I received about a cup and a half of raspberry sauce in trade for a big container of weird soup, so I'm guesstimating on the amounts there. I had too much leftover sauce, so I cut it back to a cup.
I'm a convert to the rub-and-sauce school of BBQ. Sauce chars if you leave it on grilling meat for too long, but if you just add the sauce at the last second, the meat isn't flavored properly. Put the rub on the (thawed!) meat for a few hours so the salt can do its magic. Then grill the meat, adding the sauce for just the last few minutes, so it can carmelize but not burn. Brilliant, I tell you, brilliant!
Recipe if you have a mortar and pestle:
4-6 T ground up chilis--not pre-mixed chili powder
2 T cumin seeds
2 T coriander
1 T ground sage
Stirring more or less constantly, toast the chilis, coriander, and cumin over dry heat until the chili powder is brown but not black. Working with a small amount at a time if you have a small mortar, crush the spices and grind them into powder (adding the sage) with about a third as much salt as you have spices. You should end up with about 1/3-1/2 cup of mixture. Finesse is not really required here.
Recipe if you don't:
Halve the whole spices. Toast and mix with salt as above.
The mortar and pestle are really easy to use and easier to clean than a coffee grinder. Also, spices keep better when they're not preground. The cumin seeds were a nose-awakener when I ground them the first time. I'm going to have to try it with whole dried chilis next.
1 c. pureed raspberries (about 1 pt. whole), seeds left in.
1/2 c. honey
1/4 c. soy sauce (caution: don't add all at once)
4-6 canned chipotle peppers in adobo (one small can)
2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1 T sage
Wear gloves or wrap a sandwich bag around your non-knife hand--chipotles are smoked jalapenos and will burn your eyes if you touch your face; this effect lasts about a day after you're done cooking, whether you wash your hands or not.
Pull the chipotles out of the can, discarding onions (if any).* Slice the chipotles in half and scrape out the seeds. Mince the chipotles and add them to a small saucepan with the raspberries, honey, garlic, and sage. Bring to a slow simmer. Add soy sauce to taste. The sauce should be very thick. Simmer longer if you think the sauce is too thin.
If something tastes off, you probably need a little more soy sauce. If you want to finesse the sourness, you can add vinegar - balsamic, good sherry, champagne, or fruit. (Don't use red wine or distilled.)
When you're ready to grill, split the sauce into two containers. Use one to mop the meat during the last few minutes of grilling; save the other to serve with the meat.
*Maybe you'd like the onions, but they gross me out.
In a way, Laura Reeve is the reason I got involved with Pikes Peak Writers just over a year ago. I was talking to a friend of mine, and she said a friend of hers was always trying to get her husband to go to this writing group and a conference that came up every April. I ended up going to a meeting (in a complete panic), then to an all-day workshop, then to the conference...
I finally met Laura Reeve last year at the Pikes Peak Writer's conference, where she gave a dry and informative yet funny talk about subgenres in science fiction and fantasy. She struck me as the kind of person who knows the answer to the question "Why" really is "Because" sometimes.* She looked a lot more competent and confident than she should have for a not-yet-published novelist with no experience babbling literary theory to newbies. In retrospect, my impression probably came from her years coping with the military, which is definitely stranger than a writers' convention.
And that's how her first published book goes - dry, informative, often funny military sci-fi, about a character who's a lot more competent and confident than she should be. The characters are interesting but don't rest on their "interestingness." (The main character is no Miles Vorkosigan, but she has enough flaws to outlast a dental convention.**) The plot is solid, until you realize she's been spinning more plates than you realized, and they might go amuck at any time...but don't. The writing is direct and doesn't screw around with vagueness or purple prose but is never dull.
Totally the kind of thing I never read. Totally going to read the next book.
Minor spoilers in comments.
*Or, "What is slipstream?" "Honestly? I don't think anybody knows."
- When you’re sad — I will jump on the person who made you sad like a spider monkey jacked up on Mountain Dew!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
- When you’re blue — I will try to dislodge whatever is choking you.
- When you smile — I will know you are plotting something that I must be involved in.
Three days of thinking and banging away on the keyboard, I get this line:
I puffed out my cheeks, decided what I knew about women could fill shot glass if I poured myself a shot first, and said, "Back later, Miss Dewey. Aanybody asks, I'll open when I open, all right?"Okay, it was the right thing after all.
2 T dried chili pepper (not chili powder)
1 T cumin
1 1/2 lbs chorizo
1/2 lb summer sausage, cubed
1 T olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 Anaheim peppers, seeds removed, diced
4 chipotle chilis in adobo, seeds removed, minced
1 T salt
2 15 oz cans pinto beans
4 15 oz cans tomatoes (2 before the cooking for a deeper flavor and 2 after for a brighter red color)
1 bottle dark beer (brown ale or stout)
2 oz mexican chocolate (for example, Abuelita brand)
Cook chili pepper and cumin over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the chili pepper starts to brown and smell toasty. Add the olive oil, sausages, garlic, Anaheim peppers, and chipotles and cook until the chorizo is cooked through. Add 2 cans of tomatoes, the salt, the beer, and the chocolate and cook over low heat for at least 3 hours (or place in a crock pot and cook overnight), stirring occasionally if on the stove. About 1/2 hour from serving, add the beans and the rest of the tomatoes. Heat through and adjust seasoning as necessary.
Repo! The Genetic Opera stars Anthony Steward Head, Paris Hilton, Terrance Zdunich:
The premise: in the not-too-distant future, an epidemic of organ failure prompts the rise of GeneCo, which both provides replacement organs and finances the loans to pay for them. Miss a payment, and a Repo Man comes to collect GeneCo’s property. (Exhibit A at right.)
The plot: By day, the Repo Man (played by Head) is well-meaning but controlling single dad Nathan Wallace. His daughter Shilo has a Victorian-sounding “blood condition” and is supposed to stay inside, but she’s a teenager, so that lasts for about five minutes. On one of her excursions to her mother’s tomb, she meets the Graverobber, who mines the bodies of the dead for an addictive painkiller he sells on the black market.*
The daughter's played by the girl from Spykids, who sings really, really well.
*Via Tor.com, which is turning into my favorite "updates on all things sciffy" blog.
Today on the way home from school, Ray announced that she was going to buy a baby and travel around the world when she grew up.
"Adopt a baby?" I said.
"Adopt," she agreed.
"Because no boys like me," she said. "So I will adopt a baby and travel all around the world."
I had to laugh. And then I gave her the "boys are stupid" talk.* I did, however, reassure her that boys do grow up to be men, eventually, and they will think very well of her then indeed. Although if she still wants to adopt a baby and travel around the world, I'll be okay with that if I can go with her sometimes.
By the time we got home, I thought we were in the clear. Uh-uh. The teacher had sent home a worksheet that was all about "talent." All kinds of remarkable kids with lots of talent! More talent than you! More talen than GOD! After reading about all those kids, Ray had to draw a picture of what she was good at. Sheesh. So she'd drawn a picture of herself swinging, because that's all she could come up with at that point.
I told her all the things she was good at--I've had to do this before--and she was able to add some that I forgot from the last time I had to list these things, so I hope she's feeling better.
"Mom," she said finally, "it's hard to know what you're going to be good at when you're just a kid."
*Like the sex talk, no doubt the first of many.
On my quest to learn how to write (instead of just spouting stream-of-consciousness like it was the end-all of all artistry), I've run across some really, really good books:
- The Art of Fiction, by John Gardner
- Style: Toward Clarity and Grace, by Joseph M. Williams
- Techniques of the Selling Writer, by Dwight V. Swain
What follows is probably TMI:
The steps (which, in a real story, can repeat, go missing, switch order, contain reversals, etc.):
- Ordinary World
- Call to Adventure
- Refusal of the Call
- First Threshold (end of beginning - entering the Special World)
- Tests, Allies, and Enemies (beginning of middle)
- Approach to the Innermost Cave
- Supreme Ordeal
- Reward (end of the middle)
- The Road Back (beginning of end - leaving the Special World)
- Return with the Elixir
The Hero's Journey really does seem universal, at least in stories.
The Hero has a problem that he or she can't solve (call to adventure). How to solve the problem? Change. But nobody wants to change; it's hard (refusal to call). Eventually, they get some good advice (mentor). So they begin to approach the problem in earnest (first threshold). They often cross into a new place, or their current situation changes significantly (crossing into the special world).
They are helped and hindered in their search for solutions; their actions determine whether the people they encounter help them or hurt them (tests, allies, enemies). At some point, trying to solve the actual problem has to be attempted; this takes a lot of courage (this shows up as the approach to the innermost cave). The hero tries to change, often by besting the Shadow (a reflection of the negative possibilities of change, often what the Hero most fears becoming) (the ordeal, in which death is faced). The Hero receives a reward, of knowledge, relationships, or tools (the reward), which oftimes must be forcibly taken.
The Hero then has to go to or create a new home - either literally or by coping with the changed situation (the road back). However, while the original problem has been dealt with or the original goal achieved, the true goal - the driving force behind the first goal - is still unachieved. The Hero has to make a sacrifice or commit to a real, lasting change that cuts deep, and must learn to live as a changed person (resurrection). If successful, the Hero possesses the insight and tools necessary to solve the problem (return with the elixir).
Mal has problems he can't solve - he's being relentlessly pursued by the Alliance, his jobs are drying up, and he still hasn't figured out what to do about River (ordinary world). River helps him by warning him about the Reavers (call to adventure - he could have tried to find out how she knew more than she should, what her ties were). Mal tries to return to the status quo, but Simon attacks him on the ship (upsetting the normal order of authority - just as Mal did to the Alliance), and Mal kicks him and River off (refusal of call). River receives a subliminal message from the Alliance and beats up an entire bar (call to adventure). This time, Mal takes up the call and runs with River and Simon to Shepherd Book for advice (mentor). Book tells Mal to "believe" (the solution to his problems is tied to this). Mal also contacts Mr. Universe (another mentor) to get more information on the name "Miranda," which was evoked in River by the subliminal probing at the bar. They get information, but not enough.
Mal receives a call from Inara (yet another call to adventure) - it's a TRAAAP! Mal encounters the Operative (the shadow - the incarnation of all the bad aspects of "just believing," as Book advised). River reveals that Miranda is a planet, the location of some secret the Alliance has been trying to hide. Access to the planet is blocked by the Reavers; retreat is blocked by the Operative, who is killing all Mal's contacts (including both mentors, who have a tendency to be killed off). Mal decides to go forward (first threshold) and crosses into the special world of Miranda. (Due to the length of time Mal spent refusing to either 1) believe or 2) address the River/Alliance issues, the test/allies/enemies section happens before the first threshold, for the most part - he passes the Inara test using intimate knowledge/trust; he fails the Book test, which would have required faith or at least an understanding of the consequences of his actions.) In Miranda, he receives the reward (but can't use it yet) of knowledge of the source of the Reavers and the corruption of the Alliance - and something to believe in, that he can affect the world that he has come to hate, the world that has deprived him of power. But he'll never be able to put the knowledge to good use unless he leaves the special world; Mal uses the Reavers (a special mark of heroic maturity is using/converting one's enemies) as tools and defeats the Alliance, for the time being (the ordeal).
The rest of the crew (less Wash) has to fight to keep the Reavers occupied, so Mal can transmit the information across the verse (the road back). Mal finds a way to accomplish his goal, but he's blocked by the shadow. Only through believing completely in his cause and a false death (the faked nerve punch) can Mal trick the Operative, defeating him: Mal's flaws have become an asset, when influenced by his genuine change (resurrection). Mal's victory over the Operative shows that faith is necessary, but blind faith is a brutal mistake. Mal transmits the information (return with the elixir). The rest is an epilogue.
Of course, Star Wars is the classic story based on the Hero's Journey.
"Self," I answered, "In an ideal world, where you didn't have to figure out anything else, like who was in the scene, who was talking, et cetera, what would your first sentence be?"
"Hm...good question, self," says I. "But I think it would be, 'Ask anybody here tonight, and they'll tell you, aliens and beer don't mix.'"
"Well, self, you start out with that, and I guarantee you the rest of it will just fall into place."
Sure enough, it did.
Slaughterhouse Jane is officially first-drafted.
I wrote the whole thing out longhand, with a lowball guesstimate for the words per page. I'm probably waaaay over 50K by now. Next up: typing.
I ordered myself an Acer Aspire One netbook (blue, 8G SSD with Linux, which will be a learning experience). Um, as a victory present? And deductable as a business expense! Now, if I could just remember to save book receipts...
The next goal is finishing Alien Blue and getting it out the door to agents. If you'd be willing to read a copy, let me know. I'm still going to rework the first chapter - I was experimenting and ended up making it worse than what I started with. Some spit and polish, and I think I'm ready to have agents tear it to shreds. Fortunately, I've received enough rejection letters that I'm okay with that.
As always, I couldn't have done it without Lee and Ray's support. And by "it" I mean, "have enough heart to keep going, in the face of everything." They make life good.
A stunning list of fake names
From a fab author:
1. WITNESS PROTECTION NAME: (mother's and father's middle names)
2. NASCAR NAME: (first name of your mother's dad, father's dad)
3. STAR WARS NAME: (the first 2 letters of your last name, first 4 letters of your first name)
4. DETECTIVE NAME: (favorite color, favorite animal)
Lime Tiger (this sounds more like a drink)
5. SOAP OPERA NAME: (middle name, city where you live)
6. SUPERHERO NAME: (2nd favorite color, favorite alcoholic drink, optionally add "THE" to the beginning)
The Teal Pyramid
7. FLY NAME: (first 2 letters of 1st name, last 2 letters of your last name)
8. GANGSTA NAME: (favorite ice cream flavor, favorite cookie):
9. ROCK STAR NAME: (current pet's name, current street name)
10. PORN NAME: (1st pet, street you grew up on)
Bill Star Route (Maybe just skip the pet name...)
So here, once again, is too much information (TMI) with regard to (WRT) my writing life...
It's been almost exactly a year since I started going to Pikes Peak Writer's events. I wish I'd started earlier. My one regret in life was that I didn't have the confidence to start getting serious about writing sooner. Well, to be honest, I was doing pretty well at poetry, and if I'd decided to stay that route, I'd probably be further along than I am now. But I got tired of writing it, and finally realized that I didn't like to read other people's poetry, for the most part, and so let it go.
Nevertheless. Wasted time getting around to learning how to write fiction. Had to be done, though, as I was bound and determined, based on a few "writing" books that I'd read, that other people's opinions were a waste of time, because they were full off fluff and nonsense.
Fortunately, not all writing books were written by people who confuse fluff with content, and I found some of them. And the people who write them! And people who don't write them, but could!
[Dance dance dance other INTP writers! Dance dance dance.]
Also, it's been three years since I worked myself up to doing NaNoWriMo, and that has been another valuable experience.
Mix the two together, and you have...a chance in hell. One chance in a million is greatly preferable to zero.
I read an essay over at beckyland about spending 10,000 hours learning a field before you can have any kind of success at it, and feel better. It's been about ten years since I decided to switch from poetry to fiction (and it was about ten years before that I started writing poetry). IF you count the reading that I've done, the reading that I've done analytically, then yeah, it works out about right. So I'm due, too. Not due as in, "I deserve it" but due as in "I better push that baby out soon because it's time."
Boy, does that not work out.
Five more chapters to go.
Stories are the Western version of Zen. The basic western story is, "Person can't figure out how to handle something, what to do; person learns from various people what to do; person does what's necessary after a change in attitude" or, if you like, "Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl again after not being an ___." The characters, too, aren't people so much as they are fragments of the situation. Obstacles. Helpers. Goals. But, essentially - not real people, but functions. The character discovers - or fails to discover - the answer was inside them all along. Enlightenment!
Hm. It seemed much more impressive when I got out of the shower.
This is no longer the important question. Granted, at one point, it was the important question. Do you like sweetness and light or do you like the acid burn of hate? But really, both bands are cool, so either answer is acceptable.
So here's my question: Pink Floyd or Queen?
--I know, I know. But it's an important question.
When Water Comes to Life - Cloud Cult
Take Your Medicine - Cloud Cult
Traditionally, your character's worst ("black") moment is supposed to come right before the big fight scene, and the hero resolves all his inner problems right before beating the crap out of his external ones.
But no. This is more like the moment in Star Wars when Luke is in the cave in the swamp, facing down Vader. Things get worse from there, but he's never as lost as he is in the swamp.
I had planned for something different, something with more action to it, but once I was down in the trenches, I could see it wasn't going to work. You just can't force the character through a 180 for the sake of plot. So instead I went the more difficult way, and bleah.
It's days like this when I think, "Why would anyone want to read this?"
This book is terrible.
You're irresponsible. You're wasting your time. You should be spending more time with your family.
You're too old. If you were meant to be a writer, you would have succeeded by now.
And on and on...
So I just tell myself, "If you finish this page, you can give up."
"If you finish one more paragraph, you can give up."
I curse myself. I know I'm lying. This is the kind of day where you keep finding gray hairs.
But hey. As hard as it is to write this stuff, at least I'm not my main character. His life sucks.
Thank you for submitting "Fragile" to ABYSS & APEX. As you know, we kept it for second round consideration but ultimately decided not to accept it for publication. The competition this month was strong and while we came up with an excellent table of contents for our next issue, we had to say no to many works (like this!) that we wish we could keep.This makes my twelfth rejection. (There was one acceptance, but the website, Parade of Phantoms, went out of business.)
(I really hate rejecting this. Perhaps try a horror venue?)
I hope you'll consider us again, and I wish you the best success in placing this story elsewhere.
The first time I submitted the story, back in 2002, it went to Weird Tales, and the guy who rejected it didn't get it, thought it was too strange (I can't find the rejection letter, unfortunately).
I quit reading the magazine a while ago - too many meh Lovecraft pastiches - but I picked up an issue recently, and it was all ooky and weird again.
So...for the thirteenth rejection, I'm sending the story back to Weird Tales.
I couldn't resist.
Come to Write Brains!
Read books on writing - lots of them, but not so many that you don't read for pleasure and you don't read things you don't normally read and you don't read for research. And cereal boxes.
Submit to high school writing magazines - if there aren't any local ones (I don't know), then go statewide. They may sponsor HS writer camps - go.
Talk to your HS English teachers. At least one of them is a writer and knows good places to submit or existing writing groups (or would sponsor a new writing group). But don't believe everything they say; writers are notorious bullshitters, and teachers forget they can stop censoring kids after doing it all day long.
Put together a chapbook of whatever it is that you've written. Everything in the chapbook must be as close to perfect as you can get it! Find a buddy to draw you a cover (or do it yourself), and bind up as many copies as you can (staples are just fine), and pass them out, wherever you can get away with it.
Keep an album or fancy notebook with all your best stuff.
Live. You have to have something to write about, because plot = people, even if you're writing about alien slime molds.
Figure out why you're writing - and it isn't "to entertain," because it would be easier if you filmed yourself getting kicked in the crotch and sent it to America's Funniest Home Videos (well, it's true, isn't it?)
Carry a writer's notebook - nothing fancy. It has to be something that looks like you might be writing a grocery list or doing homework. Listen to other people's conversations, and write down what they say, just what they say, seriously, just write down what they say, just that, that's it. You can do the same thing with descriptions, etc., but it doesn't have to be a covert notebook.
Writers like to make things up. Keep this in mind during writer's groups, english classes, college, submitting work, etc. I mean, come on. I'm making this stuff up, right now.
In the end - writers write. They don't talk about what they're going to write one day, when they get the time. "Not giving up" doesn't mean "someday I'll write," it means, "Okay, yesterday, I failed to figure this out. Today, I'm probably going to fail to figure this out. Tomorrow, I'm still going to fail. I'll probably fail for the rest of my life." (You will think this.) "Eh. Here I go. Maybe it wasn't as bad as six months ago."
--At least, this is what I did in high school, except the Write Brains, because this wasn't in Colorado Springs.
Also, consider doing NaNoWriMo, if fiction's your thing. You don't have to do it in November; July is OK, especially the first time, when you don't want anyone to know if you can't get it done.
The theme is folk-influenced music in a minor key. I tried to stick with banjos, but then I got to the accordians, and I lost it.
New stuff I hadn't heard before:
Andrew Bird - "Imitosis"
Low - "In Silence"
Gregory Page - "The Ghost with Sad Eyes"
DeVotchKa - "How it ends"
Milla - "In a Glade"
Ray Lamontagne - "Empty" (I didn't know who sang this, but it kept coming up on the college radio)
Bruce Springsteen - "Devils and Dust" "We're a long long way from home/home's a long way from us."
Lee - here's the song I was talking about last night. Johnny Cash - "God's Gonna Cut You Down"
The current title is Slaughterhouse Jane. The book's a YA fantasy set in 1912 South Dakota - A shy dreamer befriends a bitter teen who claims to be a fairy - then sets out to avenge her death after she's brutally murdered.
1) Sioux Falls is on one of the few hilly areas of Eastern South Dakota. (The eastern side was squashed by a glacier umpteen years ago). It's actually a glacial moraine - a mound.
2) The Morrell's meat packing plant opened in 1909.
3) The Irish legends of fairies have always struck me as somewhat vampiric. The fair folk are associated with death and disease, and victims of the fair folk are often described as pale and distracted. Unseely, I tell you. Unseely.
*What the F--- Are You Doing, Dumb Ass?
The Bacon Tree
Two Mexicans are stuck in the desert, wandering aimlessly and close to death. They are close to just lying down and waiting for the inevitable, when all of a sudden.......
'Hey Jose, do you smell what I smell. Ees bacon I is sure of eet.'
'Si, Luis eet smells like bacon to meee.'
So, with re newed strength, they struggle up the next sand dune, and there, in the distance, is a tree loaded with bacon.
There's raw bacon, dripping with moisture, there's fried bacon, back bacon, double smoked bacon... every imaginable kind of cured pig meat.
'Jose, Jose, we is saved. 'Eees a bacon tree.'
' Luis, are you sure ees not a meerage? We ees in the Desert don't forget.'
'Jose when deed you ever hear of a meerage that smell like bacon... ees no meerage, ees a bacon tree'.
And with that... Luis Races towards the tree. He gets to within 5 metres, Jose following closely behind, when all of a sudden, a machine gun opens up,and Luis is cut down in his tracks. It is clear he is mortally wounded but, a true friend that he is, he manages to warn Jose with his dying
'Jose... go back man,you was right ees not a bacon tree.'
' Luis Luis mi amigo... what ees it?
'Jose.. ees not a bacon tree... Ees Ees Ees Ees Ees Ees Eees a Ham Bush.
There's a website, too.
Now, most of this book does not apply to most white people, but most of it applied to me--either directly or because I know someone who's like that.
As the temperature starts to drop, many white people are forced to start wearing winter coats. Though many will simply don outdoor performance gear, a great number will turn to the #1 white winter jacket of all time: The Pea Coat.
The Pea Coat was originally worn by sailors and members of the European Navy. If you think about it for a second, this means that the coat is European, Coastal, and Vintage. Three of white people’s favorite things.
Another common characteristic of the coat is that white people will write their names on the label inside the coat. This is not done for fear of theft, but rather as a necessary precaution against party mixups. You see, when a white person attends a party in the winter time they will often be required to put their jacket in a room with literally dozens of other pea coats! Since these coats often contain ticket stubs to the same concerts and identical Trader Joe’s receipts, it can be impossible to find the original owner without a name written inside.
Like with sweaters, the process of acquiring a Pea Coat is almost as important as the coat itself. Fashionable white people can purchase designer pea coats for well over $1000, but the top ranked white people purchase their at Army Surplus stores. This makes them feel better than the white people have spent thousands of dollars on an identical piece of clothing.
But perhaps the greatest value of the pea coat is its ability to help you determine which non-white people have been accepted into the ranks of white people. It is not known if the coat is given to them in an elaborate ceremony or if they buy it themselves, but in either case by wearing the coat they are telling the world that they have white friends.
Long story short, if you want to increase your popularity with white people this winter, get a Pea Coat.
I'm tempted to get this book for my mother--not because she's the Right Kind of White Person, but because it's about exactly the kind of person she likes to make fun of, namely, her children.
There's even an entry about grammar.
Sunday the 19th was her birthday party, with kids from school.* We had six kids show up, one more and two fewer than RSVP'd. After massive bouts of yard-cleaning and house-cleaning over the last few weeks, we were pretty much prepared, or so I thought.
Seven-year-old kids are fun, but they will break you if you're not ready. We were ready for Two Hours of Fun.
We painted pumpkins (my idea). This did not take as much time as I hoped.
We didn't do the science experiment I wanted, because the very cool idea turned out to be a hoax. I won't go into it now, but it saddens me that someone put so much work into breaking people's hearts.
So instead we had a treasure hunt (Lee's idea). Lee likes riddles and is very good at writing them (including the rhymes). The kids really enjoyed it, and Ray was so impressed she had to go through the treasure hunt all over again after everyone left. The treasure was a flower-shaped pinata. After the first round, we'd knocked it onto the ground but not burst it to bits, so the kids took turns beating the heck out of it without a blindfold, and eventually everyone scored some major candy and Halloween toylets**.
The presents were apparently the bee's knees, i.e., a bunch of plastic stuff which is, by now, 1) broken, 2) lost, 3) inconveniently scattered, 4) pink. C'est la vie.
Then it was time for ice cream cake, by which I mean, it was time for two bites of ice cream cake before the realization of how much sugar has been eaten hits even the staunchest of first-grader stomachs. Oh, well. I ate my piece all gone, so there.
And...twenty minutes left before parents came to pick everyone up. After a few shrieking laps through the house, I managed to get most of the girls outside for a game of tag. Ray proudly demonstrated her l33t WoW skillz to the remaining boy. I discovered I can still run faster than a group of six- and seven-year olds! Woot! --Of course, my knees hurt like hell the next day, but whatever.
I had to laugh when the parents came to pick their kids up. Inevitably, they were stern. "Were you good?" The kid would mumble, and the parent would look at me. "Was ___ good?" "Yes," I said. "They were all pretty good, for a gaggle of first graders." And then the parent would frown at me, because I was obviously lying. Then they would apologize for their kids.
I'd never do that.***
To sum up:
7 kids, including Ray (1 annoying, but admittedly cute, very short girl who couldn't do anything by herself or at less than one million decibels)
Several pounds of sugar, chocolate, etc.
1 green stain on the floor
5 leftover pumpkins
Several "best birthday ever!" hugs
Totally worth it.
*I was inordinately stressed out about this. Really panicked. I can handle a dinner party for adults. I can handle a house full of kids that I know. The whole sugar-fest thing for a bunch of strangers with the attention span of ants worried me. I feel better now.
**As in stuff you pass out at Halloween if you don't believe in sugar. Damn those sugar atheists!
I took a lot of notes, I mean, a lot of notes. (It's not that I don't love you, it's just that I'm too lazy at the moment.) Little lightbulbs went off all the time.
But the most telling thing I learned was the difference between commercial fiction and literary fiction. --I knew there was a difference, but I couldn't define what it was.
To paraphrase: Commercial fiction is about character development. Literary fiction is about examining a situation.
- You know you've been blogging too much when you start typing HTML tags instead if CTRL-i for italics. (Is there a mod or setting for Word that lets you get away with this?)
- Pandora radio is good, but it won't be as good as having a human being picking out songs for you until programming allows for other associative factors than just music. Hook it up to IMDB, fergoshsakes, and have it start making music choices on your favorite movies, for instance. What year you were born (and therefore went to high school). The song playing during your first kiss...my personal Turing test: when a computer can make a competent mix tape.
- Okay, I've backed myself into a corner what I thought would be a few sentences from the end. Now what?
- An hour later, I write two sentences, and I'm done, unless someone yells at me for having a stupid ending. Because one of the things I changed during this last revision was leaving a door open for a sequel, I think this one works.
- Final wordcount: 82,301 (by word) or 86750 (page estimate, 347 250-word pages).
- Yes, I backed it up.
- The song I listened to, about twelve times in a row, to finish the last two paragraphs: "We're in this together now" by NIN. "The further I fall, I'm beside you." Which is apt.
The petitioners are probably tired of me, too.
Tired-looking black guy at Sam's: M'am? Are you a registered Colorado voter?One woman had a stack of FOURTEEN petitions. I skipped her the first day and caught her the next.
Guy: At your current address?
Guy: So...you're all ready to go.
Guy: [Smiles] Okay.
I haven't read this yet...
Don't make this if you find hot dogs offensive; I'm pretty sure the materials that go into a package of Mexican chorizo are similar, if not worse. They don't call it "offal" for nothing.
Homely Chorizo Dip
1 pkg Mexican chorizo
1 can of refried black beans
1/2 c prepared salsa (or make your own)
chopped fresh cilantro, to taste
Squish (yes, really) the chorizo out of the package and fry over medium heat. You'll know it's done when everything has fallen apart into a sludgy, bubbling mess. Add the refried beans and stir over medium-low heat. You may need to add a little water to bring the beans to your desired consistency. Remove from heat and stir in salsa and cilantro.
Serve with chips and wedges of crumbly queso fresco.
You could add jalapenos, but I would think it would then become not-comfort food.
It occurs to me that I write about very similar things most of the time. They take very different forms and have different flavors, so it's not like I'm going to pull a Heinlein-at-the-end-of-his-career or anything, but it's...odd.
Am I only ever going to write about one thing, or is this just a phase?
Here are the bigger stories*:
- Alien Blue (New Mexico aliens and beer) - What makes a good person or a bad one?
- Magic Thread (Japanese disfunctional gods and an unbreakable thread made from a bloodline) - Once you go outside the cultural norm, where do you belong?
- Iron Road (1946 Nancy Drew with goblins and mechs) - Almost the same theme as Magic Thread.
- (New one) Slaughterhouse Jane (1912 Sioux Falls fairies and the end of a golden era/childhood) - Claiming your inheritance, with all it entails.
I'm not sure how I feel about that. Am I in a rut, or am I having a Knippling "Blue Period"? Do I not know who I am? Is it a Generation X thing? Was my extended family so big that I felt an overwhelming need to escape it, but not so far I couldn't go back - living on the border of two identities? Or do I just like to travel?
But enough about me. What do you find yourself writing about, in stories or games? What characters do you end up making on MMOs? Do your favorite songs or books have a theme?
*Other stories I haven't written and won't soon:
Border Dogs (1950s South Dakota brothers vs. "Weird Tales") - Not sure yet.
Best of all Possible Beauregards (1980s Minnepolis time-travelling detective) - Not sure yet.
First book, in ??? state:
Gods of Grey Hill (post-apocolyptic South Dakota) - Creation, recreation.
Notice: I don't really know what these stories are about, and I'm not compelled to write them right now.
But I like pie.
So I made up a new pie crust, because I was determined to make peach pie. I stripped the baking soda out of a biscuit shortcake recipe and called it good. I left the egg in because pie dough is so hard to work -- I think I like it, both for working the dough and in the final texture. I might add another egg next time, too.
--White peaches aren't firm, but they're less mushy than yellow peaches. They're simpler-tasting, less "peachy" but just as sweet. And they turn the pie a delicate shade of pink when cooked.
De's Pie Crust (for two double-crust pies)
3 c all-purpose flour
3/4 t salt
10 T (or 1/2 c plus 2 T) sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, frozen
1 large egg (cold)
3/4 c half-and-half (cold)
Mis flour, salt, and sugar. Grate the butter into the dry ingredients and mix to coat. Beat egg with half-and-half and pour into mixture. Mix quickly but thoroughly and put in fridge for 20 minutes or so to re-chill.
Roll out the bottom crust into a 9-inch glass pie pan.
Don't eat all the dough.
White Peach Pie (for 1 9-inch pie -- be careful doubling the caramel -- use a very large skillet!)
1/4 c. turbindo sugar (or similar, with large crystals. I have better luck with larger crystals)
1/2 c. cream (more or less)
5-6 white peaches, cut into cubes (don't bother to peel if skins are thin, helps with texture)
1 t ceylon cinnamon (not cassia, if possible)
Preheat the oven to 425F. Put the sugar in a skillet over medium heat, stirring occaisionally. Let the heat melt the sugar; when the sugar is as caramelized as you like it, remove from heat and add the cream (warning: likes to froth up and boil over, very hot), stirring contantly. Stir in the cinnamon, flour, peach pieces enough to coat. Put in the crusted pie pan and top with a second crust.
Cut slits in the top crust and brush with a beaten egg white if you like. Don't bother sprinkling it with more sugar, though.
Place the pie on a cookie sheet and place in oven. Bake at 425F for 10 minutes, then lower the temperature to 350 and bake for another 40 minutes or until a knife poked through a slit just barely meets texture.
Cool at least somewhat before eating.
Whee! Eoin Colfer is fun, and fun is good! If you haven't read his books, well, you should!
--I'm not one of those people who think Hitchhiker's should NOT be tinkered with. And, considering the various transformations the original idea went through before it turned into a book, let alone a TV series or a movie, I don't think Douglas Adams did, either. I can't imagine an author less likely to shout, "You can't change it--my work is sacred!"
September 17-20: Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers Trade Show
October 3-4: Author Fest of the Rockies, Manitou Springs
October 18: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict with Deb Dixon
October 21: October Write Brain (Story Structure/Daniel Abraham)
October 24-26: MileHiCon in Denver (GOH: Jim Butcher)
I am skipping the first three, have paid for the fourth, planning on the fifth, and considering the sixth. Let me know if you're considering going any of them, especially to MileHiCon -- or if you've gone before.
Anyway, I think I've come up with my Second Law of Storytelling.
First Law: Whenever, in the course of a story (movie, etc.) someone explains the plan for the benefit of the audience, THINGS WILL NOT GO ACCORDING TO PLAN.
The second law goes something like this:
Any scene with NO CONFLICT = DOOOOOOM.
Two characters fall happily in love? One of them has a fatal disease. A mother and daughter quit arguing? The mother has called the men in white coats to come pick up the daughter and wants to keep her peaceful until the girl's sedated. The villain invites the hero in for tea? Strichnine, my friend. Strichnine.
Remember: any degree of "happily ever after" that occurs before the end of the story is doomed!
(I also like "We're going into a dangerous situation! Let's split up!" but that one isn't mine.)
*Which is why I married a man who hates to be categorized or even understood. Don't laugh at karma, my friends.
Two: he's discovered a gene for bad science writing:
Given that everyone surveyed had been writing about science for at least a week, the team suggests that having multiple copies somehow contributes to writing problems anywhere near the Black Sea. Because the results were collected for a different study, the team couldn’t quiz the writers on whether they were actually familiar with their native language, says Halum.
It is not clear exactly how multiple copies of IMl33t affect expression of the verbopressin receptor, and our most confused syntax. And yet that’s the most interesting question, says someone I spoke with near the Xerox machine.
I jotted something down for Bill to say to his listener just after his "black moment." I ended up not needing it, but I liked it, so here it is:
Some things you can't do, at least, not by yourself. We like to think we can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, but we can't. Can't walk on air, no matter how hard you try.Now, on to the weirdest epilogue ever written. My writing group is like, "Well, okay, but I'll have to see it to believe it."
But sometimes all it takes is one person saying "Bill, quit screwing around and do it already" to find yourself walking on air, one foot at a time, the little leather straps on the sides of your boots cutting into your fingers as you lift.
1 1/2 shots of tequila
1/2 shot of triple sec
1/4 c pomegranate juice
Two twists of lime
2 t sugar
sugared cranberries (optional)
Add ice and stir. Doing it again, I'd probably peel a lime and add the whole thing, in chunks, so you can pick them out with your fingers later, and some pomegranate jewels would have been nice.
I get to name it, and I can be literary if I want. Neener neener.
--Luckily, Stan drank about half.
*Margie Gras is any party thrown at their house involving more booze than gaming.
After an hour spent listening to "How's it gonna end" by Tom Waits and "Sister Rosetta" by Alison Krauss and Robert Plant, I ended up with a list of story elements like "Rattlesnake," "Dust devil," "Morrell's opens in 1909," "Electrical Light Plant on Sioux River," and "Haunted houses," I ended up with this:
An abused boy, Jacob Foreman, tries to solve the gruesome murder of his friend Marisa, who had always claimed to be a fairy changling, in 1912 Sioux Falls.I have no idea how this will come out, but I am totally jazzed about it this morning. The writing soundtrack will be all haunted banjo, all the time.
Any ideas for a title?
*Stan--the "Three Brothers" thing is a bunch of short stories, which is too frikkin' hard to deal with for NaNo. Besides which, I got stuck on Alien Blue this morning again, and I really wanted to brainstorm something new.
Here’s a chance for a little interactivity for all the bloggers out there. Below is a list of 100 things that I think every good omnivore should have tried at least once in their life. The list includes fine food, strange food, everyday food and even some pretty bad food - but a good omnivore should really try it all. Don’t worry if you haven’t, mind you; neither have I, though I’ll be sure to work on it. Don’t worry if you don’t recognise everything in the hundred, either; Wikipedia has the answers.
Here’s what I want you to do:
1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment at www.verygoodtaste.co.uk linking to your results.
The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
10. Baba ghanoush
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras (not Pate de.)
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
47. Chicken tikka masala
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut Hot!
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
57. Dirty gin martini (Excess=martini glass full of olives, covered in gin. Eat olives. Discard gin.)
58. Beer above 8% ABV (Maybe? Not for that specific purpose.)
60. Carob chips
62. Sweetbreads (
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
79. Lapsang souchong
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
90. Criollo chocolate
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
Volcanoes (from the Quad Cities)
Last one :)
What's the difference between major and minor characters?
Not a whole lot.
- The main character contains the story conflict; the major characters contain a good bit of it, too. Minor characters don't; they trigger the conflict in others.
- Major characters have more room to breathe and develop--they don't have to go from A directly to B; they can go from A to drunk to Timbucktoo to B (kicking and screaming). Minor characters have simple internal conflicts, if any.
- Minor characters might make choices; major characters (as a part of the story conflict) must make choices.
- Minor characters can make one mistake (think horror movie); major characters can (and should) make lots.
Shakespeare never could have conveyed that without his minor characters (Falstaff, anyone? The gravedigger in Hamlet? The acting troupe in Midsummers?).
This one's tricky. Nebulous. I'm grasping at straws...
Maybe I'm just splitting hairs with this last category here, but I want to differentiate between theme and story element. If a theme is a mini-moral, a minor building block of the "so what," then a story element is an archetype of one of the story ideas.
The easiest example is a "Good vs. Evil" story. The good guy represents Good; the bad guy represents Evil. The good guy isn't a theme; neither is a bad guy. Themes hang off these characters, but the characters are bigger than that, more fundamental than that.
Not every story needs these types of characters. If handled well, they make a story more mythical, more fable-like (which may not be what you're looking for). If handled poorly, they make a story into a joke, a fake parable, the kind of thing you roll your eyes at.
The difference, as far as I can tell, is how individualized you make these characters. Are they both human and archetypes? Another good example of an elemental character--again, not a minor character--is Elric. He's both human (full of conflicting emotions and desires) and elemental (Servant of Chaos). Tying Elric's humanity to his chaos, making his emotions and desires the driving force behind his destructiveness, is what makes him so great. Michael Moorcock doesn't just slap an archetype on the page--making him a stereotype--but makes Elric's character a necessity for carrying out his elemental nature.
Spiderman. Same thing.
Elemental characters aren't stereotypes because the author narrows down her Big Idea. Darth Vader isn't just Evil. He's Evil, but he's controlled by other people--suddenly, he's not just a stereotype. Darth Vader is loyal. He's dependable. In the end, we find out it's love that's fueled driven him to this depth.
And, speaking of Darth Vader, that finally brings us to minor elemental characters.
Emperor Palpatine is a minor elemental character. The general idea for building one is the same as for a major elemental character--but the minor elemental characters stand in relation to the main character, just as their Big Ideas stand in relation to the main Big Ideas. Darth Vader is Evil. Emperor Palpatine is worse--but he's still an individual. His greed is destroying him, but man, that greed has led him to some pretty powerful places.
His purpose is to say, "Darth Vader? At least he's not Emperor Palpatine." In other words, the very idea that there is an Evil is undermined, because in the end, Greed is worse. Also, Greed destroys itself.
But wait! Emperor Palpatine is too major to be a minor character, so let's look further down the food chain. Remember the two (because once is not obvious enough, apparently) sequences in Phantom Menace where large fish creatures try to eat the submarine with Our Heroes? Other fish creatures come along and eats them, and again, allowing Our Heroes to escape. The fish creatures acted as Greed, showing Greed's self-destructive nature. However, because the creatures didn't have any individuality, the two sequences end up being unintentionally funny.
In other words, the thing keeps a story-element character a stereotype is that the element is tailored to the story's "so what." A minor element character can surprise the reader; a stereotype never can.
Setting isn't just buildings, weather, and stuff--it's characters, too. Setting establishes:
- Place and time (in our example, a modern-day college town)
- Mood (an ordinary college town--not Miskatonic U.)
- Theme* (education is a part of real life, not separate from it)
By drawing the setting back to the "so what," you're establishing the unspoken rules of your book. "This story will be set in a normal college town. I promise no tentacled monsters will invade. I promise this story will not be about the New York publishing industry." All kinds of things. --On the other hand, if you want a setting where you can mess with the reader's underlying assumptions, you at least have to drop a few hints that everything is not what it seems; otherwise, the reader is going to feel cheated. "I thought we were playing Romance in a Small College Town! Why didn't you tell me you were playing off the Gothic Tragedy deck?!?"
How to create "setting" characters depends on whether they relate to the setting's place/time, mood, or theme.
Place/Time. What kind of characters might be found at this particular place and time? What type of roles do people tend to play in that society? What kind of person would naturally fill that type of role? These type of characters tend to be more orderly, more typical. --If you're trying to establish the ground rules, you're trying to establish order, and you're trying to avoid random elements.
Examples are a professor in a tweed jacket who always smells like cigarettes, a secretary with an annoying voice, or a student who wears the same pair of sweatpants to class every day.
These characters establish the norm from which other characters deviate. Ironically, giving them interesting details is counterproductive.
Mood. What's the first impression the reader should get from the setting as a whole? Creepy? Friendly on the surface but dark beneath? Ordinary, something to be taken for granted? The characters should "sum up" that impression. However, if you have a setting that is "Seems like X but is really Y," you might go with one character who shows both traits or a pair of minor characters, one for each characteristic. You could even show them in conflict.
Mood is the root of foreshadowing, by showing a small example of an idea or conflict that's going to come into play later. Really, the more straightforward the mood is, the less interesting your story's going to be. You can use minor characters to foreshadow, the same way you can use a chance event.
Examples of "mood" characters are a next-door underage neighbor boy who's nice but always trying to buy beer; a landlady who hates college kids but likes the main character; an art student with big dreams and a bigger mouth. All point toward an ordinary college town, a place that's both comfortable and a little annoying. Marla likes these people, but they all rub her the wrong way--just a little.
An example of a "mood" character used to bring out foreshadowing is a renowned college "bad boy" who dies in a motorcycle crash.
Theme. Themes are the smaller building blocks of the big "so what." Some good themes for our story might be "Bad boys have more fun," "Comfort food isn't a good steady diet," and "Constant novelty is boring." If the "so what" relates to the book as a whole, themes relate to smaller parts of the story. A theme is the "so what" of a scene or a chapter. --Themes don't have to run all the way through the book as long as they relate to the main "so what," but it's kind of fun to have them show up again. "Ah, Marla. You thought you figured out a steady diet of bacon and chocolate ice cream is bad for you, but we're going to stress you out so much that you do it all over again. You don't learn very quickly, do you?"
Minor characters that help carry out theme are a lot like characters that help carry out main character development. The difference is that these characters can be more caricaturized. The girlfriend that introduces Marla to a bad boy with a wink and a nudge, to get Marla to "loosen up"; the grocery-store boss who supplies Marla with a case of damaged Oreos; the self-involved acid-head preaching enlightenment--they can all be a bit less human than the characters who end up poking around in the main character's very soul.
However--be careful. Too much caricture and the minor character will be unbelievable rather than funny or resonant.
In the end, the characters who solely add to setting are less human, more stereotypical, and less interesting than characters with other purposes--but you still need them. I find it more fun to give minor "setting" characters other purposes, either when they're introduced or later on--I like letting the reader dismiss the character as a piece of furniture for a few chapters, only to have the character become essential to the plot or evoke a soul-searching conflict later on.
*This theme pours into the "so what" by letting Marla run away from her conflict with Hank by pretending her education is more important than dealing with her feelings for him. She tells herself she can't determine her own fate because she has to study for Biology.
Back to the "so what." Out of the "so what" comes the main conflict--stories are about drama, which is based on conflict. --The main, story conflict isn't the same thing as the plot conflict. The story conflict is on a level of "Good vs. Evil" while the plot conflict is on a level of "Luke vs. Vader." However, the plot conflict relates to the story conflict; it's the concrete way the characters carry out the way the Big Ideas of the story smack into each other.
Going back to the original example: "The little girl with a kitten up a tree; she begs the heroine to save the cat. The heroine is afraid of heights. What will the heroine do???"
The "so what" is "Chance giveth; chance taketh away. Determination is what makes life have meaning." I'm going to say the story conflict coming out of that is "Should you take life passively or force it to be what you want?" and the main plot conflict is "Marla's fear of change vs. her desire for Hank."
At some point, we want to show that Marla isn't just afraid of the situation with Hank; she's afraid of everything. So we're going to make up an example that shows that off; we're going to put that kitten up the tree and see what Marla does about it.
Basically, the main character should have at least two possible courses of action at any given time. Will Marla climb the tree or will she walk away? Will she call the fire department? Will she find a competent-looking person along the street and ask them to do it instead?
The options should come out of different parts of the character, parts related to the main story conflict. (The main character should be one of the main moving parts that carries out the story conflict.) Marla is afraid, but she can also empathize with the little girl's fear of losing her kitten. Whose fear is more important? --Keep in mind the main character has to develop throughout the story; you can't make her do all her developing in a single scene.
Let's say we want to show how Marla tries to take matters in her own hands but gets burned--once bitten, twice shy. She overcomes her fear of heights but falls and breaks her wrist.
Fine, we've got all that figured out. But what about the little girl?
Again, we can make a random kid, a nobody. We can make a nobody with an interesting detail. Or we can make a kid who reminds Marla of herself at age six, and the time Marla lost a kitten up a tree and she never saw it again. Or an annoying kid, a bossy one, who makes Marla grit her teeth and ask herself why she's bothering to help the snot. Or a liar--there never was a kitten--making Marla feel even more betrayed by fate when she breaks her wrist. Or a kid who becomes more afraid for Marla than she was for the kitten in the first place: "Look lady, I think he's coming down by himself. Don't go any higher!" "No, I can do it!" Crash!
Again, the minor characters are related to the major ones, either by relationship or attitude. Minor characters can have their own internal conflicts that relate to the ones inside the main character, too--they feel the same; they're completely opposite; they can't believe anybody would care about the things the main character does; they feel horrified at putting the main character in this situation; they resent the main character for not seeing things from their perspectives.
The main thing is to remember minor characters have to touch the main character right down to the quick in order to elicit character development. Dealing with them has to make the main character hurt.
First, you need to know your plot. For some people (like me), this means you have to finish the first draft of the book and figure out what the story is actually about. Other people can plan ahead and do this before they write their minor characters. All I can say about that is thbbbbbt.
So you know your plot. Next, make sure you know the reason why the event with the minor character needs to happen.
Minor characters are a detractor--a distractor--from the story. Readers don't care about minor characters as much as they do about the major characters; if they do, you've done something wrong. Every time you bring in a minor character, you're pulling the reader away from the main characters, so the reason you bring in the minor characters had better be damned good.
Okay, back to the example: "A man who knocks his coffee into the heroine's lap, causing her to bump into the man who becomes the romantic interest."
Let's say the main plot is about a heroine (Marla?) who lives life passively, dreading both the good and bad things that happen to her, because all she wants is peace and quiet after her horrible childhood. She meets a cute guy (Hank?) who lives his life to the fullest--food, sex, alcohol, rebellion, travel--and can't get him off his mind.
How should the characters meet?
The cute guy, Hank, would never hit on our heroine, Marla. She's uninteresting. Marla would never talk to Hank--he's trouble, the last thing she wants.
So they meet by chance. A man in a diner knocks coffee into Marla's lap and she backs into the Hank. But what about the man with the coffee (Don)?
He could be a nobody. He could be a nobody with one interesting detail. Or he could mean something. To make a minor character mean something, you have to get at the "so what" of the story.* Here, I'm going to say the "so what" is "Chance giveth; chance taketh away. Determination is what makes life have meaning."
Who should Don be? We could make him a gentleman, and give Marla a choice between following up on the accidental meeting with Don or the accidental meeting with Hank. Don, instead of disappearing from Marla's life, could call her later on and take her on a date that leaves her flattered but cold. --Chance led both men into Marla's life; her determination drew her to one over the other.
We could make Don a sweet, stuttering geek. We could make him an ex-boyfriend from 7th grade. We could make him the cop who pulled over Hank last week for speeding in a heavy fog. We could make him a trucker who doesn't even notice what he's done--while Hank gets pissed off for being bumped (at least noticing Marla).
The point being that minor characters, no matter how minor, are related to the major characters (and to the plot) in some way, either through an actual relationship or through an attitude they have toward the major characters.
Something I like to do--especially with mysteries--is draw a "web" of characters. The main character is at the heart of the web. The major characters are arranged around him; the minor characters branch off whoever they come in contact with. Each strand of the web is a relationship ("Mother" "Head of Secret Cult MC is fighting") or an attitude ("Hates MC" "Loves MC's mother"). Extra connections tend to suggest themselves, even to the point of minor characters becoming major players or recurring minor characters later on ("Head of secret cult loves MC's mother" "Mother hates MC").
Your minor characters should be fun. They should introduce surprises--even to the writer--and threaten to change the plot, right down to its bones.
Otherwise, you can just have Hank spill his own damned coffee in Marla's lap.
*I think getting at the "so what" is the heart of my writing problems, so this comes up a lot with me. "So what" isn't theme, by the way. It's more akin to "the moral of the story." For example--in "Little Red Riding Hood" the "so what" goes something like "The cost of loose behavior is more than you expect" or "Don't talk to strangers." One of the themes could be "sex" or "death" or "women need to be rescued."
Bar owner Bill Trout weighs the safety of his loved ones against his ornery sense of justice when interstellar cops threaten to destroy Bill's town if he doesn't hand over the unnerving alien scientist he's been hiding for the last sixteen years--right down to their memories.Pros: It seems to capture the storyline better, which is something akin to "For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?"* Conveys the horrible choice Bill has to make.
Cons: It doesn't convey the humor. I want to end with "memories" but the sentence structure is bad.
*Wow. I had to look this up to make sure I got the wording right. Turns out, there are so many variant translations it makes my head spin.
So here's me, throwing out some advice and seeing whether I want to take it myself. As always, do what works; hopefully, this helps.
The standard piece of advice for writing a minor character goes like this: add something unexpected. It's that kind of advice that really gets under my skin. It's useful advice, but only if you already know how to add something unexpected, and if you knew how to do that, you wouldn't need the advice in the first place. I mean, how do you know what's unexpected? And why bother adding it in the first place? And when should you add it? Can you build plot points off of insignificant details like that? Should you?
Two ways that I've found to approach the problem:
1) Simple & effective. Imagine a range with "random" on one side and "orderly" on the other. A random number doesn't convey any useful information; a perfectly orderly number (e.g., 0000000000000...) doesn't either. Add details about your minor characters that aren't random but aren't totally in keeping with expectations, either. The essence of the detail is that it has to "fit" with the character.
Example: A modern-day witch.
Orderly: A sexy, modern-day witch with brunette hair.
Random: A sexy, modern-day witch with purple hair who does things exactly as the witch with brunette hair.
Middle: A modern-day witch with purple hair who acts like a person with purple hair might be expected to act, sullen and alienated, with a geeky fangirl love of Neil Gaiman.
Pros: Simple. Acknowledges that people have lives that don't necessarily fit in with our prejudices. Gives story texture.
Cons: Too many charming but essentially meaningless minor characters gets distracting. It's hard to make this work consistently.
2) Complex & resonant. Figure out what point of the story is, and then make the character fit the purpose of the story as well as her minor function in the plot.
Pros: Gives the story more integrity and more opportunities to use themes, subplots, etc.
Cons: It makes my brain tired.
First, ask "What's the purpose of the character?" I've come up with four, so far. Each purpose doesn't stand alone; minor characters, like anything in a good story, should serve more than one purpose. Minor characters should:
- Perform an action that move the plot ahead.
- Allow the main characters to show off or display their character traits/conflicts.
- Establish setting.
- Symbolize an element in the story.
Main Character Development. The little girl with a kitten up a tree; she begs the heroine to save the cat. The heroine is afraid of heights. What will the heroine do???
Establish Setting. The long-winded professor whose biology lectures are so dull the heronie is teased into responding to her best friend's notes about the romantic lead during class.
Symbolize Story Element. The drunk driver who hits the little kitten-girl, symbolizing the dark side of chance (chance brought the romantic interest into the heroine's life; chance could take him out).