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January 10, 2011


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I am always stunned at how much you and other writers think about this stuff. Really! I just don't honestly give it much thought. I know I run my characters all over the bloody place and I know they grow, I know there are obstacles and vehicles smashing into their lives... But to list them...

I could do it... But honestly, I'm gonna leave this to you! You're so good at it! And if it assists you in finding and binding things to together, then huzzah!

On the other hand, I can see these metaphorical trucks in my own life, easy-peasy!


God, I love those mini reeses...


Donna Cummings

Ah, Maureen, you are one of those lucky writers that never has to edit or revise, I guess. LOL

I only think of these things because I can see there is something missing and I am trying to figure it out. And in the process of figuring it out, I learn things in detail, which I put into a blog post. :)


Oh, I edit and revise, but I guess it's just more by instinct than actually figuring out what is missing... I's like I just don't have the patience to do it 'right'...

It's like I'm bad with color. I can tell when things don't work, but I can't say why or name it all. None of the expertise to say that... "Well, if this has more yellow in it then it wouldn't clash with the red that is the base for this blue..." I know there are all those rules and reasons for colors to work. But if I try to figure them out, I just blank. Same thing with cooking. Or sewing. Or the bazillion things I know just enough about to manage, not enough to be the boss.

Same with most of the writing. I find if I discuss stuff, like with Terri or you, I do KNOW it, I just don't have the vocabulary.

Donna Cummings

I understand what you're saying, Maureen. :) I do a lot of writing by instinct, too, but there are times when I need to analyze, and look at things more deeply in order to make the story be the best it can be.

One of the reasons I enjoy doing it is because it allows me to articulate my thoughts, as well as my findings, in a blog post about writing. :)

I'll warn you that next week I'll be blogging about storyboarding in Excel, so you might want to skip that one! LOL



Excel is terrifying... ;-)

But I figure people who know the vocabulary, do the reading on how and what, must find my babbling about writing extremely frustrating! I've seen a look cross Terri's face now and then...

I'm not really an idiot, I just play one very, very well! ;-)


That was a hard thing for me to learn. I wanted everybody to get along, just like I do in real life. But it would make aboring story if there were no set backs or opportunities to grow. So, alas, we must torture our poor characters! LOL

Liz Lipperman

Donna, I can't tell you how many contest entries I judge where I have to say this is boring. On the other hand,I think sometimes if my life was as hectic as my heroines, I would have to pull my hair out.

I blogged this morning about how you could tell you were writer. One of my entries was that if your idea of romance was to keep your characters apart for a long time and make them as miserable as you could, you were a writer.

That probably ties in very well with what you've written. Without conflict, without tension, you might as well be writing a textbook.

I love the way you tie in your points. And by the way, I have a great cookie recipe using those many Reeces cups.

Clarissa Southwick

Great post, Donna. Setbacks and character growth? Hopefully I have both in my WIP, but I don't know that I ever sat down and made the list. Great thing to try when you need to look at your story in a fresh way.

Donna Cummings

Lara, I still have a hard time being mean to my characters! I feel guilty about it, but then I remember how awful I feel when my story is boring as a result. LOL

Tracy Brogan

My first "finished" manuscript was snoozeville to readers because, although it was chock full of hilarious antics, the characters never faced any challenge. I loved them so much i couldn't bare to make them uncomfortable. But after several drafts and discarded, half-written novels, I've finally gotten quite cold-hearted about sending my characters through the ringer. You're absolutely right. Very few people seek out 'growth' moments. We become comfortable in our discontent because it's the easiest thing to do. But we owe it to our characters, and our readers, to put in every stumbling block possible. Because it's good for them... and entertaining for us!

Donna Cummings

Liz, aren't you the cutest, thinking I have any Reese's peanut butter cups left! (They were half price after Christmas, which means I had to eat them twice as fast. LOL) But I'll come bugging you for a recipe next time I have some.

And you're exactly right about needing the hecticness for the story but if we had to deal with it. . .gimme some more candy so I can cope! I liked your definitions of being a writer -- that's exactly what I'm after. :)

Donna Cummings

Clarissa, I actually did the Setbacks and Growth Points list with a women's fiction book that didn't have as much "conflict", but the character did change, and I wanted to see how and where it happened. So now I try to use it for my other books.

Donna Cummings

Tracy, good for you at being coldhearted with your characters. (I may need to have you give me some pointers -- I'm still a bit too nice to my folks. LOL) It's easier for me to be mean to them if I can see that they grow as a result. It also helps my own growth as a writer. I'm still working on those other non-writing areas. LOL

SG Redling

You missed the best part of putting your characters through the wringer - the pay off! I don't mean all that "getting your novel done" stuff, I mean the pleasure of letting your characters kick a little a** for their troubles. While I personally have not gone through the disasters I've put my characters through, I have also not had the pleasure of shooting anyone, kicking them in the head or blowing up their houses...although I have certainly dreamed of it. Oops, was that out loud?

SG Redling

And why didn't you tell me you weren't lined up on my blog???

Cassy Pickard

Donna! Great post! I can remember trying to put my main character in shape on one of my trips. I kept failingbto get it right untilbshe and I stopped into a wine bar. She explained the problems and when I got back to my hotel room the scene was written.

Donna Cummings

SG, I didn't even think about the payoff, but you are so right -- that's what makes it all worthwhile! My characters don't (usually) get to kick ass, at least not literally, but they do deserve a reward for everything they've experienced.

Now I'm going to go sit over here in the corner, quietly, so I don't get you all riled up. LOL

I didn't realize I wasn't on your blog. Now I've got to check to see who I've left off MINE!

Donna Cummings

Cassy, I definitely want to do some writing with YOU. :) I enjoyed that glass of wine we had at Crime Bake, but I had no idea it would also solve character issues! I am missing out on some important stuff here. LOL

Rochelle Staab

Well, the first thing my characters do when faced with an impossible situation is get mad. If they survive the anger, I go back and make the scene more difficult for them, then again and again until they're tearing their hair out and looking for escape. Right about then, they get clever and figure their own way out. They're more durable than I am!

Fun post. Your logic on the Reese's minis is flawless.

Leigh Michaels

No pain, no gain -- true in life, even more true in fiction. Whenever things start getting dull in my story, I look around for ways to raise the stakes for the character. When it's less painful to change than to stay stuck, the character will change -- just like real people.

For me, it's Rolos, not Reece's, and I have a recipe for them, too. :-)


Donna - Don't be silly...you get the recipe so you have a REASON to go buy more mini Reeses!

Donna Cummings

Rochelle, you ARE a toughie! But I like that--don't just go with their first response, but keep on challenging them until they come up with their own solution. (If I had any left, I could reward them with Reese's. LOL)

Donna Cummings

Leigh--excellent point about it being less painful to change, then people will finally go for it. So I just have to make sure they "feel the pain" of not moving forward.

Oh, and I like Rolos too! Thanks for the reminder. Mmm. We might need to start making some goodies pretty soon with all these recipes we've got around here!

Donna Cummings

Maureen, I don't know WHAT I was thinking! Of course I should get the recipe so I'll have it ready to go when more Reese's peanut butter cups appear in my life. LOL


Got one for rollos...involves pretzels and pecans.

I do like doing terrible things to my characters and it often does take something catostrophic to get people to move. In real life, especially! The massive kick in the ass of nearly dying got me out of the pit of despair and introspection and into the world.

So, yup. Torture your characters. It's good for them in the long run.

VR Barkowski

Great post, Donna! Even if happy characters weren't boring to read about, they're boring to write, so I have no qualms about torturing my characters. *hides head in shame*

All of my characters are tenacious. I personally don't enjoy stories where the protagonist is drawn into a conflict unwittingly and only acts because he or she has no choice. It's vital that something drive that character to make a conscious decision to take action. This is what delineates character driven fiction (which is what I write) from plot driven fiction.

Donna Cummings

Maureen, my friend makes a Rolos and pretzel thing at Christmas that's really good--I like the pecans variation. Mmmm.

And I agree that it takes something catastrophic to wake most of us up. It's helped to stimulate some of my best growth spurts!

Donna Cummings

VR, don't hang your head in shame. LOL You can see how many folks here like torturing their characters. (We may have to start a support group!)

I like your distinction about the character being compelled to make that decision to act. It definitely does make for a different story if the character is leading it this way.


I'd do without the pecan, but I don't care for nuts. But the niece-in-law called 'em turtles, and I guess those need nuts...

Yeah, the harder the kick, the more change it can generate. Or the opposite, and one totally gives up. I like to think as writers, it's generally going to push our characters.

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