When Characters Talk Back

I had one of those moments that writers live for last week. The opening chapters of my novel were nicely writing themselves, sounding good to me as I wrote. I was in the groove, feeling that mystical flow. And then I got to chapter four.

I knew what I wanted to see happen in the chapter. It’s a critical scene that largely sets the stage for the remainder of the book, as well as planting seeds that will sprout in later books. I’d seen the vision of the action in this chapter from afar, from my high-level overview / summary. However, when I got hip-deep into the actual “live” writing of the scene, I got stuck.

The scene consists largely of dialogue, one character giving some critical information to another. I had thought that I knew what they would say. Once I got them talking, however, I realized that I didn’t understand enough about one of the two to make the dialogue sound realistic / natural / real. The one I knew more about (one of the main characters in the book) kept asking the other one questions, but I couldn’t make the other one (the minor character) say what I knew he wanted to say in a way that felt right.

After beating my head against the keyboard for a few days, and after scrapping and rewriting the scene about three times, I decided to step back and figure out why it wasn’t working. What I discovered was that I hadn’t ever fully fleshed out the back-story of that minor character. I didn’t know exactly what had led him to show up on the doorstep of the major character. So I started asking myself lots of questions to try to fill in these gaps in my understanding of the story.

The result was a huge spike in my understanding of several related characters, both major and minor, and a much clearer vision of WHY they all were acting as they now were. I even discovered a whole new character that I hadn’t even realized existed before, and a whole new aspect of how one of the main story lines actually worked.

When I felt I had sufficiently illuminated this previously darkened region of the overall back-story, I went back to chapter four and started again. It still didn’t come easy, because I still had to flesh out with even more detail some of this character’s back-story. The whole process felt difficult, but I knew as I got this final” (first-draft) version written that it finally felt right, that it flowed.

These are the moments when it feels like my characters are becoming real people, taking on lives of their own, making their own decisions. As I was initially writing and making them do and say things, they were arguing with me in my mind, telling me that I was telling the story wrong, that they would never do it that way or say it like I wrote it. Maybe it’s not like this for other authors, but this is the typical way my characters talk back to me.

So now I’m pressing forward. I hope I don’t run into too many more of these difficult bits. On the other hand, these really are the moments of pure creativity that is what makes writing fun for me.


Back in the Saddle

Finally, finally, finally, my next novel is under way. All that messy “real life” stuff has settled down — new work working well, summer vacations vacated, kid accepted into acceptable school for first grade, the usual.

I finally finished the prep work on the book I’m tentatively calling Dorian: Book One of the Brel Chronicles, and I’ve managed to crank out 5,500 words (3 chapters) of first-draft text in the past five days. The writing is flowing well. My detailed outline that I spent so much time crafting is proving its worth. Everything is still subject to change, of course. As I write, I’m still learning and discovering more and more about this world and these characters.

One fairly exciting event related to this book happened a couple weeks ago. A friend of mine on Facebook (whom I had never met in “real life”) posted a photo of a painting she’d just finished. I instantly fell in love with it because it was the very image I’d seen in my head for many years of what the sky on the planet of Brel looks like. I asked her if I could buy it and eventually use it as the cover art for this novel, and she agreed. So I drove from Atlanta to St. Louis to pick it up, and to finally meet the artist in person. Now, I have it here, and it’s inspiring me as I write.

So, all this makes me very happy. It’s wonderful to be actually writing again. Granted, these 5,500 words are maybe 5% of what the final size of the manuscript will be. I think it will run slightly over 100K words, possibly even longer as this story is very large and has lots of complexity. That’s actually the biggest struggle (although it doesn’t feel like a struggle) with this story — NOT throwing in everything I could possibly say about it. I think this is common for books where the author has spent a long time building the world and developing a panoramic backstory. I literally started inventing (transcribing?) this world / story when I was a teenager, many moons ago.

Bottom line, I’m thrilled to be writing again, and I’m very pleased with my progress so far. The story feels exciting to me. I’m anxious / eager to find out what happens with all these characters.


Life and Chaos

The last four months brought significant chaos into my life. Several large-scale changes all decided to pounce at once. A major remodeling project consumed half of my house, disrupting my writing schedule and my home-office workspace. I changed jobs, which threw a new set of wrenches into my work schedule. I finally decided to return to the vegan lifestyle which I had lived for a few years and then backslid from. That affected more aspects of my life than I had anticipated. We (like many others) had a very stormy winter. The city of Atlanta shut down twice due to snow and ice on the roads. I decided to get back into bike riding. I read (listened to) two and a half books of the Hunger Games trilogy — the last book for some reason did not capture my imagination. I switched cell phone providers, which included moving from an iPhone to an Android. In short … chaos, chaos, and more chaos took over my life for awhile. By the way, Chaos Chaos is the new name of one of my favorite bands from the 2000s.

My original idea for this blog was to keep it as strictly writing-related as possible — based on some advice I’d read in various author forums. However, I’ve decided to open it up to write about anything in my life. I hope it will be more generally appealing and interesting to readers, many of whom probably are not fascinated by the minutiae of the novel writing craft. Also, it will allow me to continue posting during the more chaotic periods in my life when other non-writing factors begin to take over. The topics that interest me the most right now vary widely — veganism, health, the biosphere, deliberate creation, writing (of course), parenting, education, music, and many many more.

So what’s the status of my next novel? Well, I’ll let you know in the next blog post. I did not actively work on it much during all this chaos, but I spent a good deal of time thinking about it and where I wanted the story to go. Now that things are re-approaching a semblance of normalcy, I intend to push through to the next stages of the process. Good luck to me.

Anti-Technology Generation?

Considering how trends tend to cycle through the generations, such as clothing styles coming back into fashion a couple generations after falling out of favor, I have a sneaking suspicion that we will soon witness a generation of kids / young adults who shun the excessive infiltration of high-tech gadgetry in society.

The youth of today are already abandoning Facebook in droves, seeing it (rightly so) as being populated predominantly by their parents’ generation. Granted, today’s youth have not yet gone down the anti-technology path. If anything, they are even more entrenched into the ever increasing cyborgization of formerly free human beings. And yet, my spidey senses are telling me that a sea change is approaching in the relationship between people and high-tech gadgets.

One only has to lift one’s eyes momentarily away from the glowing, addictive light of one’s latest battery-charged appendage, and glace around at the waves upon waves of mind-numbed zombie robots, walking down the sidewalk, bumping into each other, oblivious to all except the latest ten-quillionth variation of grumpy cat scowling at the camera to notice how ridiculous this whole generation has really become.

Seriously, the resemblance to a herd of lemmings in sheep’s clothing is staggering.

I remember how my grandparents (who grew up during the Great Depression) thought that being able to buy already-ground coffee in the grocery store was a symbol of the advancement of society. They never could understand why I would want to deliberately buy unground coffee beans, which I would then have to grind myself before using. For crying out loud, that’s what their parent’s generation had to do! They seriously thought I had culturally regressed.

If they were alive today, I suspect they would be right there in the middle of the zombie hordes, smashing windows and eating the brains of the few remaining people who hadn’t yet succumbed to the inevitable.

But enough about my grandparents … My point is that I think all this hyper-fixation of being constantly on-line, constantly plugged in, and thereby constantly under the direct surveillance of the NSA and the new Orwellian police state will very soon be cast off by a younger and smarter generation who grows up seeing the ridiculous nature of it all and who deliberately begins to shun technology.

This new generation may very well be the generation that ends up saving the human race from destroying itself. Even if the way they do it is by hiding out in underground caves, shielded from the prying eyes of the global spy organizations and, by sheer accident of fate, shielded from the zombifying radiation of all those effing smart phones.

One can hope.

Richard Ewald

(This blog post was composed on my iPhone)



About Negative Reviews

Now that I have a novel out there in the world, where it will stand or fall on its own merits, I’m faced with the issue of how to feel about negative reviews.

So far, the reviews of Sierra Girls have been overwhelmingly positive, and I think that says a lot about the quality of the novel. I have got a few bits of negative feedback, both publicly and privately, on various aspects.

The negatives usually amount to specific hobbyhorses that people would react to in any book that they read. A few people don’t like some of the colorful language in the book. And some dislike mentions of sex or sexuality—hard to avoid in a book about a serial rapist.

In both of these cases, I honestly don’t see these as negatives at all. Different people like different things, and dislike different things. Some folks are hung up on bad language. It’s normal. I know many people in real life who feel the same way. It’s just a preference, like not liking the flavor of onions. If occasional bad language in a book puts people off, that’s just the way it is.

I find this sort of feedback about personal tastes or preferences helpful in many ways. It lets other people reading the review know that the book contains language that some folks consider distasteful. This will warn people who dislike that sort of thing, and it might also entice some others who like, or at least are not put off, by language or sex or whatever.

The sort of negative feedback that seems more significant to me is when people say that they didn’t understand some part of the plot, or that they found some part of the book to be unrealistic, or that the story didn’t flow well in certain areas. I really appreciate this sort of feedback, because it helps me to see the story from someone else’s perspective, and to see where there might be real mechanical gaps or missteps on my part as an author.

Glowing feedback is always nice, especially when it is supported with specific elements from the story that people genuinely like. Negative feedback is usually always helpful as well, whether of the “I don’t like onions” variety or something more substantive. So I don’t really see it as negative at all.

All of this feedback is very encouraging to me as I’m working on my next novel. It helps keep me focused on what the real reason for writing is, at least for me. Providing people with enjoyment.

Richard Ewald

Positive Reviews for Sierra Girls

Hi all. In the last few days, my suspense novel Sierra Girls received a handful of new positive reviews.

Ritagrace says: “This was a breath-stopping suspense and mystery about a young girl kidnapped by a sadistic sex criminal.”

Charles Ray (aka Avid Reader) says: “This is actually two stories that proceed along parallel lines until; on the one hand we have Gabriel’s desperate efforts to find his daughter; on the other, Michelle’s decision to try and save herself after she discovers that she’s not the first occupant of the dungeon. . . . The parallel stories whiz along like twin roller coasters, until they finally intersect in an explosive finale that will leave you both breathless and relieved.”

My favorite so far is this bit where the reviewer mentions something she doesn’t like about the book—

Karina Kantas (aka Enigma) says: “The book started off as an easy read, but by the middle the writing started getting flowery. Now there’s nothing wrong with that kind of writing, Stephen King is famous for it. I just prefer an easy read. Many enjoy more descriptive passages. I just feel it ruins the flow and prefer to stick to the plot.”

I’m taking this as a positive, for my writing to be compared to Stephen King’s. To me that is the greatest compliment it can receive, as Stephen King is a writing god!

It’s nice to hear some real reader feedback. So far, everyone who has reviewed the book has said that they enjoyed it a lot. This makes me quite happy, as that is the entire purpose of writing for me.

Thanks to all who have read, and especially to those who have reviewed, Sierra Girls.

Richard Ewald

Also Bought

An interesting new development. Not quite sure what the import is.


The Amazon page for Sierra Girls now has two “Also Bought” items:

  • Gingerbread Man, by Maggie Shayne
  • You Are Next, by Katia Lief

I went to the pages for those books, and each one has about a hundred items listed under Also-Bought, but not mine. So I guess I haven’t made that cut yet. Seems like I’m giving free advertising for those books but not getting any in return. On the other hand, if people are viewing my book’s page and they see those books, and are familiar with those other authors, then it might be a boost.

On the whole, I think it’s a positive development. It makes my book seem somewhat more popular.

I’ll take it. 🙂

Richard Ewald

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