8 More Prompts to Develop Your Characters: Travel

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Even if your story doesn’t involve jet-setters traveling the globe, your characters should have histories, and some of that might be traveling! Whether it’s a young woman who regrets spending her spring break senior year in Florida instead of France, or a retiree who sells his house to cross the country in an RV, most people have been somewhere other than their hometown at some point in their lives. Or they want to!

  1. If they take vacations, how often? For how long? Where to they prefer to go–to visit family, or to see interesting sights?
  2. If they don’t take vacations, why not? Tied to home by responsibilities, lacking the funds? Not interested, or scared to travel?
  3. Where have they been, and how did it affect them? What did they learn from the experience?
  4. Where would they like to go? What appeals to them about that place?
  5. Do they travel alone? With family? Friends? Weekend getaways with their lover?
  6. How do they prefer to travel–planes, to get there fast? Trains or long road trips, to enjoy the journey? Cruises, to get away from it all for a while?
  7. Souvenirs–to buy or not to buy? Do they overspend on whatever looks good, or limit their purchases carefully? Do they collect certain items wherever they go? Do they have a long list of things to bring home for their loved ones?
  8. When they get home, are they ready to be home, or did they want to stay longer?

I hope this helps you think about what past experiences or future travel plans shape your characters. Be inspired and have fun with these!


Want more character development prompts?

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The Book Robin Hoods: And So It Begins!

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I introduced you to The Book Robin Hoods last month, and since then, I’ve sent out over a dozen review copies of What We Need to Survive to interested bloggers. Some contacted me, some I asked! (Note to self: get back to that. Writer, promote thyself! I could be sending out more books…)

I’m excited to say that my first BRH review is in!

Wow, just wow! So when I stumbled across this book it sounded very intriguing and I have to say I wasn’t disappointed by its content. What I probably liked the most was that the characters are in the focus. Sure, as a reader I want to know why the world is in its current state and there are still some unanswered questions left of which I hope will be answered in the sequels. Yet I loved to see how the characters, especially Paul and Nina, grow, mature and deal with this inconvenient and scary situation. How they build relationships and friendships even though the next day might be their last one. You never know as everything is uncertain and blurry. This book jumbles with the importance of values and materialism. What DO you need to survive after the epidemic plague wipes out 95% of the American population? What is important, what loses value? I loved how this story really got me thinking about such questions however, I was glad to return to our own rather safe and not plague polluted world. After all, we don’t know what the future holds and imagining such a world as in “What We Need To Survive” is scary, thought-provoking yet somehow important and essential in my opinion. I can definitely recommend this wonderful story with a very satisfying ending at least I thought so. Personally, I cannot wait to dive into the sequel “What We Need To Decide”!

Since they were so excited, and willing to keep reviewing, I sent What We Need to Decide along as well–I need reviews for books two and three even more than book one, but since you have to read them in order…

[I don’t regret writing a series romance at all, but it does make it more difficult to market the later books. Definitely considering a looser structure and/or stand-alones in the future.]

So, writer friends, this is a great resource. Getting book reviews without paying an arm and a leg can be tough, and here we have a growing community of passionate readers who are excited about supporting independent authors. We need to be utilizing it!

If you haven’t checked it out, go and become a member, apply to have your profile added. Or just research the reviewers on offer and contact them directly about your work! Everyone I’ve corresponded with has been lovely, so there’s really no risk, even if they turn you down.

This Week, I Read… (2018 #5)

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#16 – Night Pleasures, by Sherrilyn Kenyon

I’ll be honest, this didn’t feel like it was that different from the first book in the series, Fantasy Lover, except that somehow it’s worse. Okay, Kyrian’s a Dark-Hunter, which is a vampire but not really, while Julian was bound by a curse to a book–but they’re both still damaged heroes with serious loner-ism and trust issues where women are concerned.

And they both have to suffer orgasm denial as a trope in their romance arcs? Why? It bothered me here more than it did in FL, both because I’d already seen it in this series, and NP ramped up the Buffy the Vampire Slayer references. Yeah, I get it, Angel shouldn’t be getting his happy on, so now vampires who can’t come are a thing…ugh.

One of the most helpful pieces of writing advice I’ve seen pertaining to romances is repeatedly asking the question “Why aren’t they together now?” At first, here, it’s because they’re supposed to be enemies. That doesn’t last long at all. Then, it’s because she’s human and he’s not, even when their sexual tension is (according to them, at least) off the charts. Pretty quickly the reason becomes that their relationship can’t work, because she wants a normal life and he can’t give it to her–even though they both want to be together, if only they could.

And that reason lasts for about 2/3 of the book, never evolving further, even when they’re screwing like bunnies. I got bored with reading over and over how angsty and distraught Kyrian was about being unable to give Amanda the life she wanted or be the lover she deserved. It’s not even a bad reason, for their situation–but we get there so fast, and it never develops further. It gets stale.

Also, I have issues with Amanda’s psychic powers. Not that she might have them–her family seems pretty extraordinary in that regard–but that they’re never mentioned until BAM! she’s a prime target for soul-sucking by the enemy because of her psychic potential. She doesn’t know she has them (or so she claims) and has no idea how to use them; then she “remembers” having premonitions and being so traumatized by both the experience and having others disbelieve her that she represses her powers; then, magically, at the end, she’s pulling free crucifixion nails and slamming doors with her mind, mastering physical agony and fooling demigods. No training, no studying, just zero-to-hero with no development.

At least Kyrian is badass because he’s had his powers for millennia–plenty of time to practice, right?

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#17 – Let the Right One In, by John Ajvide Lidqvist

Should I be more horrified by this than I am? Should I be questioning my moral standing when at the end I’m rooting for the vampire?

Yes, Eli drinks blood in order to survive, and that necessitates killing people (to some degree). Which is wrong, of course.

But throughout the book we see how careful Eli is not to allow those victims to become new vampires, either by use of her proxy–a pedophile so repugnant it was a struggle for me to read some of his sections without gagging–or by being sure to kill the victim afterward.

It’s only when things become truly desperate for Eli that the situation gets out of control. Some of my favorite parts of the novel were of Virginia, the descriptions of the slow horror she felt when all of her perceptions and desires became unrecognizable, and the dread of the growing realization of what she’d become, and what she was and wasn’t willing to do.

Virginia as a character is a brilliant counterpoint to Eli, the eternal twelve-year-old. Does this book have something to say about the resilience of children, clinging to life in whatever form because survival is a stronger drive than morality? Can Virginia make her choice only because she’s an adult, who has lived the extra years needed to solidify a moral compass, and to accumulate even a paltry store of people she refuses to harm?

And then there’s Oskar, the butt of all jokes, the target of all bullying. His friendship with Eli is what gives him the strength to stand up for himself, though his methods certainly aren’t principled. But again, there’s a visceral satisfaction in Oskar’s acts of revenge, and even when I know what he’s doing is wrong, the people he’s doing it to are worse. He’s Eli’s human mirror.

Still, the book does have flaws. I don’t equate horror with gore–which is probably why this read to me as a lesson on relative morality and not something likely to keep me up at night–but this is possibly the goriest book I’ve ever read. I have a higher tolerance for it in print than on screen, so it’s unlikely I’ll ever watch any movie adaptation, because I’d like to keep my stomach where it belongs, thank you.

Also, it’s got a relatively large cast of characters to keep track of, and some of them have remarkably similar names. I kept getting Tommy confused with Tomas and Jonny confused with Jimmy, especially since all four characters are (loosely) about Oskar’s age and part of his social group, if you extend it to include the bullies. On top of that, the group of adults we meet as drinking buddies in the beginning has six (or maybe seven?) people in it, only a few of whom get much screen time and end up being important. Did there need to be so many of them? I wouldn’t like to see the scope of the story cut down, only the number of arguably superfluous or confusing characters.

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#18 – Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood

I have strong but ambivalent (or perhaps contradictory) feelings about this book. On the one hand, I’m intrigued by a dystopia based on mega-corporation science gone wrong–it feels possible, though this particular work is already old enough that the tech level is outdated, which makes it feel strange as even a near-future version of our world.

On the other hand, everything about the way society was structured in this hypothetical world felt juvenile. The names of the corporations and the products went beyond silly to downright infantile.

But apparently everyone is all about watching live child pornography, executions, and suicides in this world, so maybe they did need their science dumbed down and spoon-fed to them.

So the title names Oryx and Crake, but Oryx never materialized for me. She’s an object of pity and worship, a delicate little flower who refuses to talk about her traumatizing past (which I guess could pass for strength, but comes across more as denial.) To Jimmy/Snowman, she’s an ideal and a memory. But she never seemed important. Even her death was bland, though its consequences were not. It was a single line, an event that happened so fast you could blink and miss it.

But Crake, he dominates the story. He’s the driving force behind literally everything about the world, from its end to its rebirth. And here’s the kicker–I didn’t care for the heavy use of flashbacks and the nearly-nonexistent “present” storyline, where nothing much happened until near the end. But I’m honestly not sure how else this story could have been told successfully. We’re presented with a decaying world filled with abnormal animal creations and beatific almost-humans, establishing the ruin of the world we know as fact right from the beginning. The flashbacks tells us how we got there from here, and throughout it all is Crake, thinking and questioning and plotting.

Would the story have been better told from his perspective in real time? But then we’d have to go on the journey of morality either with him (if he pondered the goodness of what he did) or beside him (if he was a lunatic/psychopath/other) while we watched him dismantle the world that is so close to, but not quite, ours. Told from Jimmy’s perspective, we get to see what Crake is from the outside and judge his motives ourselves, rather than know them firsthand.

Which does add to the story, I think. Even if I had to plod through the Snowman sections wondering what the hell the point of them was, because so little seemed to happen.

And then the ending! Something’s about to happen, but we don’t know what! Cliffhanger! It’s jarring, but I’m actually okay with it, because if the book had ended with Snowman’s death (as it seemed, for a while, to be heading toward) then I would be having a hell of a time wondering what the rest of the trilogy was going to talk about, since life as we know it would be effectively over, and the Craker society doesn’t seem like it’s up for fielding two more books on its own.

I liked it. It has flaws: some of the science is questionable, I don’t think Oryx got the development she warranted, and the present-day storyline wanders and is basically a pretext to have flashbacks. But it made me think, and I’m curious about where the next book goes.

End of the Month Wrap-Up: January 2018!

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I didn’t start the year as well as I’d hoped.

On the writing front, I picked my project–rewriting my NaNo ’16 novel, the rock-band romance–then did the reread and note taking, but failed to actually start rewriting. Part of the problem is that the whole thing needs a massive overhaul, and more specifically, the beginning needs radical reworking. It’s difficult to get started.

Especially when I spent over half the month wallowing in illness. Since I’ve recovered from the bronchitis, I’ve made a far greater effort at self-care: consistent exercise, lots of water and herbal tea, naps when I need to. I don’t feel entirely myself again yet, but it’s helping.

On the reading front, my illness provided tons of extra time for books. I read 18 this month! I read all four books I’d planned on for my Expand Your Horizons challenge; seventeen of those eighteen counted for Mount TBR; and the one that didn’t was for the PopSugar challenge, as well as several of the others. My February Horizons TBR is ready to go, and I’ll be shooting for at least twelve books read for Mount TBR, to keep pace for finishing by the end of the year–no cramming!

On a more personal front, I’ve been struggling some with my depression, undoubtedly due to the stress of my illness and how it has set me back in my enthusiasm for my goals this year. In addition to the regular exercise, I’m suddenly all about my art journal again, so I expect to be reviving my sporadic post series on that, hopefully turning it into an actual monthly feature, if I’m creating enough content consistently for it.

Here’s to a better and more productive February!

Expand Your Horizons: February 2018 TBR

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First month of the challenge down, eleven to go! If you’ve just joined me recently, I’ve committed to reading one book each, every month in 2018, from Nonfiction, Banned Books, Classics, and #ownvoices.

Here’s my February TBR!

Horizons February TBR

  • Nonfiction: Your Inner Fish: A Journey Into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body, by Neil Shubin
  • Banned Books: The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
  • Classics: A Room of One’s Own, by Virginia Woolf
  • #ownvoices: How Stella Got Her Groove Back, by Terry McMillan

If you’re curious about the challenge, you can find all the details here, and be sure to use the #horizonsreadingchallenge tag on your social media so everyone can see what you’re reading!

 

This Week, I Read… (2018 #4)

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#14 – Fingersmith, by Sarah Waters

Perhaps my expectations of this should have been tempered by the oft-used term “Dickensian” in relation to this work, because Charles Dickens is one of my least favorite authors. But this title appears over and over on lists of wlw books worth reading, so I gave it a try.

I would have liked it much better if it had been about two hundred pages shorter–Dickensian, indeed.

Repetitive, not just for effect, but for melodrama. And the “love” part of the story was actually one of the weakest elements–both Maud and Susan were identically overwrought, with little personality beyond their wild mood swings, and basically no chemistry between them. The ending would have satisfied me better if I could believe these two women didn’t have more reason to love each other, than loathe. Because if I were Susan? I wouldn’t be so forgiving.

What I liked most, strangely enough for me, were the early plot twists. Changing first-person viewpoint in the middle because of one was a great and enjoyable surprise, but that’s also exactly when I feel the pace begins to lag. The section where we repeat events in Maud’s POV that had already happened in Susan’s should have been much shorter, ideally limited exclusively to anything Susan wasn’t present for, such as Maud’s private conversations with Richard.

However, I saw the final plot twist coming from miles away, and the big switcheroo in the past didn’t actually make much sense to me–I know that it happened, I’m not confused as to the particulars, but I don’t really understand why the participants felt it was necessary. So, between that and the lack of interest I had in a happy ending for Maud and Susan, the final pages fell incredibly flat.

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#15 – Three Strong Women, by Marie NDiaye

Pretentious drivel. I only read the first of the three “interconnected” short stories, then the first ten pages of the second, before giving up.

My first complaint is the prose style. Since French is as guilty of long, clause-heavy sentences as English, I can’t pass off my gripes as potentially awkward translation–this was simply laden with meandering, incomprehensible sentences. And I do mean literally incomprehensible–early on, one sentence told me that the main character’s brother had died (“passed on” was the euphemism as I read it), but then two pages later, he’s alive again. I went back to check that I wasn’t mistaken, and after diagramming the offending sentence in my head in several ways, I finally struck upon a construction that showed me that a person had passed on news, direct-object style, not news that a person had passed on, ie, died.

THAT IS A HUGE MISUNDERSTANDING I SHOULDN’T HAVE BEEN ABLE TO MAKE. THIS IS FUNDAMENTAL FAILING OF WORDS CONVEYING THEIR INTENDED MEANING.

It never got better for me, after that. The repetition of seemingly meaningful symbols (how many times do I have to read the word “poinciana”?) never actually gave them any meaning. The viewpoint distance was somehow extremely internal, giving detailed emotional and historical flavor to every thought, and yet completely detached, because nothing about it made me connect to or care for any of the characters.

And finally, while I realize I didn’t finish the book, I don’t see how the first woman, the one I read about, was in any way “strong.” She’s miserable about everything, apparently unwilling to do anything about it, possibly being gaslighted by her horrible, horrible father about whether or not she lived where she lived (that was weird and I honestly didn’t understand the meaning or significance of that short exchange), and she’s forced into representing her incarcerated, not-dead brother for their stepmother’s murder. And I do mean forced, the prison guards know she’s his lawyer before she does. And what does she do? She goes along with it, even though her father manipulated her into that position. What’s strong about that?

Let Me Tell You a Story #28: Wizards and Dragons and Death

One of my favorite authors, Ursula K. Le Guin, passed away yesterday.

I was going to post something else today, but I postponed it (you’ll see it next Monday) because I wanted to take a little time to reflect on what I’ve learned from Le Guin, and what I still have to learn.

I first heard about her when I was seventeen and touring colleges during the spring break of my senior year of high school. Some of my classmates were in Florida or Mexico having the tropical spring break experience, but I was slogging from interview to interview all across the Midwest, trying to make a good impression.

At my first-choice school, my interviewer asked right away about what I liked to read. When I started throwing out then-current Big Fantasy Names, he asked me if I’d ever read the Earthsea Cycle, and when I replied that I’d never heard of it, he proceeded to tell me about what were (as it turned out) some of his favorite books he’d ever read.

I took that kind of book recommendation seriously, even twenty years ago. Before we left campus I had checked the college bookstore to see if they had copies–they didn’t.

I got them from my local bookstore two days after I returned home, and within a week I’d read all three of them (the original trilogy–Tehanu, the fourth, had been published then, only I didn’t know it.) I had never read anything like them (this was pre-Harry Potter, so a school for wizards? Not an old or tired concept to me.) I had only read fantasy where magic was easy, or trivial, or powerful but relatively consequence-free; what Ged went through during his studies, and after them, and the price he paid fascinated me.

And I had never before read anything with such an original and nuanced take on death–both the death-worship cult in Tombs of Atuan, which both intrigued and terrified me, and the journey into the dry land in The Farthest Shore.

At that age, I hadn’t thought much about death at all. Even though these were middle-grade/YA novels, they were an important part of my transition to adulthood, when the bigger questions started to plague me.

I still have those copies, I will never get rid of them.

Sadly, though they accepted me, I didn’t end up going to my first-choice school, as my second choice gave me a substantially better financial aid package. I never got to go back to the man who introduced me to Earthsea and thank him. I absolutely would have, and spent another hour, like we did in the interview, talking books with him. There’s a good reason that’s the only interview from that week I actually remember!

Even though I’ve read and loved so much of her work, there’s still so much left for me to read. On my trip to Portland last fall, I scored four more Le Guin books, none of which I’ve gotten to yet–but I had plans to read the entire Hainish Cycle this year, as well as her book on writing Steering the Craft.

I hope her works continue to be an inspiration to me as I read through them this year. I hope I can keep recommending them to new readers, as they were once bestowed upon me. My heart hurts whenever I think about how there will be no more books from her, but then it hurts less when I realize just how much she left us to ponder.