, they become an unbelievable farce. And if your protagonist, is impossibly perfect, she becomes a Mary Sue.

A Mary Sue is an idealized fictional female protagonist who saves the day through extraordinary abilities. Perfect in every way, beloved by children, dogs and everyone around her. Plot-wise, this character is improbably central to everything — the bride at every wedding, the corpse at every funeral. Desired by every man that sees her, and envied by every woman she meets. Maybe desired by them as well. The sweet Mary Sue is impossibly perfect in every way. ~ #
She’s exotically beautiful, often having an unusual hair or eye color, and has a similarly cool and exotic name. She’s exceptionally talented in an implausibly wide variety of areas, and may possess skills that are rare or nonexistent in the real world. She also lacks any realistic character flaws — either that or her “flaws” are obviously meant to be endearing or empowering.^

There’s also a variation on the traditional Mary Sue, a “Black Hole Sue.” Everything is all about her. Everything. Her gravity is so great, she draws all the attention and causes everyone around her (and, often, reality itself) to bend and contort in order to accommodate her. People don’t act naturally around her. They instead serve only as enablers for her. She dominates every scene she is in. The world literally revolves around her. *
This character is generally recognized as an author insert and/or wish-fulfillment. It’s the author endowing upon herself skills and characteristics, appearances and capabilities that she wishes she possessed in real life, injecting this perfected version of herself into a fictional universe where she can be celebrated as simply the best person that ever existed.

Here is a Mary Sue test. Answer the questions honestly to see if this character you’re dealing with is, ineed a Mary Sue. If she even comes close, write her out.
That’s right. Kill her off. Your writing and reputation will benefit from getting rid of such a ridiculously unbelievable character. You’ll be better off, and nobody would have believed her anyway.
marysuekillheroffThere. That’s better, isn’t it?

Nom de plume

There are a lot of choices an author faces over the course of his or her career. What to write about, which agents to approach, whether to publish through a traditional company, indie, or do it themselves.

Perhaps the first choice an author has to make is what name to publish under. Most figure they have nothing to hide, so they simply use their legal name. No sweat. But sometimes, an author chooses to use a nom de plume, a pen name.

Maybe an author has an existing body of work and wants to explore another genre . Or to test the waters in an existing genre. Stephen King wrote several books under the pen name Richard Bachman to see if it was still his talent that was selling books, or if people just bought them because his real name was on them. He was found out pretty quickly, but in the meantime, he did prove that he’s just that good.

Or maybe an author just doesn’t think his own name will sell books so s/he chooses a name they like better.

In my case, there are already a dozen people using my real name, as authors and artists, professors and just about any other profession you can think of. Including a few that use the exact same spelling. So I decided to use the initials JT. (Please note that I do not use periods after my initials. If folks are going to quote or slander me, they need to at least get the name right.) My middle initial is not T; I chose it for personal reasons. Or, rather, it was chosen for me. Bonus points to anybody that knows what it stands for, and why.

And it’s certainly not just me.

Ben Franklin wrote as Alex Afterwit, Alice Addertongue and a host of other names, for various reasons.
Sam Clemens was Mark Twain.
Dean Koontz wrote as Aaron Wolfe and Anthony North, Brian Coffey, Deanna Dwyer, David Axton, John Hill, K. R. Dwyer, Leigh Nichols, Owen West and Richard Paige.
Anne Rice was born Howard Allen Frances O’Brien. Who knew?

Point is, there’s nothing new about using a pen name. They’re as old as literature itself. In older times, a noble person couldn’t be associated with something as common as writing books. so those works were published under some other name. And, back then, nobody would have taken anything written by a mere woman seriously, so a male name on a book cover was necessary for it to be properly received by the reading public. Anne Bronte wrote as Acton Bell.

There are as many reasons to use a pen name as there are possibilities from which to choose. And most of them are valid. The only time they’re not legit is when it’s one person making up not only a ton of fake names to write under, but whole fake people with entire fake lives with fake/stolen pictures to present to the world as them , to defraud the public into thinking a publishing company has more authors than it really does. In short, it’s not okay when it’s done in order to be fraudulent rather than literary. And, no. it can’t be both.

Here are some points to consider when choosing a pen name:

That last point is especially important.

For example, there is more than one author using the name Ivy Sinclair. There’s this author named Ivy Sinclair that has a formidable body of work, writes well and presents herself well online with a tight, concise, professional webpage, fb, Goodreads, Amazon profile and Twitter.

And then there’s this other Ivy Sinclair, who writes barely literate spank through dodgy indie publishers like Phoenix Fire, Dark Storm, and whatever they’re calling it next. Quite possibly not a real person at all, but rather an alt used by a scam publisher trying to make her roster appear more prolific and impressive than it really is.

Same name, very different authors. The first one, the real Ivy Sinclair, writes well and if contemporary romance is your taste, I suggest that you look her up.

The second one, the fake, not so much.

And before some smart acre comes along and says “Why is it okay for Dean Koontz to use so many names but not me?” …just don’t. He’s Dean Koontz. You’re not.

Getting back to the point, choose your name wisely, young Jedi. Whatever name you decide to use for your writing, your real name or some other, is going to be with you for a very long time. That could be a very good thing or it could be a decision you regret forever. So give it lots of thought.

You’re welcome.

Drive time

If you awaken and dread going to work on your current book, you’ve taken too long in writing it. Put it in a drawer and move on to another project. Perhaps if it gathers dust for a little while, you’ll be able to view it with renewed enthusiasm later. Writing should be a labour of love and discovery, not drudgery.

If, on the other hand, you’ve written a book in just a few days, you’ve done it too fast. Ease up on the gas. You’re missing too much of the scenery.