If you celebrate the holiday
we're wishing you all the best--
great food, fun times and creating lasting memories
with family and friends.
“Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vac-ci-i-ine, I’m begging of you, please just take my cash.”
Okay, now, to get that joke, you have to know (at least) two things. The first, of course, is the hit 1973 song “Jolene,” by country superstar Dolly Parton, original lyrics: “Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jo-le-e-ene, I’m begging of you, please don’t take my man.”
|One the favorite albums in my collection!|
“The Dolly Parton COVID-19 Research Fund” is one of several funding sources listed as backing Moderna’s extensive effort to find an effective vaccine. But just how the country performer, songwriter and all-round creative whirlwind, now in her 70s, came to be involved in that effort is a story worthy of a country ballad in itself. It started when Parton suffered minor injuries in a car crash and was treated at Vanderbilt University Medical Center by Doctor Naji Abumrad. The doctor had been born in Lebanon and shared a hardscrabble mountain background with the famous star, though they grew up 6000 miles apart. The two became unlikely friends, talking about their childhoods, science and current events.
Parton asked Abumrad what he knew about the coronavirus pandemic then beginning to affect the country. He told her some exciting research was being conducted on vaccines right there at Vanderbilt by team led by Mark Denison, a physician and professor of pathology, microbiology and immunology.
Not long afterward, Parton offered her seven-figure donation and dedicated it to her friend, announcing on Instagram, “My longtime friend, Dr. Naji Abumrad, who’s been involved in research at Vanderbilt for many years, informed me that they were making some exciting advancements towards research of the coronavirus for a cure. I am making a donation of $1 million to Vanderbilt towards that research and to encourage people that can afford it to make donations.”
Dr. Denison told the New York Times that Parton’s $1 million donation was particularly helpful in funding the “critical” early stages of research and testing. “Her money helped us develop the test that we used to first show that the Moderna vaccine was giving people a good immune response that might protect them,” he said.
Parton responded with typical modesty when asked about her contribution on NBC’s Today Show, “I’m just happy that anything I do can help somebody else, and when I donated the money to the COVID fund, I just wanted it to do good,” she said. “Evidently, it is. Let’s just hope we find a cure real soon.”
By the way, if you want a more earnest interpretation of "Vaccine a la Jolene," Northeastern professor Ryan Cordell does a creditable job with it on Twitter/YouTube. Check it out!
*Information for this post provided by "Dolly Parton Helped Fund Moderna's Vaccine. It Began With a Car Crash and an Unlikely Friendship,"by Timothy Bella, The Washington Post, November 18, 2020.
Characterization is more than physical appearance and word choice. When I give my Building Character workshop to writer’s groups, I discuss ways to use motivation, fear, conflict, flaws, backstory, belief systems, and more to write vivid, unforgettable characters that will come alive for readers.
Characterization is an entire representation of a being, whether person, vampire, or alien. As a writer, your number one goal is to make the reader fall in love with your characters! If you succeed at this, your story will be a success. If your reader doesn’t like your character, they won’t care about anything else in the book. That’s not to say your characters must be likable. They need to be interesting. Perfect characters are boring and one-dimensional. Give your characters flaws to add dimensions to them. Multidimensional characters keeps the reader guessing. Your readers will want to read more to find out what the character will do, say, or think next. Make your characters relatable, make them suffer (or at least sweat), and make them unique. Even if you write the same type of characters in your books—tough alien gladiators for example—you need to make each tough alien gladiator unique. Why? Because…
A character’s unique traits will determine how they react to anything in the story.
(Read that sentence again.)
Unique characters can keep a series with the same types of protagonists fresh. You don’t want readers saying, “If you've read one XYZ Author's book, you've read them all.”
If you’re familiar with Debra Dixon’s book Goal, Motivation, and Conflict, you know about the 4 Ws: who, what, why, and why not.
Why not: Conflict/ Obstacle standing in the way of obtaining the goal.
Deb Dixon defines GMC (Goal, Motivation, and Conflict) as follows…
Goal - desire, want, need, ambition, purpose. What your character wants.
Motivation - drive, backstory, impetus, incentive. Why your character wants to achieve the goal.
Conflict - trouble, tension, friction, villain, roadblock. Why your character can’t have it.
Characters should have external (physical) goals and conflicts as well as internal (emotional) goals and roadblocks that keeps them from learning their life lesson. The external G,M,C causes the big black moment while the internal G,M,C resolves it. In other words, a character shouldn’t be able to attain the physical goal until he changes emotionally, or arcs by attaining the inner goal, in the story.
But goals, motivations, and conflicts aren’t enough to make a character unique. For example, every writer reading this could have the same personal G,M,C.
Goal - to make six figures from our books.
Motivation - We have to pay the bills.
Conflict - We don’t have enough readers buying our books.
Therefore, the G,M,C in and of itself doesn’t make each writer unique. And it doesn’t make our characters unique either.
Deb Dixon (who cites Dwight Swain’s Techniques of the selling writer) says your characters need a dominant impression to show who we are writing about. Use an adjective and a descriptive noun to give your character a dominant impression. For example…
Cocky Smuggler (Han Solo)
Royal Rebel (Princess Leia)
Innocent Fugitive (Richard Kimball)
Unhappy Teenager (Dorothy)
[Side Note: I like to use Caroline Myss’ Archetype Cards to help me figure out the noun and Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi’s Negative Trait Thesaurus and Positive Trait Thesaurus books for help with the adjectives.]
The dominant impression gives us a good start to characterization, but what makes one unhappy teenager like Dorothy unique from another unhappy teenager like Katniss Everdeen?
Remember a character’s unique traits will determine how they react to anything in the story.
So what really makes a character unique? The same things that make real people unique…
1) PHYSICAL ATTRIBUTES
Many times authors start with a physical description of their characters: sex, color (skin, hair, eyes), body (height, weight, body fat, muscle, bone structure), facial features, etc. Physical attributes may or may not be as important in the beginning of character creation as determining a character’s internal attributes…unless, of course, the physical attribute affected your character’s experiences growing up.
Were they treated differently because of their sex or their skin color? Were they teased because of their weight (whether too fat or too thin)? Has their height affected the way they perceive the world? Perhaps they were unable to play a sport because they were too short, or they always slouched to make themselves look smaller if too tall, or perhaps they owned their height and were proud of it. Does your character have a physical deformity, disability, or illness that affected their life? Any of these things can make a character unique on the outside and the inside.
Sometimes determining the physical attributes first can limit us later because they can affect our character’s experiences. We can always flesh out the physical attributes later. I believe experiences are more important when creating a character.
2) EXPERIENCES (Backstory)
Everyone experiences things differently. Many times this is due to the physical attributes we have as mentioned above. We experience things differently in our daily lives and those bigger life-defining moments that can cause emotional trauma. These events are where your characters’ fears and wounds stem from.
In Building Character (Part 2), I will go into much more detail about this. We’ll have an in-depth discussion about wounds, flaws, emotional needs, negative coping skills, character arcs, and more.
3) POINT OF VIEW (POV) or PERSPECTIVE
Point of view or perspective is the way your character views life. Perspective plays a HUGE part in what makes a person unique. It shapes their views of the the world and of themselves. Their POV stems from their background. Their history. Their wounds and fears. This is where their coping mechanisms come from. See Building Character (Part 2) for more on this.
Your experiences and perceptions in life create your beliefs. What you believe is what you perceive to be true based on what you have experienced. You character may have religious, cultural, and political beliefs. Beliefs about what’s right/ wrong. Beliefs about the world, other people, and themselves. See Building Character (Part 2) for more on this.
Attributes are traits that will help the character achieve the story goals. It’s easy giving our main characters positive traits because we want our heroes and heroines to be awesome people, but it’s important to also give them flaws. I like to use Negative Trait Thesaurus to help me come up with their flaws.
Personality is made up of your temperament, attitude, thoughts, beliefs, behavior, and character. A character can be bubbly, brooding, quiet, annoying, etc… Again this stems from their backstory.
7) QUIRKS, IDIOSYNCRASIES, & HABITS
Unique habits and mannerisms can make your characters distinct and memorable. Some of the best quirks are those that end up aiding the character or contributing to the plot in some major way. In Legally Blonde, Elle Woods’ quirky knowledge of fashion and haircare (specifically perms) enables her to solve the case and make the real killer confess on the witness stand.
8) SENSING THE WORLD
People sense the world differently based on the five basic senses, sight hearing, smell, taste and touch. I will expand on these and other senses in Building Character (Part 3).
9) COMMUNICATION HABITS
The way people communicate reflects their thoughts, beliefs, and personality. Some people are loud and say what is on their mind, while others are more withdrawn and like to keep personal things to themselves. Some people are excellent at reading body language and using their body language to communicate, while others don’t see anything past the words coming out and don’t understated how their body language is affecting a conversation.
10) JOBS/ HOBBIES
What do your characters do for a living? Are they royalty, a billionaire, military, a caregiver, a baker, a vampire slayer, a starship captain? Do they play an instrument, a sport, or practice marital arts? Your characters will view the world through the eyes of their job or hobbies. They will use vernacular from their areas of expertise.
Look up your character’s particular hobby or job and write down the words unique to these jobs. For example medical words, military words, martial arts words, cooking words, theater words. When writing, try to use these words when in your characters point of view. Use these words to help you change up cliches. Instead of my female warrior (who doesn’t cook) using the saying,” That’s the pot calling the kettle black.” She might say, “That’s the blade calling the cutlass sharp.”
When making comparisons use words that your character would think or use. Read the following smilies, and see if you can tell something about the different characters saying them:
His warmth covered her like a flannel blanket.
His warmth covered her like a mink coat.
His warmth covered her like a faux mink coat.
Talk to people who have your character’s career or hobbies. Read their blogs. Visit social media groups. I like to google, Top ten things only a (marine) (a chef) (a mountain climber ) would know. Or You know you’re (from NJ) (a cowboy) (a cat person) when… and see what comes up.
Everyone’s humor is different due to what we’ve experienced and how we perceive life. I don’t write comedy because it seems what I find funny, others don’t and vice versa. Oh well. Everyone is different. My characters are much wittier than I am. What took them a moment to say on the page probably took me hours or days to come up with.
Intelligence stems from many things including our beliefs, social aptitude, emotional awareness, experience, and brain health. Is your character book smart, street smart, emotionally smart…or perhaps an evil genius?
Everyone has different creative talents like writing, art, music, cooking/baking, etc.. Creativity gives the world thinkers, adventurers, and visionaries. Is your character creative?
How our characters interact and the relationships they form depends on their backstory, perspective, and beliefs which I’ll discuss more in Part 2.
Once you decide who your characters are—either before you start writing or in the revision stage—make sure they are consistent throughout the book with their backstory, POV, beliefs, and personalities. If not, they will come across as unbelievable to the reader and the reader will be thrown out of your story. If a character is going to do something inconsistent with the person you built, then he needs a good reason or motivation for being inconsistent. For example, a cop who doesn’t run in to a situation to help someone because the last person he helped got hurt. Make sure you show the character struggling to change or arc throughout the story. More on how to do this in Building Character Part 2, which will be available on the blog on Wednesday, December 2.
Remember, how a character reacts to anything in the story will be determined by the traits that make them unique.
Stay safe out there!
Author & martial artist
Romance for the Rebel Heart
There is, of course, big news this week that affects every aspect of our lives as Americans and citizens of the interconnected world. But I won’t go on at length about that except to congratulate President-elect Joseph Biden and Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris on their electoral win. I have more to say about it on my personal blog here, if you’re inclined to check it out.
For a more narrow, writerly bit of news, this week (November 10) marked the opening of the completely revamped and renamed Vivian Contest for both published and unpublished romance, sponsored by the Romance Writers of America®. According to the RWA® website, “The Vivian recognizes excellence in romance writing and showcases author talent and creativity. We celebrate the power of the romance genre with its central message of hope--because happily ever afters are for everyone.”
You may remember from my earlier post that the old RITA contest went through an extensive overhaul after many years of nominees and winners that too often reflected a single, exclusive romantic perspective—that of white, cis-gendered, heterosexual and able-bodied authors and protagonists. There were no objective criteria for judging, which only reinforced these stereotypes, and categories were limited, too, discouraging participation from writers in our own science fiction romance world, who were consistently forced to compete in the Paranormal category. The old Golden Heart contest for unpublished writers had been eliminated altogether, leaving newbies with nowhere to go.
In the new Vivian Contest, judges will undergo mandatory training both for diversity and equity issues and to learn the new objective criteria for judging. They will be required to adhere to the rubrics for judging established by the contest committee (which were arrived at by a thorough and lengthy process with the RWA® membership). They will have more freedom to choose the subgenres and sensuality levels across the spectrum they feel comfortable judging and will be matched with entries based on the information about those sensuality levels provided by the authors themselves. (So, no outraged “Did Not Finish” scores from judges who unwittingly got spicy novels in their packets when they secretly preferred cozy contemporaries. And it’s more likely judges with some familiarity with SFR will judge SFR.)
The Paranormal category has been renamed to the more inclusive Speculative Romance category and will accept entries in three lengths (Long, Mid, and Short), as Historical and Contemporary categories have for years. This will not only give authors in this category more opportunities to win but will also expand the welcome for digital-only authors, who tend to write at the shorter lengths.
Unpublished manuscripts (and authors) will be judged under the new Most Anticipated Romance category. This is meant to replace the Golden Heart contest, and though it’s a compromise that leaves many veterans of the Golden Heart disappointed, at least there is some acknowledgement of the role of RWA® in nurturing newbie writers. It should be noted that there is an option for finalists in this category to have their entries made available to editors and agents on RWA®’s Qualifying Markets or Eligible Agents lists. So that’s something.
Currently there are no fees for the first book entered in the Vivian Contest! What have you got to lose? The initial cap for entries is set at 750. Once that cap has been met, second entries may be accepted. Those second books will be charged a fee of $50 for RWA® members, $100 for nonmembers. A final cap for entries will be set on November 23. Click here for more details.
Note that if you are interested in judging, you do not have to be an RWA® member to do so. Nonmember authors, critics, reviewers, librarians and booksellers are all eligible with certain restrictions. Deadline for judge signup is November 20. Click here for more information.
Last week the coronavirus pandemic in the United States claimed another victim. And, this time, the loss was intensely personal to me and my family. My father-in-law, Paul Frelick, age 95, contracted the disease as part of an outbreak in his assisted living center here in North Carolina, despite all the precautions the staff had taken to prevent such a health disaster. He was taken from us in little more than a week. Our only consolation was that, given Paul’s advanced health directives, the fight was brief and the end peaceful.
One of the often-told stories in our family is that I knew my father-in-law long before I ever met my husband. Paul was my faculty advisor at Beloit College in Wisconsin, as part of his duties as professor and head of the World Affairs Center there. He often invited students over to his house just off campus for get-togethers, so I’d met most of his family before I ever met my future husband. Paul always joked that he regretted he never got the chance to play matchmaker for his son and his independent-minded student. We found our way to each other on our own.
As an ordained Presbyterian minister, though, he did serve as pastor at our wedding in 1976, a year after we graduated. He did the same for my daughter Jessie and her husband in 2005 and for lots of other family members in the years in between. He was always glad to perform that service, bringing people together on a joyous occasion.
Before and after his position at Beloit, most of Paul’s work life was spent in a similar kind of service, bringing different groups together in a mutual effort to build social justice. He worked with factory labor in post-WWII Paris; directed the John Knox Ecumenical Conference/Student Center in Geneva; was a local chapter director of the National Conference of Christians and Jews in Louisville, Kentucky; served as a Presbyterian mission educator in Cameroon and Lesotho; and finally as an educator at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina.
Even after he had stopped working, he was active in his Black Mountain retirement community, interviewing new residents for articles in the newsletter and meeting with a men’s group. He liked to say—and it was certainly true from my observation—that he had “failed retirement” several times.
Paul leaves behind his beloved wife of 53 years, Ellenor, and three children from an earlier marriage (my husband Graeme, brother Andy and sister Nancy). His family legacy also includes six grandchildren (including our two daughters) and six great-grandchildren (including our three grandchildren). We will all miss him profoundly.
It's 2:00 in the afternoon NJ time and I realized I forgot to blog today. Ugh! My apologies. In the interest of time, I'm leaving this little Self-Defense for You or Your Character article about "Purse"sonal safety here for you.
My monthly K.M. Fawcett newsletter includes a self defense article. This one was from the October newsletter. If you'd like to receive more self-defense tips you can use for yourself or for your characters, please subscribe here.
I recall about a decade ago asking a fellow author who'd been doing the rounds longer than me what this Nanowrimo thing was all about? She patted me gently on the head and explained that it was a thing one did in November, writing as a kind of group activity - inasmuch as writing can ever be a group activity. The aim is fifty thousand words in a month. Spit it out as fast as you can, then edit your little heart out in December.
I tried it once. I tried Camp Nano, too. Camp Nano was useful because I had a good start to a novel but I'd been busy practicing procrastination - and I was good at it. Being in a group, having to report in on daily progress was an incentive and I finished that book. Yay Me.
But really, the way I write doesn't suit the Nano process. I'm not one of these people who writes fast, gets it all down and edits later. I'll write one thousand or so words in a day and the next day, I go back over what I've written and fix it up before proceeding. And in order to be able to proceed, I need a clear vision of what I'm going to write. Sort of practiced the words in my head. So I might not write every day because the words haven't spoken to me.
Actually, in this year of plague I haven't been terribly motivated to write. Some people have shut the real world out and lived in their own creation. I envy them. However, I have made a start on a project, title unknown. And I did a little course in plotting a romance which was great because it forced me to produce detailed outlines of the characters in the book. It was amazing how that brought out ideas and coalesced the plot. So, after I get a little milestone out of the way, I'll go back to it and have a novel out next year.
2021. It's got to be better, doesn't it?
The book I finished in Camp Nano? That was Retribution.
Tensions simmer on a world where Humans blame Yrmaks for their defeat in a recent war. For Celia Whitley, former head of Imperial Security and director of Humans First, it’s a great place to incite an interspecies war. All it takes is money and weapons – and she can organize both. Revenge over the Yrmaks who murdered her husband will be hers.
Imperial agent Tian Axmar wants Whitley dead – but her boss insists the woman be brought back to face justice. Whitley’s trail had gone cold until Tian, partner Brent Walker, and auralfang, Puss, learn of a stolen cargo of heavy weapons.
Tian and Brent scramble to prevent a war on one world from spilling over to engulf the Empire. But interspecies war is not the only vengeance Whitley wants. Tian, Brent and Puss will need all of their cyborg abilities to prevent the cruelest blow of all.
This novel is the third story starring Brent Walker and Tian Axmar. Like the other Dryden books, it’s a space opera full of action and adventure. And of course it includes Puss.
If you’d like to read a bit more about Princess Amira and Admiral Ul-Mellor, take a look at A Matter of Trust. How Tian and Brent got together is the story in Eye of the Mother. And we first meet Puss in For the Greater Good.
Or buy from Payhip and get 20% off. Use coupon code G4U677DOVK